Graham pleased despite result against Armagh

GAA reaction

While Cavan were ultimately defeated in their McKenna Cup opener against Armagh on Thursday, manager Mickey Graham was very upbeat after the game.

Given the number of new faces on the match-day panel, with injuries and Covid having deprived Graham of some more experienced players, there was a sense of uncertainty going into the game against a strong Armagh side, most of whom had championship experience.

However, Cavan acquitted themselves well and the four-point margin of defeat did not do them justice, with Armagh running in a goal in the sixth minute of second-half injury time.

“It’s the first competitive game of the season, sometimes you come in and you don’t know where you’re at. You can do all the training you want but you just can’t beat games,” Graham said.

“I was delighted with the lads’ effort, I have to say, I couldn’t fault their endeavour, their honesty. They created lots of chances, we could have taken something out of the game but against a Division 1 side, if you don’t take your chances, you get punished and we realised that there tonight.”

Cavan created numerous goal chances and while they didn’t take any through a combination of bad luck, wayward shooting and good defending, Graham was still pleased by what he saw.

“We have been doing a lot of work in training and it’s great to see things coming off, sometimes they don’t come off. We created goal chances at the start of the second half, we put a really big press on Armagh and they found it difficult.

“We probably let our concentration levels slip a couple of times just coming up to the second water break and we let them get up and get a score or two. Then we came back and the goal, obviously, we were just going for it at that stage, there was nothing to lose, we tried to get something and we got caught.

“That ball could have actually fallen into our own hands but it didn’t. They’re the small little things but lots to learn, lots to take from the game and we’ll be hoping to cut out a few of those mistakes on Tuesday night because, again, Tyrone will punish you if you make the same mistakes.”

Regarding the newcomers to the panel, Graham said: “You have to reward the lads who have been training. It was great that there was no limit on the subs there tonight. It just exposes them to that level.

“The new lads that came in there tonight, that’s as good a test as you’ll get anywhere in the country.

“They know the level now that’s required, they’ll learn from it and they’ll know they have to go away now and keep working hard if they are going to compete.

“It’s a great learning curve for them. They’re disappointed and that’s a great sign because they know they should have got something out of it but I told them, look, it’s the first game of the year and as long as we take the learnings from it and just move forward.

Cavan's Conor Madden shields the ball from Armagh's Ross Finn.

“We’d hoping to have maybe three lads back for Tuesday night (against Tyrone). Some lads only returned there tonight who were out injured for the last few weeks so they got a good bit of game time into them and hope to get more in. It’s all about getting minutes into the legs now moving forward and just try and get to that first game in Carrick On Shannon with everybody in one piece. That is the aim now.”

Laragh’s Jack McKenna came off the bench for his debut but unfortunately later went off injured.

“I just didn’t get talking to the medics but looking at it, I presume it was a hamstring by looking at it. Jack came on and did fierce well for the few minutes, he’s gutted in there that he had to go off but he’s a young lad, we’ll get him fixed up and get him back at it as soon as possible.

“As I said, it was a good debut for him.”

Games against Division 1 sides are the ideal warm-up for the league, the manager said.

“They’ll ask all the questions off you which is good. And that’s what we need, we need opposition to ask questions off us and we need to learn. If you went looking for those games you couldn’t get them.

“It’s good for the boys to be exposed to that and that’s the level that we have to stay at and keep competing at. I was very proud of the way the lads applied themselves tonight – that’s all you ask when they put on that Cavan jersey, that they be honest and give it everything and I thought they did that.

“The result obviously is disappointing but we’ll dust ourselves off and take the learnings.

“Nothing is going to be easy, when you go down to that level it’s all about grinding out results and rolling up the sleeves. There are no easy games this time of year, winter football levels the playing field.

“We are under no illusions about the task in hand and we just have to approach every game with the mindset that we just have to work our socks off every time we go take the field and hopefully thenm the results will follow but there will definitely be no easy games down there, every team will be fancying their chances.”