Thursday 8 December 2016

Breffni primed to give Armagh the blues – King

Former Ulster-winning captain has high hopes of good times ahead

Published 26/05/2016 | 02:30

Stefan Campbell of Armagh and Cavan's James McEnroe battle for a high ball in 2014 – a game which the Orchard men won by six points (SPORTSFILE)
Stefan Campbell of Armagh and Cavan's James McEnroe battle for a high ball in 2014 – a game which the Orchard men won by six points (SPORTSFILE)

It's a sign of the bullish market where Cavan are currently trading that they have been installed as overwhelming favourites to beat Armagh on Sunday.

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And while the usual caveats apply, there's a widespread belief in Breffni-land that if the team performs to full capacity, they will clear the first fence with something to spare.

"We all know enough about the Ulster Championship to realise that any game can take on a life of its own but if Cavan play as they can, I wouldn't be surprised to see them win by five or six points," said Stephen King.

Capability

As the last man to captain Cavan to an Ulster title win (1997) in the final season of a 17-year career, King is well placed to judge the capability of the squad to end another long wait for provincial success.

"One step at a time but overall the mood is good. People believe in the team and the team believes in itself," he said.

There was considerable optimism among many Cavan supporters last May too, although King rang a warning bell in an Irish Independent interview.

"In my opinion, we won't win an Ulster title unless we're more offensive," he said. Cavan increased their creativity quota for the opening clash with Monaghan, scoring 0-15 which, agonisingly, left them just a point short against the eventual Ulster champions.

They later scored 1-16 against Roscommon in the qualifiers but leaked 3-17, which was out of line with their Division 2 League campaign, where they conceded an average of just over 12.4 points per game. However, their scoring average was only 12.6 points.

The difference between Cavan's League and Championship scoring rate suggested that a change of emphasis had taken place in matter of weeks. And while it yielded more scores, it also resulted in higher concessions.

The balance has been much better this year. With the exception of the Division 2 final, when Tyrone took them for 1-17, Cavan's defensive record was as good as last year, while their attacking yield was a whopping 43pc higher than in 2015.

"They were a joy to watch at times, especially in the last game against Galway. Both teams were going for promotion but they played with a real sense of freedom," said King.

"Cavan were first class that day. There was serious maturity about how they went about their business. There's a good balance about them - they're more creative than they used to be but they're defending well too."

The players received a standing ovation after the Galway game, which was in marked contrast to the mood among Cavan supporters when their side trailed Meath by eight points in a third-round tie in Navan.

Having lost the two first games narrowly to Tyrone and Derry, things looked bleak for Terry Hyland's men but turned the eight-point deficit into a seven-point win. It was the first of a five-match winning run that took them into Division 1.

"The Meath game was the turning point. Once they got that win, they were a different side. The final against Tyrone was a bit disappointing but they still got what they wanted from the League. It has set them up nicely for the Championship," said King.

Cavan beat Armagh by 17 points in March and while it won't have much bearing on the Championship re-match, King believes that the squad are well capable of getting another win.

Expectations

Expectations have been rising rapidly in Cavan since the Ulster U-21 four-in-a-row (2011-14) and King says it's now time for that underage success to transform into something substantial at senior level.

"Their U-21 days are behind them - they are seniors now and they need to press on. Winning championship games is the only way to do that," he said.

League standings have been vindicated in all the Championship games so far, which is encouraging for Cavan against an Armagh side that was relegated from Division 2.

"Kieran McGeeney will have Armagh well tuned and that they will be dangerous but I believe that Cavan are better than them at the present time.

"That won't win the game on its own but it puts them in a great position to do it," said King.

Cavan's top scorers in 2016 league

Gearoid McKiernan 1-27 (0-8fs)

Seánie Johnston 3-17 (0-10fs)

David Givney 3-6

Michael Argue 1-6

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