GAA Football

Armagh saunter to victory over hapless Cavan in NFL opener

Boss Mickey Graham apologised to Cavan supporters after their heavy defeat to Armagh
From Brendan Crossan at The Athletic Grounds

Allianz National Football League Division Two: Armagh 2-18 Cavan 1-8


WELCOME to the big January giveaway. League points for free in The Athletic Grounds – and the Armagh footballers didn’t have to be asked twice.

Cavan’s display was as limp a display as you’ll see in 2020. Players wearing the lauded blue ran around the field with no particular purpose on Saturday night, they got turned over a thousand times, showed bouts of indiscipline and got what they deserved. A 13-point hammering.

Cavan’s display just lacked soul. It was the kind of performance that would have made Mickey Graham question everything.

Afterwards, the Cavan manager took refuge against a cold wall outside the changing rooms and didn’t have to be prodded by journalists over just how poor his side had played.

“It was just not good enough,” he said dejectedly.

“I’d just like to apologise to the people of Cavan who journeyed down here because any time you go out you want to put your best foot forward, but things didn’t happen for us and the lads are gutted because they let themselves down, they let the management down, they let the whole group down. We all take responsibility for it – management, players and we’ll see where we go from here.”

During his own playing days, Mickey Graham turned chasing lost causes into an art form. Every time he wore the blue jersey the darting corner-forward was perpetual motion.

It was exactly that energy, that never-say-die spirit and life-affirming work-rate Graham brought to the table that was sorely absent in his players.

Outside of the elite counties, no inter-county team could cope with the exodus of players Cavan had to endure in the close season, Killian Clarke, Conor Moynagh, Dara McVeety, Cian Mackey and Michael Argue among them.

Still, Graham wasn’t in the business of giving himself a get-out.

“We have lads that want to play for Cavan and it’s been well documented the players that aren’t here,” he said.

“The reality is we have to get on with what we have, but to be on the end of a defeat like that has hurt them and we want to get a response out of them.

“They’ll be more disappointed than anybody else and hopefully they can dust themselves down. We just have to make sure we get our heads up and try and go at it next weekend against Westmeath.”

Even amid the ramshackle nature of Cavan’s display, you could still appreciate Armagh’s quality.

Kieran McGeeney now has a clutch of forwards that are as good as you’ll see in Ulster and beyond.

Crossmaglen brothers Oisin and Rian O’Neill have all the attributes you want in attackers: strong, powerful, confident who don’t over-complicate things.

On Saturday night, Rory Grugan’s tackling back drew warm applause on a number of occasions and new captain Stefan Campbell cut the Cavan defence to ribbons every time he gained possession.

But the name on everybody’s lips upon leaving the Cathedral City was Conor Turbitt.

The Orchard management team face a sizeable job managing the hype around the young Clann Eireann corner-forward.

Judging by the spectacular advanced ‘mark’ he plucked out of the air in the second minute, which he converted, Turbitt will take some stopping in Division Two this season.

He rippled Cavan’s net just after half-time, pouncing on Gearoid McKiernan’s mistake to deal with a high ball on the edge of the square.

Turbitt had the easiest of tasks to fire home from close range which put Armagh 1-10 to 0-5 up after 37 minutes.

It was game over at that point.

‘Soupy’ Campbell struck powerfully to the net from the penalty spot on 65 minutes after substitute Jarlath Og Burns was fouled.

Two minutes later Cavan full-back Padraig Faulkner bundled the ball over the goal-line to leave the visitors trailing by 2-16 to 1-7.

Fielding four debutants, Armagh brought tremendous fluidity to their play.

Defenders Aidan Forker and Paddy Burns ghosted seamlessly into the home side’s attack at times as did new boys Conor O’Neill and Callum Cumiskey.

In an era when you hear managers shouting from the sidelines “through the hands, through the hands”, Armagh still put great emphasis on kicking the ball into their full-forward line.

And when they did decide to go through the hands, Armagh off-loaded the ball to the right men, evidenced by ‘Soupy’ Campbell racing into opposition territory at full pelt on numerous occasions.

Oisin Kiernan and Killian Brady kept trying for Cavan when all was lost while three black cards didn’t help their cause especially when they were reduced to 13 men for a period in the second half following the sin-binning of Padraig Faulkner and James Smith in the 44th and 49th minutes, respectively.

Tactically, Cavan were also found wanting as nearly all of their attacks went down the centre – much to the delight of Armagh’s Greg McCabe and Brendan Donaghy.

Conor Madden did well to nab two points for Cavan before injury ended his night on the half hour mark and Conor Smith suffered a similar fate before the interval.

Nobody wearing orange dropped below seven-out-of-10 on the night but with 1-6 against his name at the final whistle, young Turbitt was clearly the pick of the Orchard bunch.

Armagh’s assistant manager Jim McCorry said: “We had the same issue with Rian [O’Neill] and Jarlath [Og Burns] when they became household names very, very quickly last year and in fairness to them their feet were firmly on the ground and they didn’t let it get to them.

“To be honest, I don’t the breeding of these young footballers nowadays. Conor Turbitt is the exact same, he’s very, very grounded.

“You can see the work that has been done by Clann Eireann and even against a physical team who were man-marking and sometimes double-teaming him, he still won ball.”

Despite dominating every aspect of Saturday night’s encounter, McCorry added: “We’ve still a lot to work on. You could see the rustiness there and I know there was a lot written about the players that Cavan are missing but when you actually count the number of players we’re missing – Andy Murnin, Jamie Clarke weren't involved, Jemar Hall and Jarlath Og Burns only came on in the game, Ryan Kennedy, Paul Hughes, Aaron McKay and Aidan Nugent – they were all Championship players last year."

Armagh: B Hughes; P Burns, G McCabe, C O’Neill; C Cumiskey, A Forker (0-1); N Grimley (0-1), S Sheridan; J Duffy, R Grugan (0-3, 0-2 frees), O O’Neill (0-3); C Turbitt (1-6, 0-1 ‘mark’), R O’Neill (0-2 frees), S Campbell (1-2, 1-0 pen) Subs: M Shields for J Duffy (49), J McElroy for A Forker (58), J Og Burns for P Burns (64), J Morgan for C Cumiskey (66), J Hall for R O’Neill (66)

Yellow card: C Cumiskey (60)

Blood substitution: A Forker replaced by J McElroy (58 made permanent)

Cavan: R Galligan; P Meade, P Faulkner (1-0), G Smith; C Brady, B Kelly, O Kiernan (0-2, 0-1 free); K Brady, B Magee (0-1 free); S Smith, S Cadden, C Smith (0-1); M Reilly, G McKiernan (0-2, 0-1 free), C Madden (0-2) Subs: E Doughty for C Madden (31), O Pierson for C Smith (32), J Smith for B Magee (47), C Conroy for S Smith (63)

Yellow card:s B Kelly (25), K Brady (41)

Black cards: S Smith (28-38), P Faulkner (44-54), J Smith (50-60)

Referee: B Cassidy (Derry),


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