Saturday 25 January 2020

Grimley gamble fails to pay off

Armagh boss vows to stick with attacking principles despite Cavan defeat

Martin Dunne, Cavan, in action against Paul McKeown, Armagh.
Martin Dunne, Cavan, in action against Paul McKeown, Armagh.
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Paul Grimley accepts that some will look at the approach Armagh took to this preliminary-round game and conclude they were tactically naive.

But his football is based on a set of principles he believes in and, if that meant cutting his cloth to suit the fabric at Kingspan Breffni Park, then he wasn't having it. His values mean too much to him for that.

For the best part of five months Grimley has been moulding an attack-orientated side that has defied the temptation for a team at their stage of development to put the building blocks in from the back first and cautiously work their way forward.

So they resisted the desire to swell their defence with numbers, ditched the luxury of the sweeper Cavan afforded them with their own positioning of captain Alan Clarke by withdrawing Finian Moriarty (a defender) for Ethan Rafferty (a forward) and pushed on up regardless.


It was high stakes and they lost. The consequences may indeed be hard. Cavan sat back, drew them in, waited for the mistakes and then hit them on the break, impressively, for their first win in the province since 2009.

Unfortunately this will be looked at coldly as a victory for system and substance, a bow to the pragmatism that has been sweeping football in recent years as opposed to the liberalism some managers have taken to this season.

The home side were smart, ruthless and even cynical when they had to be. After years of underachievement and naivety, their supporters will welcome the approach as a step forward in their development.

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Jamie Clarke was held scoreless by a Cavan defence that swarmed him at every opportunity in the knowledge that success in this particular battle would likely win them the war.

"You have to give Cavan credit for the tactics that they used. I was tempted to go back and use a sweeper," admitted Grimley afterwards. "But this is the way we have been working for six months and as I said to the boys, there wouldn't be much to me if I changed it after 35 minutes. If you are in this job here, you have to stand for what you believe in which, win or lose, I will do."

He admitted it took time for the introduction of Rafferty to bed in properly and, as they left five against five at the back, they paid the price as Cavan drove through them.

"Five against five, in fairness, probably a lot of people will point the finger and say that was tactically naive. Maybe, but that's the way we are going to play and that's it," Grimley insisted.

Too often their full-back line was left badly exposed as Cavan broke hard and fast from the back. Novice full-back Declan McKenna was in trouble early on against Eugene Keating and Brendan Donaghy – left out of the starting team because of a slight injury concern – really struggled on his introduction after 31 minutes.

Keating's ability to win ball and make driving runs was something the Armagh defence, content to go man to man, didn't deal with. He ran riot in the second half. Beside him Martin Dunne, one of two championship debutants, had a field day, with plenty of space in which to thrive.

He profited with an eight-point haul from play after a shaky start that saw him drop a scoreable free short and steer another relatively simple chance wide. To recover and do what he did took quite a degree of character.

For a debutant to score eight points from play, however opportunistic he was, has to be acknowledged as a systems failure for Armagh. Even hardened and experienced operators like Aaron Kernan and Ciaran McKeever were affected by it.

Evidence of how open Armagh were came just three minutes after Moriarty's withdrawal when Cian Mackey was allowed to coast 50 metres virtually unchallenged from the halfway line and drop-kick a goal past Philip McEvoy for a 1-3 to 0-3 lead. Points from Niall McDermott and Dunne before the break gave them a 1-6 to 0-4 half-time lead.

"For our first half alone we did not deserve to win that game. I have no complaints," Grimley said. "We were too slow. We had worked on this high-pressure game. We didn't adapt to it at all in the first half."

Cavan kicked on after the break, their policy of absorbing pressure and striking on the break serving them well. By the 41st minute Dunne had turned Paul McKeon once again for a 1-9 to 0-5 lead.

Finally, Armagh stirred and it was Clarke who looked to have breathed life into it when he turned Jason McLoughlin and drilled a magnificent shot past Conor Gilsenan on 44 minutes. Referee Maurice Deegan had blown, however, and with no recourse to advantage a free was awarded instead. Curiously, no yellow card was produced for the offence. Stefan Forker converted a point.

Time and again Cavan got away with cynical fouls that disrupted momentum and allowed them to align themselves defensively with the numbers required. David Givney, who had a fine match otherwise, was fortunate to get no yellow until the 57th minute. Within 10 minutes he got a second and was gone. The yellow card count alone – six to Armagh's one – tells its own story.

The Orchard County eventually closed the gap to a point when Ethan Rafferty's persistence in the goalmouth was rewarded when he hacked home a goal – via a Cavan leg – on 58 minutes.

But Cavan's response was probably the most telling aspect of their performance as Keating, Dunne (twice) and James McEnroe fired over points to put the result beyond doubt.

Cavan manager Terry Hyland acknowledged that their deployment of a sweeper had helped. "I suppose it may have been (a help) all right. Jamie Clarke is a hell of a player and you can't afford to leave too much room in front of him. We probably identified also that they move a lot of players forward when they have the ball and they leave gaps at the back, so we probably didn't have to leave too many forward up there."

The fruits of the Breffni men's exhaustive underage labours were very much in evidence here. The majority of their players have come off the conveyor belt that has taken them to the past four provincial U-21 finals, the last three of which they have won. In time, this will be recalled as a very significant step.

Scorers – Cavan: M Dunne 0-9 (1f), C Mackey 1-0, E Keating, N McDermott (1f) 0-2 each, J McEnroe, D O'Reilly 0-1 each.

Armagh: S Forker 0-4 (2fs), E Rafferty 1-0, A Kernan (2fs), T Kernan 0-2 each, M Shields, E McVerry, C Rafferty 0-1 each.

Cavan – C Gilsenan 7; R Dunne 7, K Clarke 7, J McLoughlin 7; J McEnroe 7, A Clarke 7, R Flanagan 7; K Brady 6, D O'Reilly 6; D Givney 6, C Mackey 8, F Flanagan 7; N McDermott 7; M Dunne 9, E Keating 8. Subs: M Reilly 6 for Brady (47), J Brady for McDermott (64), J McCutcheon for O'Reilly (65), M McKeever for Mackey (67).

Armagh – P McEvoy 8; P McKeown 5, D McKenna 5, F Moriarty 5; M Shields 7, A Kernan 6, C McKeever 6; J Lavery 7, S Harold 8; C Rafferty 6, K Dyas 6, T Kernan 7; J Clarke 7, C O'Hanlon 6, S Forker 7. Subs: E Rafferty 7 for Moriarty (18), B Donaghy 5 for McKenna (31), E McVerry 6 for Forker (54), J Hanratty 5 for O'Hanlon (50), G McParland for C Rafferty (66)

Ref – M Deegan (Laois).

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