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Jarlath Og Burns hopes to continue family tradition in semi-final

JARLY Og Burns is too young to remember his father ruling the skies of Clones but on Sunday Jarlath senior will have the honour of watching his son attempting to emulate him as Armagh battle Cavan for a spot in this year’s Ulster final.

It was in June 1998 when the Orchard county’s love association with St Tiernach’s Park really kicked into overdrive, and the venue still holds a special place in their hearts.

There are fond memories of the sea of orange and white walking down the hill, packed beer gardens and – believe it or not – mostly sunny days. Most importantly, there was success.

Burns senior and his teammates hadn’t won a championship game since 1994 but their 0-16 to 0-11 victory over Down in ’98 heralded a new dawn.

A first Ulster title since 1982 followed a year later and although the former midfielder was retired by the time the Sam Maguire arrived in 2002, he was an ever-present at the ground between ’98 and 2008 – as a player, pundit or paying customer – as Armagh’s golden generation ruled as provincial kings.

It’s been lean pickings ever since though. Trips have been rare mostly due to the redevelopment of the Athletic Grounds, and the Orchard county’s last win at Clones came in the Ulster final replay win over Fermanagh in ’08.

While Jarly Og is part of a generation that’s too young to appreciate those glory days at the Monaghan venue – he is determined to end that 11-year wait for an Ulster final appearance.

“It’s great to get a run out in Clones, it’s where any young fella wants to play his football,” said Burns.

“You’re growing up watching past Armagh teams playing there.

“We’re into an Ulster semi-final and that’s where we want to be at this stage.

“Cavan are obviously a very good side. They have been playing Division One football in the National League this year and that is only going to bring them on.

“Although they were unable to stay in Division One they put it up to a lot of good teams and were only beat by a couple of points by some of the top teams in Ireland.

“They had a great win over Monaghan so their tails will be up and it’s going to be a massive task to try and beat them.”

Incidentally, Burns’s last championship clash with Cavan came at St Tiernach’s Park but in front of a miniscule crowd compared to what is expected this weekend.

Back in 2014, their minor clash was played earlier than the senior meeting between the counties due to the exam commitments of the Breffni players.

The player’s appearance against Down last month means that he is the second player from that minor team to play senior inter-county championship football with Oisin O’Neill making his debut against the same opposition two years previously.

It was O’Neill’s younger brother Rian who shared the plaudits with Burns following their quarter-final win over the Mourne county a fortnight ago.

They were making their championship debuts but demonstrated some of the coolest heads on show in a dramatic affair that was settled by extra-time.

The midfielder, however, was not getting carried away and insisted that the performance of the team was well below the high standards they demand.

“Cavan will be a tough team and we have a lot to work on,” Burns continued.

“It was a good win against Down but we were far from perfect.

“We’re focusing on ourselves, trying to get our own things right before we look to them.

“We have a lot to work on that’s where our heads are at right now.”

Like his father back in ’98, a win over their rivals brought an end to a long wait.

While Jarlath senior went three years without an provincial victory before that ’98 win over Down, the current crop’s wait was four years before they claimed a 2-17 to 3-13 success over the same opposition.

They had looked in control with minutes remaining in normal time but their old failing – being unable to hold onto an advantage – nearly cost them dearly as they conceded 1-2 in the final moments.

In extra-time Down raced three points clear before Armagh managed to turn the situation around, and Burns said that Kieran McGeeney was key to that with his words of advice at half-time in extra-time.

“It was just ‘keep to the game-plan, keep to the game-plan.’

“At times during the game we were doing our own thing and that can happen in a game.

“Kieran came in and told us to compose ourselves, clear our heads and to think clearly under pressure.

“We knew that we did that the scores would come and by God they did.”

n.mccoy@gaeliclife.com

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