Cavan reach first provincial decider in 18 years after high-scoring thriller

Cavan 0-23 - 0-17 Armagh

Cavan will compete in the Ulster SFC final for the first time since 2001, thanks to the courage and staying power that carried them through to a six points win in an absorbing replay at Clones.

An old-fashioned shoot-out thrilled and enthralled a crowd of 21,192 at St Tiernach’s Park, with each side in turn enjoying their spells of dominance.

But after surviving a precarious opening, in which Armagh carved out two golden goal chances, the Breffni men displayed greater composure, and in the end, superior stamina.

They had men with hearts of lions in defence, and up front the finishers with the composure and accuracy to find the target with consistency.

Armagh relied too heavily on the brilliant Jamie Clarke for scores, along with exciting newcomer Rian O’Neill, but Cavan had eleven different players on the score-sheet by the time referee Paddy Neilan called time on a memorable encounter.

A whirlwind start by the Orchard men could have seen them grab two goals inside the opening couple of minutes.

Jemar Hall and James Morgan combined to create the opening for Aidan Nugent, but his shot was deflected away by ‘keeper Raymond Galligan.

Moments later, an even better opportunity fell to Jamie Clarke, but his shot zipped past the wrong side of a post as he attempted to pick his spot in the bottom corner of the net.

A relieved Cavan side responded with a strong period of pressure, moving the ball quickly and approaching with a variety of options, a mix of short game and long kicking towards target man Gearoid McKiernan.

Dara McVeety and Niall Murray fired over points to get them going, and after McKiernan, McVeety again and Killian Clarke had found the target, they led by 0-7 to 0-2 by the beginning of the second quarter.

Armagh were living off scraps, but did craft another goal chance, but again, Mark Shields was denied by Galligan, who added to his effectiveness by stepping up to send a long range free between the posts.

Murray, with his fourth score, made it 0-11 to 0-4 on the half-hour, but Armagh, with Niall Grimley and Jarlath Og Burns stepping up their game around the middle, clawed their way back.

Crossmaglen star Clarke began to display his unmistakable magic with a delightful score from play and two frees as they hit four on the spin to narrow the gap to three, 0-11 to 0-8 at the break.

Murray sent a shot smashing off a post early in the second half as Cavan went back on the attack, setting the tone for another see-saw 40 minutes of richly entertaining football, each side in turn finding their own spells of inspiration.

Oisin Kiernan had the Breffni men in front by five, but another Orchard flourish saw substitute Stefan Campbell fire over a quality score to narrow the gap to one.

Clarke and O’Neill added to their personal tallies as well, but with Killian Clarke driving from deep, McVeety still full of running and energy and Cian Mackey off the bench to add his guile and experience, Cavan had more in them.

Moynagh, Mackey, McVeety and McKiernan all steered over inspiring scores as they pulled clear and finally broke Orchard resistance.

Cavan: R Galligan (0-3, 3f); J McLoughlin, P Faulkner, C Moynagh (0-2); M Reilly (0-1), K Clarke (0-1), C Rehill (0-1); C Brady, T Galligan; O Kiernan (0-1), D McVeety (0-4), N Murray (0-5, 4f); O Pierson (0-1), G McKiernan (0-3), C Madden.

Subs: C Mackey (0-1) for Madden (41), S Murray for T Galligan (47), C O’Reilly for Pierson (64), J Brady for Kiernan (74)

Armagh: B Hughes; R Kennedy, C Vernon, J Morgan; P Hughes, P Burns, A Forker; J Og Burns, N Grimley; A Nugent, M Shields (0-1), J Hall; R O’Neill (0-6, 4f), A Murnin, J Clarke (0-7, 3f).

Subs: S Campbell (0-2) for Nugent (28), R Grugan (0-1) for Murnin (43), B Crealey for Hall (56), J McElroy for Morgan (66), E Rafferty for J Og Burns (68)

Referee: P Neilan (Roscommon).

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