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Armagh must get better to beat Cavan in Ulster semi-final, says skipper

 

Crunch tie: Rory Grugan expects Armagh to be in for a battle
Crunch tie: Rory Grugan expects Armagh to be in for a battle
John Campbell

By John Campbell

Eleven barren years have elapsed since Armagh last won an Ulster senior football championship final.

For a county that shared the provincial spotlight with Tyrone throughout the Noughties, that is now perceived as a famine.

Little wonder then that orchard county captain Rory Grugan is putting his team on red alert for Sunday's semi-final against an even more hungry Cavan side at St Tiernach's Park, Clones.

Twenty-two years have passed since the Anglo-Celt Cup was last paraded through the Breffni county after Martin McHugh had worked the oracle before stepping aside.

And it's what Grugan feels will be Cavan's overpowering appetite to reach the final again that could serve as a massive barrier to his own team's hopes of Ulster redemption.

"Our record has not been good against Cavan in the Ulster Championship over the past few years, so in that respect we will be up against it," he says.

"However, we have to view this as a motivating factor. We are just the same as any team going into a semi-final feeling that they are just one game away from an appearance in the final.

"It has been a long time coming for us to get to the point where we are at but we are certainly looking no further than Sunday."

It was in 2014 that Armagh reached the All-Ireland quarter-finals only to lose by a point to Donegal (1-12 to 1-11) when Paul Grimley was in charge and, since then, their championship record has been undistinguished.

Yet Grugan believes that the quarter-final win over Down earlier this month has helped to instil confidence and belief in his team which has watched Monaghan, Down, Antrim, Fermanagh and Derry slip out of the title race to date.

"In the league we lost the lead in games and were not able to recover but against Down a fortnight ago we had extra-time in which to get back on track and I thought we showed brilliant character in doing that," stresses Grugan. "Now it's up to us as players to show that we can use this as a launch pad from which we can make more progress."

Manager Kieran McGeeney is unlikely to start Andrew Murnin despite his stunning contribution as an extra-time substitute against Down and he may also hold Stefan Campbell in reserve.

It was McGeeney's deployment of subs that had much to do with gaining the win in the final analysis. There are still doubts surrounding the fitness of Aidan Forker, Patrick Burns and Stephen Sheridan with the latter not expected to start.

But there may be a starting slot for Mark Shields, whose well-taken 56th minute goal marked the turning point in the game against Paddy Tally's outfit.

The Whitecross man swept the ball into the net to ease his side into a 1-11 to 1-7 lead before Down rocked the visitors back on their heels with a goal from Donal O'Hare in a game that is regarded as one of the best of the championship season to date.

Skipper Grugan, while delighted that his side are in the last four in the race to the Anglo-Celt Cup, makes it clear that a step-up in performance is required if Cavan's interest in the destination of the title is to end today.

"There was a big feeling of relief to be on a winning team for a change in the Ulster Championship when we beat Down but we face a bigger challenge on Sunday," he explains.

"Just because we have won our first championship game in a few years does not mean that we are now set to go on a massive run. We all saw how impressive Cavan were against Monaghan and that's why we need to show improved form on Sunday."

Cavan, meanwhile, will finalise their preparations tonight with manager Graham likely to give a vote of confidence to the line-up that performed so well against Monaghan.

This will mean that players such as Chris Conway must remain on the bench but Graham can take comfort from the fact that he has adequate resources which he can deploy if necessary.

"We have players on the bench who will be just itching for action and that's the way you want things to be," says Graham. "We had players who came on the last day and helped to close the game out and hopefully that will be the case again on Sunday."

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