Flattened Armagh taught a harsh lesson with Cavan defeat
Cavan 2-16 Armagh 0-14
Almost a year ago, Armagh walked out of their own Athletic Grounds wondering what they had to do to bridge the gap to the elite teams.
They had been out-thought and out-fought by Donegal, with a nine-point losing margin for them to chew over.
After yesterday's 2-16 to 0-14 defeat in the Ulster quarter-final, they have to ask how they might even reach the second-tier group as Cavan comprehensively trounced Kieran McGeeney's men, who were completely out of the game by half-time.
It's not the first time it has happened in Ulster, but the selection of Paul Courtney as goalkeeper was far more baffling than Darren Hughes' deployment as Monaghan shot-stopper in the 2010 game against Armagh.
For one thing, Courtney appeared out of nowhere. A former Ballyhegan clubman, he had a spin on the county panel almost a decade ago in 2008 - but as a defender.
Now playing for St Jude's in Dublin, he earned a start due to a broken vertebrae in regular goalkeeper Paddy Morrison's back, who only got the all-clear last week.
McGeeney said: "I think he did very well, his kick-outs were excellent. He got a hand to that first shot and was a big help with our kick-outs, especially with Paddy missing."
But the inclusion of Courtney brought a mild panic to the Armagh rearguard, which spread like a virus manifesting itself in rash tackling and lapses of concentration.
Cavan were one point in front when they began to push up on Courtney's kickout, when he would have preferred to go short. They got their fifth, sixth and seventh points by turning over these kickouts, Martin Reilly snapping up two of the breaks.
The next score really sent Cavan on their way. Cian Mackey hit a crossfield ball that bounced over Ciaron O'Hanlon's head, into the grateful arms of Reilly. The Killygarry man went straight for the goal before handing Dara McVeety a tap-in.
Reilly picked up four of Cavan's kickouts in the first-half, and one of Armagh's. It was his direct run to goal that set up the first goal and he hit a penalty in the second-half, his lungs allowing him to get through an astonishing amount of work.
By the start of the second-half, McGeeney had Aaron Findon, Micheál McKenna and Jemar Hall on, changing half of the forward line.
It had little effect. While Stefan Campbell fought a lone battle, he also had a damaging attack of the yips when his 14-yard free was blocked down. Armagh got no scores from any of their six subs while Cavan appeared far more composed as they broke at half-time 1-9 to 0-7 in front.
The Orchard's Tony Kernan opened the second period with an attractive point sliced off the outside of his boot and immediately it became clear that they were going to make a push.
However, a comeback was halted when Mackey skated into the Armagh danger zone and after pulling back his left foot for the shot, made contact with Andy Mallon's leg. Referee Eddie Kinsella signalled for a penalty which Reilly thumped past Courtney.
Campbell notched the next three scores to narrow the lead. Cavan sent on attacker Eugene Keating but he was black-carded after just two minutes. His replacement, Jack Brady, wriggled free of the defence to score a point with his first touch before the defining moment.
Rory Grugan slashed a diagonal ball to Campbell, who was taken down by Killian Clarke. A goal would have narrowed the margin to three points with 13 minutes left.
Instead, Campbell blasted it low and straight at Raymond Galligan's legs. Soon after, Mackey's momentum almost put James Morgan into the stand and Seanie Johnston's resultant point from the move killed Armagh's resolve and settled the issue.
Conor Moynagh and McVeety spliced over fading shots before the Donegal and Monaghan management, stationed in front of the press box, took their leave to beat the traffic and mull over a Cavan team that are rightly seen as dark horses for Ulster.
Cavan have three weeks to prepare for the semi-final in Clones against Tyrone on June 19.
Neither side will know exactly where they are, after defeating opponents that were tactically inept. But there will be blood and thunder in St Tiernach's Park between two traditional counties who feel they have spent long enough without silverware.
After three mismatches in Ulster to date, we might look forward to a contest soon.
CAVAN: R Galligan; F Flanagan, K Clarke, R Dunne; P Faulkner, C Moynagh 0-1, N Murray; G McKiernan 0-3, T Corr; D McVeety 1-1, S Johnston 0-7, 4f, M Reilly 1-0 (1xpen); M Argue, D Givney 0-1, C Mackey
Subs: C Brady for Murray (46), E Keating for Argue (51), K Brady for Faulkner (65), G Smith for Johnston (66), L Buchanan for McKiernan (70)
Yellow cards: McVeety (10), Argue (14), Johnston (23)
Black cards: Keating (53, replaced by J Brady 0-2)
Red cards: 0
ARMAGH: P Courtney; C Vernon, B Donaghy, C McKeever; M Shields, A Mallon, J Morgan; E Rafferty 0-4, 3f, C O'Hanlon; A Forker, T Kernan 0-2, R Grugan; C Watters, S Campbell 0-8, 2x '45's, 3f, G McParland
Subs: A Findon for O'Hanlon (27), M McKenna for Watters (29), J Hall for McParland (HT), S Connell for Vernon (40), J McElroy for Rafferty (45), S Heffron for McElroy (62)
Yellow cards: Vernon (17), Morgan (23), Grugan (60), Donaghy (70)
Black cards: J McElroy (64, replaced by S Heffron
Red cards: 0
Referee: Eddie Kinsella (Laois)