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Armagh stunned as Cavan eye glory

Cavan 0-23 Armagh 0-17

Pressure on: Cavan’s Conor Moynagh keeps a close eye on Mark Shields
Pressure on: Cavan’s Conor Moynagh keeps a close eye on Mark Shields
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

Cavan are in their first Ulster final for 18 years, after a second half in which their play was simply too much for Armagh to cope with in this semi-final replay.

And it was almost all too much for Mickey Graham, their shrewd manager who has overseen yet another success in a replay.

The last time Cavan reached the Ulster decider was 2001 when Graham was a player in their loss to Tyrone.

Four years before that, he came on in the closing stages of the Ulster final when they beat Derry, a late replacement for Larry Reilly in their last provincial title triumph.

When the suggestion was put to him that he was emotional at events over the previous two hours, he laughed and said: "Of course I am. I am a Cavan man and I have seen more bad days than good days. I was lucky as a player to be involved in two Ulster finals in 1997 which we won and 2001 as well.

"It is a long time for a county like Cavan who have great tradition. I am emotional because I know the work those lads have put in because they fully deserve it."

Indeed they do. After drawing 1-14 to 17 points, they went away over the week and decided what had to be done.

A total of 17 points is good shooting in any Ulster Championship game but to turn that into 23 within seven days is a phenomenal bit of work. Graham has previous form in this regard though, being a serial replay winner going back to his days overseeing Cavan Gaels minors in a league final, a junior title with Butlersbridge at the start of the century and in recent times with Longford club Mullinalaghta.

As a figure, 0-23 shows up the deficiencies in the Armagh game plan. Defending has been an issue for them through the five years Kieran McGeeney has been manager.

And after those five years, they are stuck on one victory in the Ulster Championship.

The Orchard County made a couple of late switches, bringing in Charlie Vernon at full-back to mind Gearoid McKiernan and introducing Andrew Murnin for Stefan Campbell.

As the half got into its stride, it was clear that neither move was working.

McKiernan scored two points from play and was at the heart of everything Cavan did, getting fouled a number of times for Niall Murray to clip over frees.

At the other end, the lack of any thrust in the Armagh attack was highlighted by the 0-9 to 0-2 scoreline that had opened up by the 22nd minute.

McGeeney was forced into corrective action, sending in Aaron McKay to replace Vernon while Campbell came on for Aidan Nugent. Almost instantly, the Lurgan man had won three frees, all of which were converted by Jamie Clarke (two) and Rian O'Neill.

Armagh could have made more of two early sightings of goal. Nugent skated in along the endline but Raymond Galligan made the angle tight and made the save. Then, a Galligan clearance went badly wrong with Nugent picking up the loose ball and with Clarke straight through, he inexplicably shot wide of the goals.

In that run from the fifth to the 23rd minute, Cavan hit nine points with only one Armagh effort in response. They found a huge amount of joy steaming through the middle with Dara McVeety getting the better of his duel with Patrick Burns.

After going in 0-11 to 0-8 better off at the break, Cavan should have had a goal when Murray played a give and go with Jason McLoughlin to get through on goal. He sidestepped Armagh goalkeeper Blaine Hughes but his shot cannoned off the post to safety.

Armagh had their chances for majors too even after the two early ones. A break fell to Mark Shields midway through the first half but his shot was smothered. The same man was sent through after a bit of Clarke sorcery but he blasted his shot over the bar with one minute of normal time left.

Armagh manager McGeeney said afterwards: "I'm proud of the fellas, they really went at it.

"Cavan play a high press game but it leaves you open at the back and when you have four or five good goal chances and you don't take any of them it is always going to be tough, but credit to Cavan too - they took their scores and that was the difference."

He added: "I think we needed to bag a goal and we are good at normally getting a goal or two and the fellas knew themselves they were missing easy chances and that can have an effect on you."

But that's only half the story here.

When the game hung in the balance, it was the trusted Cavan heads who made all the right plays. They scored six of the last seven points. Conor Moynagh produced a trademark point from distance. McVeety showed off all his nimble footwork for a point to start the ball rolling. Cian Mackey carried the ball 50m, riding three challenges to split the posts.

The sheer desire of Killian Clarke to show for a Moynagh free deep in defence, wrestle Burns away from the ball and get it to McVeety for the third last point was everything good about Cavan's performance.

Armagh crave that kind of sophistication and tactical appreciation. It's been lacking in the county for too long.

They threw everything they had at this Ulster Championship and have the players to be champions.

But if Cavan can reach the final in year one of the Graham project, lessons have to be learned.

ARMAGH: B Hughes; R Kennedy, C Vernon, P Hughes; M Shields 0-1, P Burns, J Morgan; J Óg Burns, N Grimley; A Forker, A Nugent, J Hall; A Murnin, R O'Neill 0-6, 4f, J Clarke 0-7, 3f)

Subs: S Campbell 0-2, for Nugent (29m), A McKay for Vernon (30m), R Grugan 0-1 for Murnin (44m), B Crealey for Hall (57m), J McElroy for Morgan (67m), E Rafferty for J Óg Burns (69m)

CAVAN: R Galligan 0-3, 3f); P Faulkner, K Clarke 0-1, J McLoughlin; N Murray 0-5, 4f, C Rehill 0-1, M Reilly 0-1; T Galligan, C Brady; O Kiernan 0-1, C Moynagh 0-2, D McVeety 0-4; O Pierson 0-1, G McKiernan 0-3, C Madden

Subs: C Mackey 0-1 for Madden (42m), S Murray for T Galligan (49m), C O'Reilly for Pierson (65m), J Brady for O Kiernan (75m)

Referee: Paddy Neilan (Roscommon)

Attendance: 21,192.

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