Cavan fans have waited 18 years but they can finally rejoice as an Ulster final awaits them in a little over two weeks’ time.
The Breffni men put in a solid performance yesterday to overcome Armagh after the second time of asking in Clones and they had heroes all over the pitch in the process.
Conor Moynagh, yet again, was fabulous in his marauding corner-back role. He kicked two booming efforts and made a heroic block that will no doubt be on the end of season highlight reel. Killian Clarke performed brilliantly in his central role. He was a rock at the back, a nuisance around the middle and even stormed forward to kick an inspirational point.
Cavan’s talisman, Gearoid McKiernan, was relatively quiet last week but boy did he come to life in Clones yesterday. The big man kicked 0-3 from play and was a real driving force behind Cavan’s victory. Dara McVeety is quickly becoming a cult-hero across the country for his bruising performances.
McVeety kicked 0-4 from play on a day where yet again he took some huge hits and was rightly awarded man of the match.
In truth, it could have been different for Cavan had Armagh taken any of their three early goal chances and no doubt Kieran McGeeney’s side will be kicking themselves when they look back on last week’s game and how they let a four-point lead slip in the final ten minutes of normal time.
The shoe was on the other foot last week. It was Armagh who led in the final few minutes and Cavan who repeatedly pegged them back. A lot of this was to do with the fresh legs and sheer quality of Cian Mackey coupled with Armagh’s constant issue with closing out games.
However, Armagh chased the game yesterday and it was Cavan who had to defend the lead. Mickey Graham’s side had clearly learned from Armagh’s failings last week as well as their experience from playing Division 1 football two of the last three years.
In this week’s Championship Deep-Dive we take a look at Cavan’s final ten minutes in Clones and how cool heads helped them prevail in the end.
Armagh trail Cavan by four but they are in the ascendency as Jamie Clarke picks up the ball, swans through the Cavan defence and sets up Mark Shields for a golden opportunity to bring Armagh to within one. He blasts it over, but the intent is there and time is on their side as five minutes added time is signalled.
However, from here on out, it’s all Cavan.
Armagh come back at them but Cavan turn the ball over before winning the free. Conor Moynagh takes his time over the free before sending it long. It’s overhit but Killian Clarke isn’t about to give up. He anticipates Paddy Burns’ mistake, wins the balls and immediately off-loads to Dara McVeety who, amazingly, is still a ball of energy.
McVeety has the freedom of Clones at his disposal as he drives into the space and sticks over what looks to be Cavan’s insurance point.
The next score really summed up the difference between the two sides. Last week when Armagh tried to protect their lead they repeatedly handpassed the ball around their own back line with no penetration whatsoever.
Cavan, however, slowly, patiently, progressed up field to kick the score. This play started with a Raymond Galligan kick-out.
Cavan kept the ball for over a minute and moved it from one side of the field to the other…twice. The ball went through ten sets of hands before it found itself in the right player’s hands at the right time, Gearoid McKiernan, who kicked what effectively was the nail in Armagh’s coffin.
The icing was put on the cake by Conor Rehill who has had a fine year so far with the Breffni men. By this stage, the game is up and Armagh have all put caved.
Cavan know an Ulster final awaits them but clearly hearing the roar of the crowd is addictive. Again, they turnover the ball and work it from defence into attack and finish the game out.
It was those final ten minutes yesterday that summed up the real difference between these two sides on the day and that was experience – experience of having played in the top division, against the top teams and having to close out games.
They didn’t hold back and protect the lead. They kicked on and killed the game off. They weren’t content with stumbling into an Ulster final, they went kicking and screaming into it.