Cavan 2-16, Armagh 0-14: For the third week in a row, some of the gloss was taken off the Ulster senior football championship’s top billing as the most fiercely competitive product in the country.
Armagh’s failure to mount a serious challenge to Cavan’s supremacy, save for a 10-minute spell midway through the second half at Kingspan Breffni Park, sucked the energy out of yesterday’s disappointing first round tie and much like Fermanagh and Tyrone’s victories in recent weeks, it became a procession.
That’s not to say the game had little going for it, because the quality of Cavan’s counter-attacking play and some of the score-taking was impressive.
But Armagh’s poor scoring conversion rate and lack of support for their one true attacking threat, Stefan Campbell, made the win easier than Cavan could have hoped.
Kieran McGeeney catapulted Paul Courtney into goals like a rabbit out of a hat.
An All-Ireland U21 winner in 2004 and member of the 2008 Ulster Championship winning squad as an outfield player, he made his championship debut in goals and it was a surprise move which divided opinion.
Four Cavan points came directly off his misdirected kick-outs in the first half, Martin Reilly the main beneficiary with some intelligent runs and lung-bursting sprints up the field.
When Courtney went short with the kick-outs, he played a series of one-twos and soloed up the pitch but too often the ball was turned over and left him having to sprint back to base.
At the other end, Raymond Galligan’s precision deliveries nearly always found their intended target allowing Dara McVeety, Gearoid McKiernan and Reilly to launch raids up the field.
The industrious Cian Mackey, a late inclusion in Cavan’s starting team, caught the eye and he looked back to his best form of 2013 when the team reached the All-Ireland quarter-finals.
Armagh led 0-3 to 0-1 after 10 minutes through Campbell and Ethan Rafferty – who was a big loss when later forced off with a broken hand.
Cavan subsequently reeled off five points in a row in a six-minute spell to take control. Johnston nailed two frees and Galligan’s ‘45’ put them in front before Johnston finished off a typical sweeping move.
McKiernan tapped down Galligan’s kickout to Conor Moynagh, who found Mackey, who passed to Johnston for a sweet score. McKiernan’s 40m point after his team won another Armagh kickout put them 0-6 to 0-3 in front.
Rafferty and McKiernan swapped scores before Cavan found the net for the first time through McVeety’s finish after 25 minutes.
He started the move and finished it, Martin Reilly heavily involved in the build-up before teeing up his fellow wing-forward for an easy finish.
Tony Kernan provided some assistance to Campbell in the scoring charts, but the latter miscued a simple 14 yard free at a time Cavan were threatening to pull them assunder.
As it was, Cavan still led by 1-9 to 0-7 at half time, and probably felt like their dominance out the pitch was not reflected on the scoreboard.
Kieran McGeeney hauled two of his starting forwards, Colm Watters and Ciaran O’Hanlon, off in the first half and replaced another, Gavin McParland, during the interval.
Cavan kept surging forward and when Mackey was fouled by Andy Mallon, Reilly stepped up and coolly dispatched it into the bottom left-hand corner after 44 minutes. Despite trailing 2-11 to 0-9, Armagh to their credit didn’t down tools.
Campbell led the fight, kicking three points in a row, and with Eugene Keating’s fleeting substitute appearance lasting all of three minutes before getting a black card for an off-the-ball foul on Morgan, Cavan weren’t getting things all their own way.
Jack Brady’s two points after coming off the bench re-established their momentum, however, while Armagh then had a missed penalty after 56 minutes.
Rory Grugan fed Campbell who was fouled by Killian Clarke, but Campbell’s tame penalty down the middle was easily gathered by Galligan.
Instead of nailing the goal which would have reduced the gap to three points, Armagh found themselves seven behind within seconds as Cavan launched another raid down the field with Johnston scoring to put the home side 2-13 to 0-12 ahead.
That drew the final sting out of Armagh, with Cavan having plenty of reason to feel good about themselves heading into an Ulster semi-final with Tyrone.
Scorers for Cavan:
S Johnston (0-07, 4f), D McVeety (1-01), M Reilly (1-00, pen), G McKiernan (0-03), J Brady (0-02), R Galligan (0-01, ’45), C Moynagh (0-01), D Givney (0-01).
S Campbell (0-08, 3f, 2 ’45), E Rafferty (0-04, 3f), T Kernan (0-02).
R Galligan, P Faulkner, K Clarke, F Dunne, F Flanagan, C Moynagh, N Murray, T Corr, G McKiernan, D McVeety, C Mackey, M Reilly, D Givney, M Argue, S Johnston.
C Brady for Murray, E Keating for Argue, J Brady for Keating (BC), K Brady for Faulkner, G Smith for Johnston, L Buchanan for McKiernan.
P Courtney, J Morgan, C Vernon, M Shields, A Mallon, A Forker, C McKeever, B Donaghy, E Rafferty, R Grugan, T Kernan, C O’Hanlon, C Watters, S Campbell, G McParland.
A Findon for O’Hanlon, M McKenna for Watters, J Hall for McParland, S Connell for Vernon, J McElroy for Rafferty, S Hefforn for McElroy (BC)
E Kinsella (Laois).
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