Cavan boss Mickey Graham 'relieved' to have another shot at Armagh after dramatic semi-final
TRAILING by two and down to 14 men with less than 10 minutes to go, Cavan boss Mickey Graham was understandably relieved to still be a part of the Ulster Championship after yesterday’s dramatic, back and forth semi-final in Clones.
The counties went tit-for-tat for most of the game but when Jarlath Og Burns coolly slotted to the net six minutes after half-time, Armagh had all the momentum and soon held a four point lead.
However, the Breffnimen hung in there and, despite losing Ciaran Brady to a second yellow card nine minutes from time, chipped away at the scoreboard and eventually two brilliant points from super-sub Cian Mackey saved the day.
The Castlerahan dynamo was the main man at the end of extra-time too, stroking between the posts to ensure a replay back at St Tiernach’s Park this Sunday and, although Cavan had a late chance to win the game, Graham is just happy to have another shot.
“I’m just relieved we have another opportunity and to still be in the Ulster Championship,” he said.
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“At one stage towards the end of normal time it looked like the game was gone from us. We were down to 14 men, there were a lot of questions asked and I thought the lads showed a lot of character in that last 10 minutes.”
And, rather than demoralise the Breffnimen, the loss of Brady to a red card saw them knuckle down as the finish line approached, with the excellent Dara McVeety - as well as subs Mackey and Stephen Murray - leading the charge.
“How many times have you seen it before - a sending off and the team can get galvanised from it,” said Graham.
“After the sending off we definitely upped our ante. We worked a lot harder and sometimes that can throw a team off. Our backs were to the wall at that stage and we said if we find ourselves in a situation like that there was no point sitting back and inviting the extra man.
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“We had nothing to lose and when your backs are to the wall you have to come out fighting and it's better being beat by seven points than one and trying to hold the score down.”
Physically, yesterday’s game will have come at a price for both counties, especially with such a short turnaround ahead of the replay.
Graham said his dressing room was like “a morgue”, and the focus now will be on ensuring they are fresh when Sunday comes around again
“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. 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.”
Fittingly, a final word was reserved for Mackey’s show-saving exploits – and the former Cavan forward admitted he wasn’t surprised to see Mackey come up with the good when it mattered.
“Lookit, I played with Cian Mackey back in 2003/4 so I know what he is capable of.
“He is a great man in that pressure situation and to have someone like him to come in… when he came in he got on the ball and gave us that bit of composure as well as kicking those three great points.”