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Armagh leave the door ajar for Cavan after thrilling draw in Clones

 

Fall guy: Armagh’s Rian O’Neill and Aidan Nugent pursue Raymond Galligan
Fall guy: Armagh’s Rian O’Neill and Aidan Nugent pursue Raymond Galligan
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

Spare a thought for the Armagh players who have toiled for something in the region of 200 minutes this summer and still haven't made it into the Ulster final after a draw including extra-time here.

Just like the Down game, they let it slip in normal time, coughing up four of the last five scores, and they had to survive a nervy finish with three Cavan wides in the second period of extra-time.

"Obviously a game like that was always going to be nip and tuck," said Armagh assistant manager Jim McCorry.

"We knew it was going to be like that against Down as well, and probably in the Down game the difference was we had the game won and we allowed them back into it."

Cavan manager Mickey Graham had a remarkable similar reaction.

"Just relieved we have another opportunity and still be in the Ulster Championship, to be honest. At one stage towards the end of normal time it looked like the game was gone from us. We were down to 14 men, there were a lot of questions asked and I thought the lads showed character in that last 10 minutes."

Both teams had to make running repairs with numerous things going on each minute from the first half until the bitter end.

For Cavan they were dealt a cruel blow coming up to the half-hour mark when Niall Grimley attempted to gather a dangerous pass and was taken out by Padraig Faulkner.

It looked a tough challenge, a free certainly, but referee Derek O'Mahoney decided a black card was in order. Quite something for a man who was doing well on prized Armagh forward Rian O'Neill, distorting their shape and robbing them of Killian Clarke as the extra man.

Given Faulkner's two feet were on the ground, it seemed to be exceptionally harsh and Cavan boss Mickey Graham then brought on Ciaran Brady as the replacement.

Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney had his worries. Three early fouls by James Morgan on Dara McVeety prompted O'Mahoney to book the Crossmaglen man who was taken off for Joe McElroy on 23 minutes.

While Cavan certainly started the brighter, they got very little out of Martin Reilly, their playmaker in chief against Monaghan, who was well shepherded by Aidan Forker here.

Jarlath Óg Burns was everywhere in the opening exchanges, perhaps spurred on by an early goal chance that he fluffed in the second minute having been played in by late replacement Mark Shields.

Burns slotted over two first half points and caught plenty of ball around the middle to redeem himself.

The match was nip and tuck throughout. Cavan kept the width that had served them well against Monaghan but Armagh's taggers never committed to a wholehearted marking job, choosing instead to narrow the pitch by camping in a tight defensive structure, forcing them to play through them.

It made for brilliant long-range shooting efforts, two in particular from backs Gerry Smith and a beauty from Conor Moynagh, but as the game wore on they had to become more precise.

Armagh were somewhat more direct but struggled to get Rian O'Neill on the ball in the inside line. Killian Clarke had been sweeping but left the role to mark O'Neill after Faulkner's dismissal. They still got a point from play and two frees out of O'Neill in the opening half, finishing as it did 0-7 apiece.

Burns continued his good work with a goal in the 41st minute. A Forker delivery was latched onto by Jamie Clarke who transferred smartly to Burns to pot a shot past Raymond Galligan into the corner.

It was enough for Armagh to keep their noses in front and when Ciaran Brady was sent off on a red card for throwing his arm back into the face of Mark Shields it looked all set for Kieran McGeeney to revisit his links with the showpiece day of Ulster football.

But Cavan's bench rescued it. Stephen Murray and Cian Mackey came in with 20 minutes to go and each man kicked two apiece, Cavan outscoring Armagh four points to one in the last 10 minutes of normal time.

Armagh, five points up against Down the first day, allowed their growing white line fever to creep in again. Mackey's second point from serious distance creating a ferocious din to level matters after a Jamie Clarke free.

The first period of extra-time did not yield a score for either team, McKiernan missing a simple free for Cavan however.

With both teams tiring, exhausted really from one of those draining, sapping days in Clones, it looked as if Stefan Campbell - back on as a sub for Ethan Rafferty - could have clinched it with a fisted point.

Armagh attempted to run down the clock by playing around with the ball deep in their defence. A Cavan turnover soon put paid to that idea and that man Mackey popped up with a point to square it.

There was still time for late wides from Chris Conroy, and finally, Mackey for Cavan to rue their luck.

If it was a boxing match they might have shaded it on points, but they will be back here on Sunday to do it all over again, with the qualifier game between Monaghan and Fermanagh on the undercard.

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