GAA Football

More nerve-wracking drama for Armagh fans as Cavan force replay in Clones nail-biter

Armagh's Jarlath Og Burns scored 1-2 in yesterday's nail-biting Ulster semi-final at Clones.
Picture: Seamus Loughran.
Andy Watters

Ulster Senior Football Championship semi-final: Cavan 0-17 Armagh 1-14 (AET)

ARMAGH supporters can’t have any nails left. For the second game running there was nerve-wracking drama and extra-time but this time the Orchardmen couldn’t kill their opponents off and these evenly-matched sides will do it all again back at St Tiernach’s Park next Sunday.

Just like they had a fortnight previously against Down, Armagh opened up a commanding second half lead and again they had numerical advantage after Cavan’s Ciaran Brady was sent off for a second yellow card on the hour mark.

But once again they could not hold on and, in a change to the script from the Down game, this time it was the Breffnimen who came closest to winning it in extra-time.

In fading light and with only seconds remained Cian Mackey (who scored his side’s last three points yesterday) grabbed the ball near the Armagh 45-yard line. The Cavan fans rose to their feet or dropped to their knees praying for a famous winner as the flame-haired veteran surged into space but screams turned to groans as his shot drifted wide.

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Seconds later, referee Derek O’Mahoney called a halt to another absorbing Ulster Championship battle – 90 minutes couldn’t separate these teams and they’ll start again from square one in the replay. Both teams will have regrets but a draw was a fair result yesterday because neither side was able to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and win it.

Before throw-in, the thinking was that if Armagh committed to attack, the quality of their forwards would see them through. But Rian O’Neill, well marked by Killian Clarke, wasn’t the force he had been against Down and Jamie Clarke and Stefan Campbell were made to forage too far from the posts.

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Almost every score had to be painstakingly carved out and it was a predictably attritional and tense affair from the start. Capable sweepers on both sides – Brendan Donaghy for Armagh and Conor Moynagh for Cavan - cut out the direct kick-passing that had been a feature of these side’s quarter-final wins and so packed defences had to be unpicked by patient, hand-passing and off-the-shoulder running.

It was seven points apiece at half-time. Jarlath og Burns, outstanding in midfield again, had missed an early goal chance for Armagh but atoned with two cracking points while Cavan – blunted by a toothless full-forward line - relied on frees from Gearoid McKiernan and Niall Murray and forward forays from their eager half-backs.

According to reports, referee O’Mahoney had to go into both dressingrooms to instruct the teams to go back out for the second half – neither wanted to go out first – and when they finally remerged onto Clones’s windswept green acres the tit-for-tat pattern continued until Armagh raced ahead.

Aidan Forker and Jamie Clarke combined to send Burns clean through on goal and this time the Silverbridge midfielder made no mistake and, for the first time, there was daylight between the sides as Armagh led 1-9 to nine points.

Rian O’Neill added a point to stretch Armagh’s lead to four and McKieran (who had an off day with his shooting), Niall Murray and Conor Moynagh all kicked wides as the Breffnimen searched for a way back into the game.

Cavan's Conor Moynagh and Armagh's Mark Shields in action during the Ulster Senior Football Championship semi-final.
Picture by Philip Walsh.

The emergence of Stephen Murray saw them cut the deficit to two but the wind was quickly taken out of their sails when Brady received his marching orders for a foul on Mark Shields.

However it seems that Armagh are never more vulnerable than when they are ahead with an extra man and they could not put the game to bed.

Battling Cavan were level in the blink of an eye. First McVeety swung over a point and the Breffni fans were on their feet when Mackey took on a difficult shot and made light of the conditions to equalise.

Jamie Clarke briefly put Armagh back in front but another superb score from Mackey levelled it and the game became a frenetic, desperate struggle as the seconds ticked away.

Cavan won the ball and held it, and held it, looking to carve out a match-winning chance. They did but when it came it fell to Conor Rehill and his shot drifted wide and referee O’Mahoney – who had sent off Brendan Donaghy for a foul on Killian Clarke in the dying seconds - blew it up. Extra-time again for Armagh.

Both sides were feeling the pace but at least they were restored to full strength for the extra 20 minutes but the conditions – a swirling crossfield wind brought with it chilly sheets of rain - and the quality of the shooting deteriorated in the first period,

McKiernan shot wide, Clarke tried a first time soccer-style effort when he had time to pick the ball up and pick his spot and Christopher Conroy, Rian O’Neill and Moynagh all missed chances to edge their side in front.

Stefan Campbell, subbed for Ethan Rafferty and now back on for him, ended the drought when he broke through on the right and fisted over. Armagh needed to keep doing that to win the game but they retreated into a keep ball, what-we-have-we-hold possession game that always looked fraught with danger.

Cavan – down to 14 men again without black-carded Moynagh - harassed the Orchardmen all over the pitch and eventually they won the ball back. Mackey demanded it and swung over his third crucial point to level the game for the 12th time.

If there was going to be a winner, Cavan looked the more likely and Oisin Pierson popped up in Armagh territory but his weak shot drifted wide. McKiernan won the kick-out and Cavan worked the ball this way and that, with Mackey lurking and looking for a pocket of space.

He found it and the ball found him but this time his shot was wide and time ran out.

They’ll go at it again on Sunday and it’ll go down to the wire again.

Armagh: B Hughes; J Morgan, M Shields, P Hughes (0-1); R Kennedy, B Donaghy, A Forker (0-1); J Burns (1-2), N Grimley; A Nugent (0-2), R Grugan, J Hall (0-1); J Clarke (0-1 free), R O’Neill (0-4, 0-3 frees), S Campbell (0-1)

Subs: J McElroy (0-1) for Morgan (23), E Rafferty for Campbell (57), A Murnin for Grugan (64), N Rowland for Forker (69), B Crealey for Nugent (70), C Vernon for Burns (71), Campbell for Rafferty (80)

Yellow cards: Morgan (16), Grugan (28), McElroy (58), Grimley (63), Murnin (74)

Red card: Donaghy (70)

Cavan: R Galligan; J McLoughlin, P Faulkner, C Moynagh (0-1); G Smith (0-1), K Clarke, C Rehill; Conor Brady, G McKiernan (0-2 frees); M Reilly, D McVeety (0-2), N Murray (0-5, 0-4 frees); O Kiernan, T Galligan, C Madden

Subs: C Conroy (0-1) for Smith (29), C Mackey (0-3) for Madden (46), S Murray (0-2) for Conor Brady (53), O Pierson for Galligan (70), J Brady for Murray (80), C Madden for Kiernan (85)

Black cards: P Faulkner was replaced by Ciaran Brady (26), Moynagh 83

Yellow cards: Ciaran Brady (34&61), McKiernan (43), Clarke (74)

Red card: Ciaran Brady (61)

Referee: D O’Mahoney (Tipperary)

Attendance: 16,716

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