● USFC semi-final armagh v Cavan, Clones at 4pm Sunday 2nd June
Following their respective quarter-final wins over Down and Monaghan both Armagh and Cavan teams and sets of supporters will be confident of becoming the first team to book their place in this year’s Ulster final on June 23.
Armagh, fresh from their first Ulster championship win under manager Kieran McGeeney will be hoping that the Mullaghbawn native can followe the example of his former Ulster Club winning manager Peter McDonnell who was at the helm when Armagh last won or appeared in an Ulster final back in 2008.
Cavan counterpart Mickey Graham who masterminded the first real championship shock of 2019 when his team defeated Monaghan will be trying to win a first Ulster for the Breffni men since 1987 and a first final berth since their 2001 two point loss to Tyrone.
CHANGED LOOK FOR ARMAGH
There were only 5 Armagh players Aidan Forker, Brendan Donaghy, Charlie Vernon, Ethan Rafferty and Rory Grugan who started in the Armagh win over Down at Pairc Esler who began the last championship meeting with Cavan in 2016 which was won by Cavan 2-16 to 0-14. James Morgan, Mark Shields and Stefan Campbell (0-8) who came on against Down all started in that Cavan defeat.
The new Cavan manager has trusted the tried and tested as 8 of those who started in the win over Monaghan began the last championship win over Armagh.
The four Ulster debutants for Armagh, Jarlath Óg Burns, Rian O’Neill, Ryan Kennedy and Aidan Nugent all stood out for Armagh, with Kennedy, Nugent, and O’Neill each contributing to the scoreboard. O’Neill in particular, scoring eight points made a hell of an impact. Another big plus for the Orchard county was the game time for eventual match winner Andrew Murnin whose 10 minute last period of extra-time cameo apperarance saw him contribute 1-1.
With Niall Grimley expected to be ready for Clones action following an injury manager McGeeney will have lots of options to ponder when it comes to team selection. Kieran knows that another poor free taking exhibition as his team missed seven scoreable free kicks during regulation time in Páirc Esler and a few dropped short into the Down keeper’s hand. But at the end of the day championship is all about the win no matter in what manner it is achieved.
Cavan were quickest out of the blocks against Monaghan and given the cushion of an early 1-3 to no score start they never looked like losing. Once Martin Reilly converted a dubious penalty and with he and Gearoid McKiernan outstanding, Cavan led 1-8 to 0-4 at half-time at Kingspan, Breffni. Monaghan rallied and only trailed by 3 inside the last 15 minutes but Graham’s men remained steadfast to achieve their first championship victory over Monaghan since 2001. Padraig Faulkner’s outstanding full-back display was also crucial for Cavan as he restricted Conor McManus to only one point from play.
Cavan will be the favourites to advance to the final based on both sides last performances. Armagh though will have a chance to analyze the new style of play Graham has introduced to Cavan with their defensive qualities very much to the fore. A strong midfield combined with a few nippy and lethal forwards the Breffni men looked like they were on a mission against Monaghan.
Whilst the fare the night before in Breffni was played at a far quicker tempo than at the Marshes where the long ball paid big dividends for both teams, Armagh showed great character to grind out a result in a game that they had won lost, drew and came back to win.
The tactical take from both managers will be vital to the outcome of Sunday’s encounter. Armagh will have to find a way to penetrate this solid looking Cavan rearguard and at the same time tighten up their own which looked very suspect under the high ball.
I think that this will be a tough tight contest which will go right to the wire. Armagh can upset the odds by virtue of the ever strengthening bench which will tip the balance in their favour to get back into the limelight with an Ulster final appearance.