GAA Football

Armagh come through Cavan storm to begin 2022 with Dr McKenna Cup victory

Cavan’s Oisin Brady is pursued by Greg McCabe, Ciaran Mackin and Rory Grugan of Armagh during Thursday night's Dr McKenna Cup match at Kingpan Breffni
Picture: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
From Andy Watters at Kingspan Breffni

Dr McKenna Cup Section B, round one: Cavan 0-11 Armagh 1-12

A STEWARD joked: “There must be nothing on the telly” as vehicles packed out the capark at the back of the stand last night.

He obviously didn’t expect the action-packed 70 minutes the sides’ served up in wintry conditions. Armagh bossed the first half, Cavan – who missed four goal chances – were on top for spells in the second but ultimately it was the visitors who began their year with victory.

Ciaran McKeever, deputising for manager Kieran McGeeney, was pleased with what he saw from his an Armagh side backboned by experienced performers.

“We knew what we were going to get here – Cavan are always competitive, they get men behind the ball, they make life difficult and want to hit you on the counter,” he said.

“We were the architects of our downfall at times in the second half by giving them cheap ball and letting them get in behind us but in the last quarter the boys showed good composure and implemented what we’ve been working on on the training ground. Eventually it worked for us and we created a couple of nice scores and got the goal at the end.”

It took seven minutes before the first score of 2022 arrived. Gearoid McKiernan tapped over a free after Armagh, who dominated the half by gobbling up midfield possession and cutting through the Cavan defence with pacey runs from midfield, had missed two chances.

Aidan Nugent also shot wide and Cavan’s counterattacking tactics paid off when Burns and Jemar Hall combined to foul James Smith and Paddy Lynch put the home side two in front after 11 minutes.

Aidan Forker took Grugan’s pass and opened Armagh’s account with his trusty left boot but Cavan’s direct running continued to draw fouls from the Orchard defence. Ryan O’Neill was taken down as he drove forward and again McKiernan obliged from the placed ball.

Armagh’s defence was jittery but, going forward, they were too slick for their hosts. Grugan’s delightful pass sent Ciaran Mackin through for a fisted point and then Burns equalised when he joined the attack.

There were misplaced passes you would expect at this stage of the season and Conor Madden and Smith both missed good opportunities to send the Breffnimen back in front.

Armagh’s wide count had reached six by the 23rd-minute mark but Stephen Sheridan sent them ahead for the first time with an excellent finish from the Cavan 45-yard line. A Hall point followed as the Orchardmen - utilising their array of high-fielding options - packed the midfield and dominated Galligan’s restarts.

Grugan’s free left it 0-6 to 0-3 on the half-hour mark and that, at the end of a half that Armagh had dominated while kicking nine wides, was the score at the interval although Cavan could have been on level terms had Thomas Galligan’s flick not gone the wrong side of Blaine Hughes’s right post.

Sheets of icy rain greeted the players as they emerged for the second half but Cavan, as they showed in their Ulster title run in 2019, can click into gear; and they did. Smith pulled a point back and Armagh’s goal lived a charmed life when McKiernan somehow shot wide with the goal gaping and Smith hammered a shot off the crossbar.

McKiernan atoned for his earlier miss to leave one in it, Conor Madden equalised and another from McKiernan gave Cavan the lead after five electric minutes.

And there was no let-up. Hall’s second point levelled it again and Hughes saved brilliantly from Conor Madden before Burns edged the visitors ahead.

McKiernan levelled and then Armagh missed a gilt-edged goal chance. Men in orange jerseys were queueing up to shoot but Sheridan and then Nugent failed to apply the finishing touch before Greg McCabe lashed the ball over the bar from close range.

Galligan’s free meant the sides were level for the fourth time in the half but again Armagh replied, this time through Nugent. Oisin Kiernan and Galligan both missed chances to restore parity as sleet turned to snow at Kingspan Breffni.

Lynch did find the target though to leave it 0-10 apiece and the tit-for-tat action continued with both defences lashing the ball to safety under pressure before McKiernan scored for Cavan and Rian O’Neill replied for Armagh.

Deep into injury-time, O’Neill ran onto Conor Turbitt’s ball and was dragged down. Grugan converted the free and then Ross McQuillan ran the ball into an empty net to send Armagh fans home with smiles on their frozen faces.

Cavan: R Galligan (0-1 free); E Finnegan, K Brady, L Fortune; O Kiernan, C Conroy, J McLoughlin; J Smith (0-1), M Argue; O Brady, G McKiernan (0-6, 0-2 frees), Cian Madden; Conor Madden (0-1), P Lynch (0-2 frees), R O’Neill

Subs: T Galligan for O’Neill (33), K Clarke for Argue (HT), G Smith for Finnegan (45), C O’Reilly for Conor Madden (59), J McKenna for Cian Madden (59), C O’Reilly for Conroy (61), B Kelly for Lynch (66), P Smith for McKenna (70)

Yellow card: K Brady (42)

Armagh: B Hughes; R Finn, A McKay, Ciaran Mackin (0-1); Connaire Mackin, G McCabe (0-1), J Og Burns (0-2); S Sheridan (0-1), N Grimley; J Hall (0-2), A Nugent (0-1), S Campbell; R Grugan (0-2 frees), R O’Neill (0-1), A Forker (0-1)

Subs: C Turbitt for Forker (42), R McQuillan (1-0) for Hall (50), J Morgan for McCabe (53), J Kieran for Sheridan (59), C O’Hanlon for Campbell (61), C Higgins for Finn (63), N Rowland for Burns (66)

Yellow card: McCabe (53)

Referee: A Marron (Monaghan)

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