Armagh 1-14 Cavan 0-12
By Paul Fitzpatrick at Kingspan Breffni
Armagh ran out easy winners over Cavan in this one-sided Ulster SFC quarter-final at a rain-sodden Kingspan Breffni.
The Orchard men opened an early lead and would maintain it throughout. They stretched it to nine when Ben Crealey palmed in a goal just before half-time and although Cavan managed to put together a few mini flurries of scores, the five-point gap at the final whistle was as close as Cavan came, which tells its own story. Armagh won this one pulling up.
The winners, who were very close to an All-Ireland semi-final last year, came in as warm favourites but the sense, among the home fans at least, was that this one would go to the wire, with the hosts needing to make an Ulster final in order to secure a Sam Maguire place.
Adding to the sense that this one would be close was the fact that both sides will start next season in Division Two and while the Orchard have made incremental progress, Cavan boasted their most experienced and decorated squad in decades, with up to 10 of the panel above, or closing in on, the 100-cap milestone.
The Blues were made to look very ordinary here, however. Conor Turbitt’s movement and slick finishing caused Cavan huge problems and Kieran McGeeney’s side were much more efficient, too – they had no wides in the first half, when the contest was really won, while Cavan registered 15 over the 70 minutes.
Two early left-footed points from Turbitt and a 45 from sweeper-keeper Ethan Rafferty eased Armagh in front. The pattern was set; Cavan huffed and puffed but had to work much harder for their scores while Armagh repeatedly cut them open with smart movement and punished the home side with crisp finishing.
Cavan belatedly opened their account after 11 minutes when Cian Madden hooked over. Oisin Brady soon added to the tally with an impressive breakaway point but Armagh did not panic.
Turbitt nailed two frees and Andrew Murnin escaped the clutches of Killian Clarke to hit Armagh’s sixth and already, it was clear there was a gulf.
Shane McPartlan, Rory Grugan (free) and Turbitt all registered and just before half-time, Kieran McGeeney’s men tore through the centre, with Ciaran Mackin squaring for Ben Crealey to palm in at the back post.
Cavan actually hit four points in a row either side of half-time from Conor Brady, Cian Madden, Paddy Lynch and Gearoid McKiernan but they would never get closer.
Armagh responded with a hat-trick of scores from Greg McCabe, after a booming Ethan Rafferty restart, and Turbitt (two) which immediately halted any momentum Mickey Graham’s side had built up.
The Blues weren’t helped by some appalling shooting – they kicked 15 wides in all and dropped another couple short – but a lot of credit for that must go to Armagh’s defence, who worked tirelessly and gave away few scoreable frees.
Cavan relocated James Smith to full-forward for the second half but a few high deliveries were dealt with and the tactic seemed to be abandoned. Armagh’s work-rate was superb, typified by a brilliant block from Rian O’Neill which denied sub Tiarnan Madden a goal with Rafferty beaten, and Cavan, perhaps too accustomed to the backwaters of the lower divisions and the Tailteann Cup, couldn’t get up to the pace of the game.
In the last 15 minutes including injury time, Cavan did exert some pressure but Armagh dealt with it well. The final four efforts on goal in the match were all Cavan wides, which spoke volumes; this was a forgettable night for the Breffni men and a memorable win for Armagh, who turned in their best performance of the season.
Scorers for Armagh: C Turbitt 0-7 (2fs, 1m), B Crealey 1-0, C O’Neill, G McCabe, S McPartlan, J Hall, A Murnin, E Rafferty (45), and R Grugan (f) 0-1 each.
Scorers for Cavan: P Lynch 0-4 (2fs), G McKiernan 0-3 (1f), Cian Madden 0-2, O Brady, Conor Brady, and R Galligan (45) 0-1 each.
Armagh: E Rafferty, C O’Neill, A McKay, A Forker, G McCabe, C Mackin, J Burns, B Crealey, S McPartlan, S Campbell, J Hall, J Duffy, R Grugan, A Murnin, C Turbitt.
Subs: R O’Neill for J Hall (44), A Nugent for A Murnin (54), S Sheridan for B Crealey (58), C Comiskey for J Duffy (65), C Higgins for S McPartland (69).
Cavan: R Galligan, K Clarke, P Faulkner, J McLoughlin, Ciaran Brady, O Kiernan, G Smith, G McKiernan, J Smith, Conor Brady, D McVeety, J McCabe, Cian Madden, P Lynch, O Brady.
Subs: N Carolan for McLoughlin (29), Conor Madden for O Kiernan (58), C Moynagh for J Smith (63), B Boylan for Ciaran Brady (68).
Referee: P Faloon (Down)