Third time lucky for Armagh

Story By: Cross Examiner

UMFC    Cavan v Armagh, @ Kingspan Breffni Park, Sun May 29 at 1.30pm

Having suffered two defeats at the hands of Cavan already this year Armagh will be hoping that it will be a case of third time lucky when the teams meet at Kingspan, Breffni Park on Sunday in the quarter-final of the Ulster Senior Football championship.

The last time these sides met at this venue in the championship in 2013 Cavan emerged victorious on a 1-15 to 1-11 scoreline. The teams met again in the 2014 championship at the Athletic Grounds where a pre-parade brawl between the players made national headlines for all the wrong reasons which took the gloss off an Armagh victory 1-12 to 0-9.

In the current year Armagh hosted their Breffni rivals in Crossmaglen in January in the McKenna Cup and despite having 3 men sent–off, Cavan won 2-8 to 0-11. The sides then met in a Division Two league match at Sunday’s venue with Cavan romping to a 3-18 to 0-10 win on March 5 which, in the end, cost Armagh their divisional status on scoring differences.

Whilst Armagh league fate ended with relegation Cavan won promotion to the top tier, and a place in the league final against Tyrone. Cavan came up short in that league final 1-17 to 0-15 played on April 24 but the interesting stat from that final defeat for Cavan was that Terry Hyland played the same 15 in the final as he did against Armagh in their league meeting. In contrast to opponents Armagh, Cavan have a settled side one would say, barring any late injuries.

Armagh will be without Kevin Dyas and Andrew Murnin for the 2016 championship due to injury and will also be without ace marksman Jamie Clarke who has withdrawn from the panel. Manager Kieran McGeeney has got a bit better news in that skipper Ciaran McKeever, Brendan Donaghy and fellow defender James Morgan are recovered from injuries as is number one choice goalkeeper Paddy Morrison.

In 2015 Armagh exited both the Ulster championship and All-Ireland series on home ground at the Athletic Grounds. Donegal were 2-11 to 0-8 winners in Ulster whilst Galway came from the West to record a 1-12 to 0-12 win to end the championship season. From the championship team that lost to Galway 12 months ago it is likely that will show about a half dozen changes in personnel from this year’s starting 15 against Cavan.

Scores win games and 0-8 and 0-12 at home in championship games is just not good enough to get you over the line in most cases. There was a flattering 2-17 racked up against Wicklow (2-4 from Jamie Clarke) in a qualifier at the Athletic Grounds prior to the Galway defeat. Lack of scores has been Armagh’s the root of the Orchard County demise of late in the championship and was also a problem in the early part of the year in the league.

Ironically since that League hammering from Cavan Armagh adopted a more offensive approach which paid dividends as they finished their league campaign undefeated. Two draws 1-15 apiece with Galway, 1-10 to 0-13 away to Tyrone and a 1-18 to 0-15 last round win over Derry.

Under Terry Hyland Cavan for the last number of years were ultra-defensive getting lots of bodies behind the ball and playing counter attacking football. This year though now that their successes at u-21 level are beginning to tell as Hyland’s charges have dispelled with their defensive shackles and turned into a fine attacking force as their league form supports.

Cavan have injury concerns as an on-going groin problem sees Ballinagh marksman Niall McDermott the only main injury concern with Dara McVerry who was one of the Breffni men’s top performers during their National League campaign, which saw them promoted to Division One, is recovering from a dead leg and expected to start. Hyland will be hoping that his Breffni Blues will be able to advance to the last four of the province for the first time in three years come Sunday.

The Breffni County who won four Ulster Under 21 titles from 2011-2014 have been transformed from a really tough defensive team to a team that scored eight goals and 117 points this year following the moving of Gearoid McKiernan to attack, the return of the “Prodigal son” Seanie Johnston and the current form of Cillian Clarke and Michael Argue.

Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney will be encouraged by the recent showings of Shea Heffron, Gavin McParland, Rory Grugan, Ciaran O’Hanlon, Colm Watters and will be keen to get the blend of the very experienced championship campaigners and “the newcomers” just right to cause the upset.

I have always maintained that the underdog tag suits Armagh right down to the ground. Demoted to Division Three going into the” lion’s den” that is Breffni Park the Orchard County will be written off by many pundits and by the bookies who have Armagh freely available at 15/8 with Cavan odds –on at 8/15.

Cavan’s recent championship exploits have hardly set the house on fire and in front of their own passionate but impatient fan base they are under pressure to produce. Armagh have nothing to lose and all to gain and hopefully will take an attacking approach to Sunday’s game. The offensive approach cannot be taken if the defensive performance is as bad as that in their last championship showing at the venue where Cavan were given loads of room to exploit the Armagh full back line.

The game may swing in the all-important midfield area and the Armagh match up in this sector where opponents Cavan are strong is vital. Tyrone negated that threat by getting bodies in around that sector to contest and pick up vital break ball.

I think that we could be in for a terrific counter-attacking game of football which could be one of the games of the year. Armagh have the players and the talent to do the business but need to get the balance right on the field. The respective benches would see Armagh having more game changers than their opposition makes me opt for an away win in a high scoring encounter.

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