Plenty to ponder

Cavan's Jason McLoughlin with Jamie Clarke of Armagh.
Cavan's Jason McLoughlin with Jamie Clarke of Armagh.

Cavan 1-15 Armagh 1-11

ARMAGH manager Paul Grimley has six weeks to get his side back onto an even keel before they play in the All-Ireland qualifiers, but last Sunday’s horror show in Breffni Park will have left county fans in depressing mood and apprehensive about the short term future.

Grimley’s team entered last weekends Ulster Championship tie clinging to the positives from a victory over Galway in their last league game of the season, that form fell flat on its face on Sunday when the Tribesmen were crushed by a rampant Mayo side who are among a handful of teams capable of winning the Sam Maguire Cup.

After all of the positive spin which had surrounded the county side recently and the promise of a new attacking style of play, it was division three outfit Cavan who marched on to the provincial first round as Armagh sift through the embers of defeat.

Paul Grimley’s performance on Sunday has been criticised in some quarters as he watched his defence being torn to shreds by a rampant Cavan attack which waited with patience before making intelligent runs which exposed a suspect Armagh full back line. But the manager, who in fairness was dealing from a less than full deck, would need to allocate equal responsibilty to several players who on the day fell well short of the skill required to play at county level albeit against a division three team.

Concerns over the sides inexperience in the full back line proved to be well founded, although Mark Shields covered acres of space from his left corner back position Declan McKenna was hauled ashore and Paul McKeown was demolished by Breffni marksman Martin Dunne who hit nine points on the day.

Fears that Armagh would struggle if Jamie Clarke could be shackled lived up to their billing, the Crossmaglen man failed to score in the game, at least officially, his individual brilliance which saw him find the Cavan net on 41 minutes but the score was cancelled by referee Maurice Deegan who brought the play back for a jersey pull on the Rangers player. The badly needed impetus required at that time emerged later when Ethan Rafferty had a shot deflected into the Cavan net on 58 minutes, but it was the home side who finished with dash and precision in the final stages.

The Armagh management had gambled with several players which included the entire full back line. Young Killeavey lad Ciaran O’Hanlon made his debut at centre forward but it remains to be seen how the experience of the player being substituted will effect him in future games.

Cavan were the far more confident side in this preliminary round game, Terry Hylands’ team dictated the pattern of the game from start to finish. The sides were level twice in the opening quarter when points from Tony Kernan (0-02) and Caolin Rafferty were cancelled out by scores from Cavan’s Martin Dunne at the double and Damian O’Reilly. Disaster struck for Armagh in the form of a Ciaran Mackey goal on 21 minutes when the Breffni centre forward ran through the heart of the Orchard defence to give Philip McAvoy no chance from close range. This particular score left Armagh chasing the game a scenario which continued to the final whistle. The winners led on a scoreline of 1-06 to 0-04 at the break with Martin Dunne’s final score of the half coming on the end of a superb movement involving the majority of the Cavan players.

Armagh started the second period without Finnian Moriarty and Declan McKenna who made way during the opening period, but little was to change and in the third quarter Cavan extended their lead to seven points with scores from Eugene Keating and from a brace from McDermott, Steven Harold and James Lavery had their moments in the second period, but overall they struggled to break forward at pace and into the heart of a dogged home defence. Stefan Forker had to settle for a point from a free following Jamie Clarke’s disallowed goal and the energetic Mark Shields broke along the right flank to shoot over for Armagh on 48 minutes.

Following a Stefan Forker score on 51 minutes, Eugene Keating had an opportunity to put he game beyond the visitors and with Martin Dunne standing in space Keating elected to go for the finish and his effort was parried by McAvoy in the Armagh goals.

Grange player Ethan Rafferty capitalised on a series of defensive errors to penalise Cavan with a shot which took a deflection before beating Gilesman in goal, but points from Jason McEnroe and scores from Keating and Dunne put the Breffni men into the next round and left Armagh in tatters.

Cavan finished with 14 men when midfielder David Giney was sent off after receiving a second yellow near the end and it remains to be seen will Brendan Donaghy who didn’t start on Sunday but was introduced, will make an impact next time out. Armagh’s defeat could be put into perspective considering that the Breffni men are still outsiders for the Ulster title, A big wides tally certainly didn’t help Paul Grimley’s side on Sunday, all considered however, they were beaten by the more organised and co-ordinated team on the day.

Many questions reman. Will Grimley now introduce a tight regime for his players and row back on his relaxed approach to club football; will the squad be strengthened and most importantly will the Orchard boss re-invent a defensive system in time for the qualifiers? As is customary the fans will reel back in horror for a period, before pricking their ears again when the draws are made for the dreaded back door system. Grimley and his players in the cold light of day will not be judged on their nightmare performance on Sunday, but on their response to it.

In the past Armagh sides would have expected an easy run through the qualifiers before once again cranking up their performance, no such luxury exists for this team.