Ulster SFC: Thrilling encounter finishes level
Ulster Senior Football Championship Semi-Final
CAVAN 0-17 ARMAGH 1-14
By Paul Fitzpatrick at St Tiernach's Park
Cian Mackey proved Cavan's saviour when his point in the 88th minute forced a draw after extra time in this thrilling Ulster SFC semi-final at Clones.
Armagh through they had won it when Stefan Campbell's fisted point nudged them in front deep in the second half of extra time, but Cavan poured forward in the closing stages and veteran Mackey - who had played an instrumental role off the bench late in normal time - sent over his third top-class point to level the game.
Cavan could have won it, too, but sub Oisin Pierson and Mackey were wide with efforts in the dying seconds. Overall, though, a draw was a fair result given how close the exchanges were throughout.
This was a slow-burner of a fixture which took a while to catch light but when it did, it turned into a blaze, proper Championship fare with hard hitting and high drama.
The sides were level at 0-7 apiece at the end of an exciting if error-filled first half. A swirling wind - which was favouring Armagh - and intermittent showers made conditions difficult and neither side was able to establish dominance.
Cavan opened the scoring with a Gearoid McKiernan free but this was quickly cancelled out by a spectacular Rian O'Neill effort from play. Niall Murray converted a free for Cavan after a foul on the influential Dara McVeety - who gave James Morgan a torrid time - but Aidan Nugent soon levelled and the back and forth nature of proceedings was established.
The sides were level five more times in the first half, with rookie Jarlath Óg Burns firing over two outstanding points for Armagh and Cavan's best efforts coming from Gerry Smith and Conor Moynagh.
But the Blues suffered a double blow in the 25th minute when first full-back Padraig Faulkner picked up a black card for a tackle on Niall Grimley and then wing-back Smith went off with a hamstring injury. Smith's replacement, clubmate Chris Conroy, squeezed over the equaliser just before the break.
The teams were tied twice more early in the second half following scores for Paul Hughes and Jemar Hall for Armagh and Niall Murray and McVeety for Cavan but the key score arrived on 43 minutes when Jamie Clarke laid off for youngster Burns to slot home an expertly-taken goal.
For the next 10 minutes, the pre-match favourites were chasing shadows and looked out of ideas. They found themselves four points down, 1-11 to 0-10, with 20 minutes to play and looked to be crashing out.
In a thrilling finale through, the Blues dug deep. McVeety and subs Cian Mackey and Stephen Murray led the fightback. Murray curled over a huge point from 35 metres, but Aidan Nugent responded for Armagh.
Great work from McVeety and Conor Rehill freed Stephen Murray up for his next but Cavan were dealt another blow when Ciaran Brady was shown a straight red card.
But Mickey Graham's side weren't done yet and they responded with a superb score from McVeety, who darted into a pocket of space and measured his shot to perfection.
From the kick-out, Rehill tapped the ball down and it was worked to Mackey, who sent over a fantastic point to tie the game with four minutes on the clock.
Back came Armagh with the lead score, a free from the unusually-subdued Jamie Clarke, but after another great run from speedster Stephen Murray, Mackey gathered the ball on the right wing and swung in the best point of the match to tie matters once.
The tension in the closing stages was almost unbearable, with the 16,416 crowd on their feet, but neither side could force an opening in normal time.
The first half was extra time was scoreless, with McKiernan, from a free, missing the best chance to present itself for either side. In the second, there were just two points. Campbell, re-introduced, sped clear to fist over what looked like the winner but Cavan had other ideas and that man Mackey, in his 15th championship season, secured the draw.
The sides will meet again at the same venue next Sunday.
Scorers for Cavan: Niall Murray 0-5 (4fs), Cian Mackey 0-3, Gearoid McKiernan 0-2f, Dara McVeety 0-2, Stephen Murray 0-2, Chris Conroy 0-1, Conor Moynagh 0-1, Gerard Smith 0-1.
Scorers for Armagh: Jarlath Óg Burns 1-2, Rian O'Neill 0-4 (3fs), Aidan Nugent 0-2, Paul Hughes 0-1, Jemar Hall 0-1, Stefan Campbell 0-1, Joe McElroy 0-1, Jamie Clarke 0-1 (f).
CAVAN: Raymond Galligan, Jason McLoughlin, Padraig Faulkner, Conor Moynagh, Gerard Smith, Killian Clarke, Conor Rehill, Conor Brady, Gearoid McKiernan, Martin Reilly, Dara McVeety, Niall Murray, Oisin Kiernan, Thomas Galligan, Conor Madden
Subs: Ciaran Brady for Moynagh (4 mins, temp), Ciaran Brady for Faulkner (BC, 27), Chris Conroy for Smith (28), Cian Mackey for Madden (46), Stephen Murray for Conor Brady (52), Oisin Pierson for Thomas Galligan (70), Paul Graham (extra-time), Jack Brady for Niall Murray (81), Barry Fortune for Moynagh (BC, 84), Madden for Kiernan (87).
ARMAGH: Blaine Hughes, James Morgan, Mark Shields, Paul Hughes, Ryan Kennedy, Brendan Donaghy, Aidan Forker, Jarlath Óg Burns, Niall Grimley, Aidan Nugent, Rory Grugan, Jemar Hall, Jamie Clarke, Rian O'Neill, Stefan Campbell
Subs: Joe McElroy for Morgan (23 mins), Ethan Rafferty for Campbell (58), Andrew Murnin for Grugan (65), Niall Rowland for Forker (70), Ben Crealey for Nugent (70), Charlie Vernon for Burns (temp, 73).
REFEREE: Derek O'Mahony (Tipperary).