Cavan narrowly beaten in season opener

Dr McKenna Cup

Cavan 0-11

Armagh 1-12

Paul Fitzpatrick at Kingspan Breffni

Armagh claimed a four-point win in this slow-burner of a season opener at HQ, with a 76th minute goal putting a flattering look on the scoreline for the visitors.

The first half was forgettable but the second was exciting, full of goal chances and helter skelter play which was highly entertaining.

In bitterly cold conditions, Cavan went in behind by 0-6 to 0-3 at half-time. Armagh, playing with a wind, recorded eight wides in this period and had six different scorers while all of Cavan’s points came from frees, two from Gearoid McKiernan and one from Patrick Lynch.

This was typical January fare; there was no shortage of endeavour but skills were rusty on both sides, with poor shooting and lots of miscued passes.

The first seven minutes were scoreless, with Armagh missing a couple of chances, before McKiernan broke the deadlock with a free after a good run from Conor Madden.

Cavan doubled their advantage four minutes later; a turnover from Oisin Kiernan, probably the sharpest of the home contingent in the opening half, saw him feed James Smith, who ran at the Armagh defence and won a free from which clubmate Lynch did the honours.

Kieran McGeeney’s side finally got off the mark after 14 minutes, having registered four misses to that point, when Aidan Forker split the posts with a snapshot off the left.

Cavan, however, were gaining some joy when they took on the Orchard rearguard and a direct run from debutant Ryan O’Neill, who showed quite well, produced another free which McKiernan knocked over.

That, however, was as good as it got for Cavan in the opening stanza. Ciaran Mackin and Jarly Óg Burns levelled the game and a lovely point from the right wing from Stephen Sheridan gave Armagh the lead.

Jemar Hall and Rory Grugan (free) made it 0-6 to 0-3 before the first of numerous Cavan goal chances arrived just before half-time when sub Thomas Galligan was unable to steer home a centre from Oisin Brady.

Galligan, though, was making a big impact. His presence seemed to energise his teammates too and Cavan re-emerged for the second half looking a completely different side.

A massive point from the impressive James Smith got them going before Man of the Match McKiernan somehow missed a goal chance and then Smith rattled the crossbar in separate moves.

McKiernan (two from play) and Conor Madden pointed as Cavan went ahead at 0-7 to 0-6 but Hall drew the teams level again.

Cavan were then denied another goal chance when Blaine Hughes saved superbly from Lynch and Armagh took the lead again through Burns.

Another from McKiernan tied matters; after a massive scramble, Stephen Sheridan drilled over but a long-range Ray Galligan free drew it level again at 0-9 apiece at the second water break.

Aidan Nugent and Lynch (free) traded scores as the exchanges ebbed from end to end in the dying minutes. Debutant Jack McKenna cut out an Armagh pass and found McKiernan who hooked over with his right to make it 0-11 to 0-10 to Cavan entering injury time – but there was still time for more drama.

Rian O’Neill punched over, Grugan added a free and as Cavan pushed up, disaster struck when Armagh intercepted and sub Ross McQuillan ran the ball into the empty net with the final play of the game.

The result, though, was elementary and Cavan will be happy to have turned in a positive performance and got plenty of game time into the panel.

Cavan: Raymond Galligan (0-1f), Evan Finnegan, Killian Brady, Luke Fortune, Oisin Kiernan, Chris Conroy, Jason McLoughlin, James Smith (0-1), Michael Argue, Oisin Brady, Gearoid McKiernan (0-6, 2f), Cian Madden, Conor Madden (0-1), Patrick Lynch (0-2f), Ryan O’Neill

Sub: Thomas Galligan for O’Neill (33 mins), Killian Clarke for Argue (ht), Gerard Smith for E Finnegan (45), Cormac O’Reilly for Conor Madden, Jack McKenna for Cian Madden (both 58), Caoimhin O’Reilly for Conroy (62), Benjamin Kelly for Lynch (67), Fionntan O’Reilly for O’Brady (68), Paul Smith for McKenna (70)

Armagh: Blaine Hughes, Aaron McKay, Ciaran Mackin (0-1), Connaire Mackin, Greg McCabe, Jarly Óg Burns (0-2), Stephen Sheridan (0-2), Niall Grimley, Jemar Hall (0-2), Aidan Nugent, Stefan Campbell, Rory Grugan (0-3, 2f), Rian O’Neill (0-1), Aidan Forker (0-1)

Subs: Conor Turbitt for Forker (42 mins), Ross McQuillan for Hall (49), James Morgan for G McCabe (54), Justin Kernan for Sheridan (58), Ciaron O’Hanlon for Campbell (62), Ciaran Higgins for Finn (64), Niall Rowland for Burns (67)

Ref: Anthony Marron (Monaghan)