By Alan Rodgers
IT hasn’t exactly been one of the most enduring Ulster footballing rivalries, but this Sunday sees Armagh take on Cavan for the fifth time in 19 years on the provincial stage.
This latest clash, though, is going to be their first at the penultimate stage since the heady days of 2004 when the tables were very definitely turned on the situation which prevails now, 15 years later.
On a June day at St Tiernach’s Park in Clones, Armagh entered the game as warm favourites. Afterall, they had won the All-Ireland in 2002, reached the final in 2003 and were quite rightly ranked among the major contenders in 2004 as well.
There was little indication of them slipping up against their Breffni opponents and that was how things turned out, eventually. But a 0-13 to 0-11 victory didn’t come without them having first to endure some significant hiccups.
Cavan’s day didn’t start well when Pearse McKenna was sent off for a swing at Francie Bellew. Nevertheless, they produced a sterling display which brought them to the brink of victory.
Scores were few and far between during the first half, although the game was extremely tight. With Oisin McConville leading Armagh’s scoring challenge and Michael Lyng doing likewise for Cavan, Armagh led by just 0-5 to 0-4 at the break.
As the tie approached its final minutes, the issue was still very much in doubt. Armagh’s experience, though, was about to provide them with a decisive edge.
Kieran McGeeney and Diarmuid Marsden were introduced into the Armagh team and they got vital scores. Three of their final scores came courtesy of substitutes, Diarmuid Marsden getting one and Brian Mallon two as Kevin McElvanna supplied the third.
In contrast, Cavan struggled up front at this critical stage. Dermot McCabe shot wide from a difficult sideline free, Larry Reilly and Michael Brides also missed and Gearoid Pearson went for goal with a point would have been better.
Cavan’s challenge wasn’t helped either by the fact that Dermot McCabe and Paul Brady didn’t start. Ultimately, however, they had to play second fiddle to the experience of Paul McGrane, Oisin McConville, Diarmuid Marsden and company as Armagh progressed to the final and a second Anglo Celt triumph in three years.