Cavan defeat deflects Armagh to Donegal

January 20, 2009

Wednesday 21 January (7.30)  Armagh v Donegal at Healy Park, Omagh

McKenna Cup- Armagh 0-09 Cavan 1-07

Instead of derailing Armagh’s Gaelic Life McKenna Cup prospects Nicholas Walsh’s injury time winning point for Cavan on Saturday night merely deflected Armagh into the path of Section A winners Donegal as opposed to section B winners Down in a semi-final meeting. When Walsh snatched from Armagh what was at the very least a deserving draw at Kingspan Breffni Park, it left Queen’s topping the Armagh group, leaving the Orchard County focused on the Sunday Tyrone versus Monaghan match to see who would emerge as the best group runner-up.

Armagh clinched their semi-final berth as the best runner-up and will now take on Donegal at Healy Park, Omagh at 7-30 on Wednesday night next Jan 21st. Donegal finished top of their group with wins over UUJ and Fermanagh and completed their programme with a draw with Derry.

On a night not for the faint hearted, the small travelling band of Armagh supporters can be really classed as genuine to travel to Breffni knowing that their county was fielding their weakest side on paper thus far in the competition and travel conditions were far from ideal.  Because of injuries and squad rotation, Peter McDonnell had named a team to start against Cavan that showed 5 changes from the team that started in the win over Queens in Lurgan. A rotation of goalkeepers saw Paudi Rodgers in for Philip McEvoy. There were two changes in defence with Vincie Martin reverting to full back from midfield to replace the injured Brendan Donaghy and Brian McDonald in at half back instead of Chris Rafferty. A new midfield pairing of Shane O’Neill and James Lavery were given an outing while up front Brendan Toner was in for Conor Clarke. 

Prior to the commencement of the match Armagh were dealt a major blow with the news that their most potent forward in the competition Ryan Henderson was ruled out through injury. Ryan was replaced by Kevin O Rourke who weighed in with a brace of points.

 Armagh began in wasteful fashion which was to continue throughout as they accumulated some 13 wides against a Cavan side who were playing for pride and a second successive win for their new manager Tommy Carr having beaten Antrim following an opening loss to Queens. Armagh managed to hold Cavan scoreless from play until the last minute of the half when Gerald Pierson grabbed their first point from play. Pierson was to be the key figure for Cavan in both halves as his two pointed frees in the opening half helped keep the home side in touch in a low scoring affair. Two points from Brian Mallon, one from Kevin O Rourke and a first of five from Armagh’s most potent attacker Ronan Clarke edged Armagh 0-4 to 0-3 in front at half-time.

Clarke added another point for Armagh after the restart but it was Pierson who delivered the decisive blow 8 minutes in as he found the back of the Armagh net to give the home supporters something to cheer about. Armagh response to going behind was very positive with a hat-trick of Clarke points and a second for O Rourke restoring a 2 point lead.

In a complete reversal of the finish against Queen’s it was Armagh that remained scoreless inside the last 15 minutes allowing Cavan claw back a two point deficit 0-9 to 1-4 to snatch that dramatic injury time win. A point fro m Tierney reduced the deficit to the minimum and when Man of the Match Pierson swung over the equaliser everyone in the ground would have gone home happy with the draw. But that late Cavan surge produced the winning point and left Orchard supporters trundling home wondering if a big win for either Tyrone or Monaghan would deny them a deserved semi-final place following some gutsy performances in their three group games.

 No doubt that Peter McDonnell will be hoping to be able to call on a stronger panel of players for the Donegal match. The success of Queen’s reaching the other semi-final will mean Armagh will be without Queen’s manager Aidan O Rourke. Replacement Tony McClelland has played well in the last two games at centre half back. Armagh will also be hoping to have Brendan Donaghy, Ciaran McKeever and Ryan Henderson back in action as they go in search of a place in the final which is scheduled for Saturday night Jan 24. With the likes of Gareth Smyth, Barry Shannon, Vincie Martin, Neil O Rourke, Shane O Neill,, Brian Mallon, Kevin O Rourke impressing to date the manager will have a difficult task picking his starting 15 if all players are fully fit. It is at midfield that Armagh has experienced most problems in the McKenna Cup thus far. A variety of combinations has failed to give Armagh the lion’s share of possession in this sector. In attack outside of the steady contributions of Ryan Henderson no one else has consistently come to the fore to help out All-Star Ronan Clarke who has had a very good campaign and tireless worker Martin O Rourke. With the push for places for the upcoming National League squad intensifying, Healy Park, Omagh will be the last chance for some to stake their claim so given good conditions we could be treated to the best match produced by Armagh as fitness levels, cohesion and the basic skills are getting fine tuned with every outing.

It was back in 1990 that Armagh’s eight and last success in this competition occurred with opponents Donegal with an even worse competition record with their fifth and last win occurring in 1985. So for either side on Wednesday there is a little added incentive to at least make it through to the final.

Armagh- P.Rodgers, G.Smyth, V.Martin , B.Shannon , JPDonnelly, T.McClelland, B McDonald , S O’Neill, J Lavery, Martin O’Rourke, B Mallon (0-2), B Toner, K O Rourke (0-2), R Clarke (0-5), Micheal O’Rourke Subs: P Toal for M O Rourke, E McDonnell for Toner, C Rafferty for Donnelly,C Clarke for O Neill,  N O’Rourke for B McDonnell (Yellow) ,

Cavan: F Reilly, M. Brides, P O Reilly, E McCormack P Brady, D O’Dowd, J Crowe, C Galligan, N Walsh. (0-1), E O Reilly, R Reilly, M Reilly, G Pierson (1-5), J Tierney (0-1), P Gumley Subs- A O Reilly fore Reilly,M Cahill for Brady,M McKeever for O Dowd, C Mackey for Gumley