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Armagh must get to grips with Cavan from start


Ready to rumble: Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney (left) and Cavan boss Mickey Graham last week in Clones
Ready to rumble: Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney (left) and Cavan boss Mickey Graham last week in Clones
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

Underneath the Gerry Arthurs Stand as the light drained away from a stormy Sunday and an apocalyptic Ulster Championship extra-time battle, Cavan manager Mickey Graham came in with that grin of his to attend to post-match duties.

The reporters formed their semi-circle and, after the usual nuts and bolts about the match, asked for an update on the health of the dressing room Graham had just left.

"There are lots of walking wounded. It is like a morgue in there, lads just can't talk because their energy levels are shattered and rightly so," said Graham, enjoying the Snickers he got from an appreciative audience.

"They put their bodies on the line and they gave it everything and any day you go out that is all that you ask from your players. Lads are on their hands and knees and can barely get up to go to the shower. The main thing for next week is that they have the time to freshen up.

"It is basically just fatigue. The main thing now between this and Sunday is to get them revitalised in mind and body."

There is an art and a science in getting players ready to do a job they had set out to do a week previous. Some managers just get it. They run down their checklist of physical, mental and tactical elements in the six days they have available, as well as calibrating the perfect time before the group meets again.

Something that may not be known to the wider world is just how good Graham has been in managing teams to win in replays.

As a manager he has won Junior, Intermediate and Senior Championship finals in replays and a Minor League Division One with home club Cavan Gaels.

The Junior title came with Butlersbridge against Redhills in 2004, when he was still a player himself and yet mad to start his coaching journey.

Two years later and he managed the same feat at Intermediate with Drumalee against Cúchulainns.

As manager of Mullinalaghta in Longford, he pulled off Championship replay wins in quarter-finals against Abbeylara and Killoe, and with Cavan Gaels, the minor final replay game came against Drumalee.

With such a record, opposite number Kieran McGeeney might feel slightly intimidated. In recent years, replays haven't been a feature of his management career. The last one he was involved in was in 2016 when Armagh were granted a replay against Laois.

Mick Lillis' side had won the first day out, but had used a substitute too many and Armagh were granted a second bite, but couldn't make it count.

If there is one glaring element they could change tactically, it is their approach to pressing the Cavan kickout. Just under a week ago, Raymond Galligan was able to find a free man in practically every kickout as Armagh retreated into their defensive shape.

If not, why not? Did they not recognise how well this went for Monaghan in the second half of the quarter-final against Cavan?

When you have Niall Grimley, an Irish International Rules footballer and Jarlath Óg Burns who resembles a throwback to the days of incredible fielding, what is to be lost this week by radically changing the Armagh approach?

Just on Burns, his participation is crucial. As impressive as he has been in his debut season - and he has been magnificent so far - the knock he suffered last week needs to be treated with the utmost of care.

Armagh spent the week going back and forth, trying to play down their previous mention of concussion, insisting that he was not, in fact, concussed. Eye witnesses in Clones noted that he didn't look healthy.

As impressive as Burns has arrived on the scene almost a fully-formed leader, Armagh suffered a further blow on Thursday night when they sought a hearing for Brendan Donaghy who was red carded in the final minute of normal time in the drawn game.

They got nowhere with it and as such, their defence will take some re-arranging as Donaghy is the sweeper and defensive organiser.

Aaron McKay, dropped from the starting line-up for the drawn game, could come back in, but it is hard to determine who will perform sweeping duties.

What Graham needs to guard against now is a level of complacency.

Put to him that his side are now favourites going into the replay and as such could be complacent, he shot back: "Cavan are in no position to be complacent against anyone. What have we done for the last 22 years?

"We have had more bad days than good ones. We gave Armagh the respect they deserve and we will continue to do that."



Ulster SFC semi-final replay:

St Tiernach's Park, Clones , Tomorrow, 4.00pm

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