Reilly leads way for Cavan as Armagh fail to fire again
Kick-outs give Breffni men the perfect platform for easy win
It’s a measure of Cavan’s growing status as a force in football that they were able to keep Armagh at arm’s length for so much of this Ulster quarter-final in Kingspan Breffni Park.
Cavan 2-16 Armagh 0-14
When Armagh’s Stefan Campbell, easily their best player here and all season, stepped up to a penalty that he won himself in the 57th minute, he had a chance to cut the deficit to three points, but it was never a reflection of the way the game was panning out.
Cavan goalkeeper Raymond Galligan smothered Campbell’s shot and instantly they swept forward with Cian Mackey presenting Seanie Johnston, back in his native county’s championship shirt for the first time in five years, with an opportunity to bolt down the result which he didn’t refuse. A potential three-point deficit was now out to seven.
Worse still, Armagh seemed to accept their fate on the field and off it in the stands and terraces, as if they had been expecting it. There was a distinct lack of cutting edge about them.
But for Campbell’s constant probing and availability, the surging runs and accuracy of Tony Kernan and the vision of Rory Grugan, they’d have lost by a lot more than eight points.
Following on from a nine-point defeat at the same stage last year to Donegal, a tame qualifier exit to Galway and relegation from Division Two (albeit a little unluckily on score difference), these are troubling times for Armagh football. Cavan, on the other hand, showed no ill-effects of the Division Two league final defeat to Tyrone.
They had the air of a team that knew they could lift a gear at any stage.
Every time Armagh even hinted at making inroads into their lead they were quick to shut them down.
They trailed early on by 0-3 to 0-1, but by the 26th minute they had hit overdrive with considerable success off both their own and Armagh’s kick-out to lead 1-8 to 0-4. It was this period that effectively decided the game.
Armagh did show some resistance with late points from Tony Kernan and Campbell (45) and were hanging in well until Cavan’s second goal.
Cavan had sound fundamentals in place that have carried them to Division 1 status and can give them a solid footing in this championship too.
More and more, Galligan’s placement as goalkeeper for last year’s Ulster Championship quarter-final against Monaghan looks an inspired move. As an outfield player, he scored 10 points in a league match against Roscommon in 2009 and it’s that accuracy that prompted manager Terry Hyland to switch him.
On top of the save, his kick-outs here were as close to perfection as he could have hoped for, his targeting of Martin Reilly really working well in the first half while Cavan also profited from the tactic of having defenders running on to them instead of running to meet them, thanks to his sublime striking over the top of the cluster of fielders. They got their second goal this way, Galligan hitting Conor Moynagh on the run down along the stand sideline to set the move in motion.
Reilly had a great match, setting up Dara McVeety for their opening goal and then converting that second-half penalty after Cian Mackey, a surprise starter who had shown impressive form in training, was fouled in the 44th minute. But it was work beneath both his own and the opposition’s kick-outs that really stood out. Not the biggest of men, he was nonetheless able to position himself to claim seven (five of Cavan’s) and put the majority of them to productive use.
Up front, Gearoid McKiernan kicked three first-half points during that purple patch but was more subdued after Armagh introduced Aaron Findon to bring some added physicality to a struggling midfield.
Cavan’s counter-attacking game worked well, especially through Conor Moynagh and McVeety, who is developing as a key player while Mackey’s ball carrying also hurt Armagh.
Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney threw a curve ball at the start by starting Paul Courtney, generally an outfield player, for Paddy Morrison who has had a back injury.
The basis for his selection appeared to be his kick-outs and to offer a better defensive support, but with the loss of four early on, Armagh switched to shorter restarts and didn’t get the platform they had wished for.
McGeeney sought to put a positive spin on their performance, offering paucity of conversion as the chief reason for their shortcomings.
“Seven short,” he recalled. “You look at the stats and we have 29 shots, 44 attacks but you have to convert, dropping the ball short is the thing. Cavan had a few wides but they did not drop them short.”
They had just three scorers, Campbell, Kernan and Ethan Rafferty, and McGeeney accepted this spread was too low. “We need more up front, there is no point saying any different. We can’t be missing easy scores.
“We had a 14-yard free kick so it’s hard to see how it was blocked, but wee things like that is a big difference. It’s not as if every score is the same, four or five points in that game would have made a big difference but we just have to get better at it.”
By the break, three of the starting front six were off, Ciaron O’Hanlon, Colm Watters and Gavin McParland. “For most of the game we were very competitive, it has been our Achilles heel for a while, scoring, 14 scores is not enough,” said McGeeney.
Cavan manager Terry Hyland accepted the ‘tale of two penalties’ gave them breathing space. “The penalty on our side (from Reilly) give us the chance to kick on and keep the scoreboard ticking over. The save then, it would have been a three-point game and given them an advantage at that stage. But look, that’s what they are there for, they are there to be saved.”
McGeeney accepts that there will be pressure on now, stressing the imperative of a good qualifier run.
“There’s some people who will use it for personal steps but we’re not too far away. From my own point of view, I thought six points would have kept us up in Division 2 and give us something to hold on to with those younger fellas, but it didn’t and today? We’ll need a run this summer.”
Scorers – Cavan: S Johnston 0-7 (4f), D McVeety 1-1, M Reilly 1-0 (pen), G McKiernan 0-3, J Brady 0-2, D Givney, C Moynagh, R Galligan (’45), all 0-1 each. Armagh: S Campbell 0-8 (3f, 2 ’45s), E Rafferty 0-4 (3f), T Kernan 0-2.
Cavan: R Galligan 8; F Flanagan 7, K Clarke 5, R Dunne 6; P Faulkner 6, C Moynagh 8, N Murray 6; T Corr 7, G McKiernan 8; D McVeety 8, C Mackey 8, M Reilly 8; D Givney 7, M Argue 5, S Johnston 8. Subs: C Brady 7 for Murray (46), E Keating for Argue (51) J Brady 7 for Keating BC (53), K Brady for Faulkner (65), G Smith for Johnston (66), L Buchannan for McKiernan (69).
Armagh: P Courtney 7; A Mallon 6, B Donaghy 6, C Vernon 7; M Shields 6, J Morgan 7, C McKeever 6; E Rafferty 7, A Forker 6; C O’Hanlon 4, R Grugan 7, T Kernan 8; C Watters 4, S Campbell 8, G McParland 4. Subs: A Findon 6 for O’Hanlon (27), M McKenna 6 for Watters (29). J Hall 5 for McParland (h-t), S Connell 6 for Vernon inj (39), J McElroy 5 for Rafferty inj (44), S Heffron for McElroy BC (63).
Ref: Eddie Kinsella (Laois)