Ulster Senior Football Championship Preliminary Round:
Cavan 1-15 Armagh 1-11
Cavan produced a superb all-round performance to defeat Armagh by four points at Kingspan Breffni Park on Sunday and advance to the Ulster Championship quarter-finals.
Martin Dunne delivered a sensational performance from full-forward for the Breffni men, hitting a remarkable eight points from play out of his total tally of nine.
The Cavan Gaels man was the stand-out performer in what was, overall, an excellent performance from a young Cavan team. Armagh struggled throughout against their opponents, who looked by some distance the hungrier, fitter and abler side.
But it is Dunne who will take most of the plaudits in the week ahead. Almost every ball that was sent into him he won, and his tally could have been even higher, as he hit a number of wides in the game. He weaved and dipped around the posts all day, and kicked effortlessly from all angles, off either foot.
Cian Mackey’s first half goal opened up a three-point lead for Cavan on 22 minutes, and they carried the momentum that score gave them all through the rest of the game.
With Dunne in immense form, Cavan edged seven ahead at one point in the second half but Armagh showed grit to fight their way back into the game, getting within one following Ethan Rafferty’s 58th minute goal.
But Cavan weathered that storm and quickly regained the ascendancy. Inevitably it was Dunne who kicked most of their remaining scores, but he was aided by a strong performance in attack from his full-forward line partner Eugene Keating, who made his presence significantly felt in the second half, winning a lot of key ball and kicking a couple of vital scores.
Cavan led 1-6 to 0-4 at half-time, and were fully deserving of their five-point advantage after a very committed opening 35 minutes of football.
Tony Kernan raised the first white flag of the game for Armagh, but Cavan quickly edged in front following points from Dunne (free) and Damien O’Reilly.
Cavan lined out very defensively, with Mackey and Killian Brady dropping back and operating around their own half-back line. Armagh were struggling to create scoring chances against the Cavan swarm, and after a low-scoring first quarter, Cavan edged two ahead following a Dunne score from play.
Armagh got level on 19 minutes following two superb points in quick succession from Kernan and Caolan Rafferty. Kernan’s was a majestic sideline ball from way out on the left wing, while Rafferty’s point came sweetly with the outside of his right boot following a stylish pass into him from Aaron Kernan.
However, the rest of the half was all Cavan’s, and they made the breakthough on 22 minutes when Mackey stormed in for a terrific goal.
The score was made in Castlerahan. Ronan Flanagan, who played alongside Mackey at club level at the exact same underage group all the way up, found his long-time teammate with a fine pass into the centre. Mackey burst onto the ball, glided past two or three Armagh defenders, and kept his cool as he fired the ball into the net beyond Armagh goalkeeper Philip McEvoy.
That made it Cavan 1-3 to 0-3, and they kicked three of the final four points of the half to be in command going in. Dunne, who struggled with nerves in the early stages, missing a few easy frees, was gradually finding his range and his kicked his second point from play on 29 minutes.
Stefan Forker kept Armagh in touch with a fine score following a good team move but points from Niall McDermott and Dunne completed the first half scoring.
Dunne was getting lots of space in the Cavan full-forward line, in contrast to his opposite number Jamie Clarke, who was kept out of the game completely in the first half as a result of some excellent Cavan man-marking.
Cavan surged seven clear shortly after the restart, with points from Keating, McDermott (free) and Dunne putting them 1-9 to 0-5 in front.
They were threatening to run away with the game, but Armagh, cheered on by a very vocal and passionate travelling support in Cavan, forced their way back into the game.
Jamie Clarke thought he had brought them back into it on 47 minutes when he found the net brilliantly. However, the score was ruled out for a foul in the build-up. Stefan Forker kicked a point from the resultant free, and Armagh followed it up with two more, from Mark Shields and Forker, to get within four.
Then on 58 minutes, Armagh found the net to set up a tense closing 15 minutes. Substitute Ethan Rafferty drove the ball to the bottom right hand corner, kicking it off the ground past the keeper, after some sloppy Cavan play failed to clear a ball that should have been.
However, that was as close as Armagh got. Keating first calmed Cavan nerves with a fine score and then Dunne added two more superb points to make it 1-13 to 1-9.
Armagh kept battling, and got back within three when Aaron Kernan fired over his second free of the day. But fittingly, Dunne had the final say, clipping over off the ground when the ball broke to him.
One sour note for Cavan was the late dismissal of midfielder David Givney, who picked up two yellow cards. But it was hard to see anything but positives on a bright day for Cavan, who now can look ahead to June 16, when they play Fermanagh in the Ulster quarter-final.
Scorers for Cavan: M Dunne 0-9 (1f), C Mackey 1-0, N McDermott 0-2 (1f), E Keating 0-2, D O’Reilly 0-1, J McEnroe 0-1
Scorers for Armagh: Stefan Forker 0-4 (2f), E Rafferty 1-0, Tony Kernan 0-2 (1 sl), A Kernan 0-2 (2f), Caolan Rafferty 0-1, M Shields 0-1, E McVerry 0-1
Cavan: C Gilsenan; J McLoughlin, R Dunne, K Clarke; J McEnroe, A Clarke, R Flanagan; D O’Reilly, D Givney; C Mackey, K Brady, F Flanagan; N McDermott, M Dunne, E Keating.
Subs: M Reilly for K Brady (47), J Brady for N McDermott (64), J McCutcheon for D O’Reilly (65), M McKeever for C Mackey (68).
Armagh: P McEvoy; P McKeown, D McKenna, M Shields; A Kernan, F Moriarty, C McKeever; J Lavery, S Harold; C Rafferty, C O’Hanlon, K Dyas; T Kernan, J Clarke, S Forker.
Subs: E Rafferty for F Moriarty (19), B Donaghy for D McKenna (32), J Hanratty for C O’Hanlon (50), E McVerry for S Forker (15), G McParland for C Rafferty (66).
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois)
Report courtesy of gaa.ie