Cavan manager Mickey Graham predicts 'arm wrestle' in Sunday's Ulster semi-final clash with Armagh
SUNDAY’S clash between Armagh and Cavan could boil down to a who-wants-it-most “arm wrestle” as two evenly-matched sides battle it out for a place in the Ulster final.
Both counties have come through derbies to reach this stage and, since it’s Cavan’s first semi-final since 2016 and Armagh’s first appearance in the last four since 2014, success-starved crowds of up to 20,000 are expected at Clones to cheer their counties on.
The frenzied atmosphere and expectancy levels are both factors for the teams to deal with but Cavan manager Mickey Graham. Graham will instruct his players to concentrate on the game and nothing else and he has challenged them to back up their impressive performance against Monaghan (All-Ireland semi-finalists last year) in their opener.
“The challenge we’ve set is: ‘Can we back it up?’” said Graham.
“We feel there are lots of areas we can improve on and we’ve worked on them over the last number of weeks. We’d be hoping to correct a few things from the Monaghan game on Sunday but every game takes on a life of its own and this one could come down to an arm wrestle.
“Rain is predicted for the weekend so you just don’t know what way the game will pan out but you have to be prepared for every eventuality. The challenge we have is to put together back-to-back performances, that’s the big thing.”
The same is true of Armagh who eventually saw off Down in a see-saw encounter at Pairc Esler to claim their first Ulster Championship victory under Kieran McGeeney.
Debutants Rian O’Neill and Jarlath og Burns were outstanding in that game and Graham says the one-point win will have given the Orchard players confidence for Sunday’s showdown.
“Armagh have some quality players all over the field,” he said.
“They have brought in a lot of new talent and with that comes a no-fear attitude because young lads like to go out and express themselves, they have no baggage from previous years. So we know the task at hand, they have serious quality up front and serious experience at the back and in midfield they have good, mobile players, so they are a well-balanced outfit.
“They’ve been gradually getting there over the last number of years and they showed great character the last day against Down. That match could have went either way but they really stuck at it and got the result and that will give them great confidence going into Sunday’s game.”
Armagh used 23 players against Down and it was the 23rd – Andy Murnin – who had the final say in the game with a stunning goal in the second period of extra-time.
“It’s not a 15-man game, it’s a 21-man game and most teams nowadays will use their six subs,” said Graham.
“When you bring lads off the bench you are hoping for an impact. Armagh brought boys off the bench the last day and they definitely had an influence on the game and the result.
“That’s what you expect from players when they are called upon.”
At 4/6, Cavan are the favourites with the bookies on Sunday with Armagh a relatively generous 13/8. Graham sees the combatants as “evenly-matched” going into their first meeting since 2016.
“I think they are two evenly-matched sides and two counties that haven’t had much to cheer about over the last number of years,” he said.
“Supporters will probably come out in force because it’s the first time in a while that both teams have been contesting a semi-final. It’s a great occasion for both counties.”