McKenna Cup semi-final spot up for grabs as Cavan host Armagh

Cavan's Dara McVeety and Armagh's James Morgan in action during the Ulster Senior Football Championship Semi Final between Cavan and Armagh at St Tiarnachs in Clones on Sunday June 02 2019 Picture by Philip Walsh
Shaun Casey

It’s all to play for at Kingspan Breffni this evening as Cavan and Armagh battle it out for a place in the last four of the Dr McKenna Cup.

The loser still stands a chance of reaching the semi-finals as the best of the rest, but that would rely on other results going their way.

Armagh are in pole position to finish Section C as table-toppers as they have a better scoring record that anyone else in the competition due to their 12-point opening win over Antrim, so even a draw would see them through

Goals from Clann Eireann sharp-shooter Conor Turbitt, who picked up the man-of-the-match award despite being subbed at the break, and substitute Joe Sheridan were the most notable scores in the 2-20 to 2-8 win.

Niall Grimley and Tiernan Kelly both returned to the fold for the first time since last year’s Championship defeat to Donegal in Ballybofey, bolstering Armagh’s options around the middle of the field.

It’s hard to know how much Kieran McGeeney got out of the game, apart from a look at some of the lesser-known panel members.

McGeeney rang the changes at the half-time interval, making 12 substitutions, and handed all 30 players some game-time.

It was certainly a confidence-boosting win for the Orchard county, who were minus a number of regular starters, including Rory Grugan and Rian O’Neill, but they’ll be braced for a much stiffer test this evening.

Cavan didn’t quite enjoy as big a win over the Saffrons last Sunday, mostly due to some outstanding saves from Antrim keeper Michael Byrne, but still breezed through unscathed.

Brendan Boylan, one of four debutants on the day, raised a green flag as Cavan finished seven points clear of their hosts.

Minus the likes of Gearoid McKernan and 2020 Allstar goalkeeper Raymond Galligan, the Breffni Blues still had a pretty strong line-up.

Padraig Faulkner manned the edge of their defensive square while Killian Clarke kicked 0-2 from midfield. Thirty-five-year-old Martin Reilly is still doing the business for Mickey Graham’s side, and he claimed the first goal of the game that handed Cavan the initiative.

Dara McVeety returned to the starting line-up for his first outing since 2019 and Cavan will hope that it’s the first of many good performances from the Crosserlough native this season.

McVeety wore the number six jersey, but Armagh need no reminding of his attacking exploits, as he hit 0-4 when the sides last met in the Championship back in 2019, when Cavan denied Armagh a place in the Ulster final.

When the season draws to a close, this game won’t define the year for either team, but the chance to engage in another competitive outing before the league commences isn’t something to be turned down.

There’s also the possibility that the two teams will cross paths in the Ulster Championship, although Armagh have to deal with Antrim first, so there’s the chance to lay down an early marker.

Kieran McGeeney and Mickey Graham may want to get a look at some of the fresher faces and mix in a few of the more experienced heads. It looks like Armagh should have too much quality and should go through to the last four as group winners.