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McGeeney keeping a close eye on Armagh's Ulster rivals

By John Campbell

Published 20/04/2016

Up for the Cup: Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh and Gearoid McKiernan of Cavan have a look at Croke Park before their Division Two final
Up for the Cup: Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh and Gearoid McKiernan of Cavan have a look at Croke Park before their Division Two final
Kieran MCGeeney

Already this year, Kieran McGeeney has lost a raft of quality players for a variety of reasons, endured the acerbic barbs of Pat Spillane and more recently caustic criticism from Joe Brolly, saw his Armagh team utterly humiliated by Cavan and then ultimately suffer the trauma of relegation to the rather anonymous pastures of Division Three of the Allianz Football League.

Yet when Cavan confront Tyrone in the Division Two final at Croke Park on Sunday, it's safe to assume that the Orchard County boss will dissect the contest as the countdown continues to the renewal of his team's rivalry with the Breffni side in the Ulster Championship next month.

Lesser men than McGeeney might well have buckled under what was a concerted onslaught both at a personal and sporting level but the granite-hard demeanour which sustained him during a hugely successful playing career continues to underpin his outlook.

And that's why, as he prepares to put Cavan under the microscope, the Mullaghbawn native dwells on what he sees as the positives in the build-up to a match that clearly represents the biggest challenge of his managerial career to date.

McGeeney knows that Sunday's divisional final is much more than that - it will indeed provide a key pointer to the Ulster Championship.

"Cavan are moving well and Seanie Johnston has made a big difference to their scoring returns," observed McGeeney. "Their manager Terry Hyland has the side playing a certain way and we have cause to remember that. They have gained promotion and are looking forward to playing in Division One. Facing Tyrone on Sunday gives them another big game before they meet us."

Cavan hammered Armagh by 3-18 to 0-10 in the fourth round of the league, a result that did much to precipitate the Orchard County's subsequent demotion.

Yet McGeeney admits that the outcome proved something of a blessing in disguise as his team went on to remain undefeated in their last three games against Galway, Tyrone and Derry.

"We learned a lot from that display against Cavan. Indeed, had we got another win we could well have been challenging for promotion, that's just how tight it was in Division Two," pointed out McGeeney.

With Gearoid McKiernan distinguishing himself in the unfamiliar role of centre-half-forward, Liam Buchanan making the most of his opportunity at midfield, Killian Clarke an inspirational figure and Johnston sniping to lethal effect, Cavan will relish the prospect of pitting their skills against Tyrone.

Yet it was Armagh who became the first team to take a point off Tyrone when the sides drew in round six of the league.

But should Cavan come out on top on Sunday, further pressure will be heaped on McGeeney.

"You are always going to get critics but I have loved Armagh since I was a kid and I want to transfer that to my players. If I can do that, we will see where it takes us," said McGeeney.

Cavan boss Hyland is preparing to unleash his rejuvenated outfit on a Tyrone side that manager Mickey Harte believes can prove the best to represent the county since the last All-Ireland winning outfit of 2008.

Hyland said: "We feel we should have got something out of our previous game against Tyrone and we know now that you have to try and push on and get over the line when the heat is on.

"The days of Cavan going to Croke Park to make up the numbers are over. We don't see it as a day out any more, we go there to win matches and that's what we will be trying to do come Sunday."

Belfast Telegraph

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