U20s slip to disappointing loss against Armagh

Ulster U20 Championship round 2

Armagh 2-9

Cavan 2-7

Paul Fitzpatrick

Cavan’s disappointing run of results at all levels continued tonight in the second round of the Ulster U20 Championship as the Blues went down to a powerful Armagh side at the Athletic Grounds.

The two-point margin flattered Cavan, who trailed by six to seven points for most of the game before Armagh inexplicably collapsed in the closing stages. Cavan, sensing the home team’s jitters, pressed hard but despite creating numerous opportunities, lacked the wherewithal to punish the hosts for their sloppy finish to the match.

While Cavan started poorly before rallying well in the opening round against Donegal, this was a flat performance throughout, with the visitors loose at the back, beaten at midfield and out of ideas in attack for long spells.

A slightly fortuitous late goal, bundled home by Barry Donnelly, saw Cavan – who also hit the upright twice and missed a number of scoreable frees – haul themselves back into the match in second-half injury time and they could well have got something from it.

Had they, though, it would have been against the run of play as Armagh were considerably better on the night. The home side, it should be noted, also systematically fouled Cavan, disrupting any momentum; of the first 17 fouls in the second half, Armagh committed 15.

The Orchard lads didn’t need to employ the dark arts, either, as they were the superior team on the evening and worked harder, too. At the midway point, the home side held a deserved six-point lead, having dominated in all sectors.

Armagh looked bigger and stronger and the likes of the towering Michael Burnett and midfielders Tadgh Grimley and Pierce Blessing controlled proceedings on kick-outs and general play.

The Orchard dropped a lot of men back and capitalised on turnovers, with Cavan assisting them by losing possession with poor handling and by sending aimless passes in the general direction of Darragh Lovett, who was the only consistent attacking threat the away side had.

Lovett started superbly with a sweetly-struck point from the right wing but Armagh soon levelled with Grimley getting on the end of a good move.

A feature of the first half was Cavan’s unwillingness or inability to push up on the Armagh attackers, despite their being lots of cover back at times. It afforded Armagh time and space to pick their shots and from one example of this, Odhran Carragher sent them into the lead.

Callum O’Neill doubled that advantage and after a big fetch from the Burnett, who wore 15 but played everywhere, Grimley fired over to make it 0-4 to 0-1 on 12 minutes.

Cavan, though, soon levelled with their best move of the half. After turning Armagh over around their own 45, Cavan broke at pace through Ramor men Matthew Smith and Oliver McCrystal, with the latter shipping the ball to Lovett, who cut in and rolled it low to the net.

But the momentum was short-lived. After a misplaced pass was mopped up by Burnett, Armagh broke out and a perfectly-weighted pass from O’Neill found Blessing, who was hauled down. Full-back and captain despatched the penalty emphatically and Armagh were three in front again.

Lovett converted a free after a foul on Barry Donnelly but another bad mistake up front – a wayward pass which was cut out – saw possession squandered; Armagh countered at pace, a handpass over the top deceived Eoghan Hartin and the ball was slipped to midfielder Blessing, who found the net.

Cavan stemmed the tide with an excellent strike from Ben McGahan and almost snuck in for another chance, goalkeeper Rhys Stevens racing off his line to deny Lorcan Reilly.

Easy points for Ryan Duffy and Blessing left it at double scores at the break. Cavan spurned a few chances early in the second half before Armagh centre-back Brendan O’Hagan sent over a 45-metre free and then one from play from the same range.

Lovett won and converted a free and sub Cian Keaney added another to close the gap. The impressive Callum O’Neill, with a long-range effort, left seven between the sides with nine minutes to play before Cavan made a game of it belatedly, putting three scores together for the first time.

Keaney landed a free, sub Daire Madden’s rasper of a shot from outside the 20-metre line was turned over the bar with a spectacular save and when Cavan won the subsequent kick-out, Lovett and Donnelly were both on the scene, with the Arva man somehow getting the ball over the line in a scramble.

Suddenly and implausibly, Cavan were in with a big shout and that sense was bolstered when Armagh skewed the next kick-out; Cavan had a chance for a point but turned it down and despite forcing some late turnovers in a helter skelter finish, they couldn’t add any more scores.

Armagh, whose assurance deserted them entirely late on, were relieved to hear the final whistle, a strange position to be in after they dominated for 60 minutes.

For Cavan, this was a disappointing performance and vast improvement will be needed if they are to make an impact in the competition.

Cavan: Lee Phillingham, Oran Daly, Cillian Brady, Favour Shehu, Kyle McCabe, Eoghan Hartin, Ben McGahan, Evan Crowe, Ryan Tobin, Micheál Smith, Oliver McCrystal, Barry Donnelly, Matthew Smith, Darragh Lovett, Lorcan Reilly

Subs: Dylan Edwards for Micheál Smith (ht), Daire Madden for O McCrystal (40), Cian Keaney for L Reilly (40), Matthew Costello for R Tobin (49), Jensen Tynan for K McCabe (58)

Armagh: Rhys Stevens, Emmett Magee, Gareth Murphy, Odhran Carragher, Fergal O’Brien, Brendan O’Hagan, Calum O’Neill, Tadgh Grimley, Pierce Blessing, Padraig O’Keeffe, Ruairi O’Brien, Ryan Duffy, Fergal Boylan, Conall McGeough, Michael Burnett

Subs: Aaron O’Neill for F Boylan (40), Calban Campbell for C McGeough (44)