Cavan 0-13 Armagh 0-17
ORDER restored in Ulster then. Well, up to a point, at any rate. The province has proven to be a graveyard for more than one fancied runner so far this summer, but Armagh managed to stem the winds of change yesterday with a relatively comfortable win in Cavan’s own backyard.
It wasn’t the kind of performance to send whispers of wonderment sweeping through the land but, against a limited Cavan side, it never needed to be. Let’s not forget either that this was their first competitive game in over two months.
It was a new era for the 2002 All-Ireland champions. Joe Kernan was absent from the sideline for the first time in six years and Kieran McGeeney has had other matters on his mind this summer.
There was still much that was familiar about them. Paul McGrane lorded the midfield, Steven McDonnell and Ronan Clarke terrorised up front while old sweats like Francie Bellew and Aidan O’Rourke manned the barricades at the back.
Youth reared its head too, with championship debuts handed out to defender Finian Moriarty and the versatile Charlie Vernon, while Kieran Toner matched McGrane catch-for-catch in the centre.
How good they are, or can be, is difficult to tell. Cavan came into the fixture buoyed by an air of optimism in the county this past few weeks but, on this sort of evidence, you would wonder why.
They were game, certainly, but all too limited. Talk of a blanket defence last week proved to be just that. Talk. At times, Armagh committed no more than four players to the attack and they still managed to come away with scores.
Midfield was an even bigger headache for Donal Keogan and it was no surprise when he attempted to patch things up there with a substitution after only 23 minutes. It was finger in the dyke stuff.
To be fair, Cavan were faced with a pair of midfielders operating at the top of their game in the shape of McGrane and Toner but the home side didn’t help themselves with some disjointed attacking play.
Seanie Johnston was the one man Armagh knew could sink their provincial ambitions but they squeezed the 23-year old like a vice in the first half. It was only when he moved out to the ‘40’ after the break that he began to cause problems.
With their midfield struggling so badly, Cavan needed to make the most of the possession they enjoyed but time and again the service in was misguided and lapped up by one or other of the many Armagh defenders.
Dermot McCabe, a bull of a man in a Cavan forward line filled with greyhounds, hugged the small square for most of the day but he was fed on scraps and failed to make the impact he did the last day against Antrim.
Armagh started slowly but found their stride after about ten minutes and four wides. Three points from the Kernan brothers — two from Stephen and one from Aaron — pushed them into a three-point lead by the end of the first quarter.
Cavan were struggling to construct going forward and must have been disheartened by the ease and frequency with which they conceded possession in that half. Two such instances led directly to Armagh scores.
Two McDonnell points toward the half’s end stretched the lead to four but Cavan turned around with the wind at their backs and a rejigged forward line that saw Johnston move out the field in search of profit.
It did no more than keep them in touching distance and even that would have been an achievement beyond them had Armagh enjoyed more reward from three one-on-ones, with Cavan keeper James Reilly after the break.
Clarke, Stephen Kernan and McDonnell were all denied by the man with the gloves within a space of 15 minutes but the lost opportunities never threatened to be fatal such were Cavan’s shortcomings up front.
Johnston fought the good fight with five second-half points — three of them from play — but Cavan failed to engineer a single shot on Paul Hearty’s goal and, as the affair dragged on, it was clear that only a green flag could save the day.
The closest the home side got to parity was two points after a Johnston free 48 minutes in but Armagh merely upped a gear again and there would never be less than two scores between them again.
Tougher assignments await.
Scorers for Cavan: S Johnston 0-6 (3f), D McCabe 0-3 (1f), C Mackey 0-2, M Reilly 0-1, M McKeever 0-1.
Scorers for Armagh: S McDonnell 0-6 (1 ‘45, 1f), S Kernan 0-3, A Kernan 0-2 (1f), R Clarke 0-2, C Vernon 0-1, P McGrane 0-1, K Toner 0-1 , P McKeever 0-1.
CAVAN: J Reilly; M Hannon, R Dunne, P O’Reilly; B Watters, A Forde, M Cahill; M McDonald, D McCabe; M Reilly, M McKeever, C Mackey; S Johnston, R Flanagan, J O’Reilly.
Subs: L Mulvey for McDonald 23, S Brady for O’Reilly 35, E O’Reilly for Reilly 43, M McDonald for Mulvey 46, D Sheridan for Dunne 56.
ARMAGH: P Hearty; A Mallon, F Bellew, F Moriarty; C Vernon, A O’Rourke, C McKeever; P McGrane, K Toner; A Kernan, S Kernan, M O’Rourke; S McDonnell, R Clarke, P McKeever.
Subs: T Kernan for S Kernan 68, B Mallon for M O’Rourke 70.
Referee: D Coldrick (Meath).
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