Cavan v Armagh, Breffni Park, Sunday, 2pm
By James McMahon
The always competitive Ulster SFC gets underway with Cavan looking to make home advantage count against Armagh.
With Donegal, Tyrone and Derry on the other side of the draw, the chance is there for either team that lines out on Sunday to make an Ulster final.
The Breffni county have enjoyed success at U-21 level in recent seasons and boss Terry Hyland has sought to build on that winning mentality as he shapes his side not only for this season, but longer term. The hope is that Cavan will be challenging for provincial success on a more regular basis.
One Anglo Celt title since 1969 is a meagre return for a county that for many decades dominated Ulster football.
Cavan’s league campaign in Division 3 was mixed, though the clinical victory over Meath did give an indication of what the side could do when in full flow. They need to carry that forward into this summer’s campaign. If they do, maybe then we can say that Cavan’s graph is really on an upward curve.
As for Armagh’s trajectory in recent times, well stagnation would appear to be the case. The way they lost to Roscommon in last year’s qualifier clash was a low point. Former player Oisin McConville spoke recently to RTÉ about how far they are behind Donegal and Tyrone in the provincial pecking order.
Paul Grimley is the new man at the helm and has sought to freshen up the squad, and while they just about preserved their Division 2 status in the league, hopes are high within the camp that they embark on a meaningful run this year.
Armagh will be without the likes of Kieran Toner, Charlie Vernon and Aiden Forker this weekend, with Mark Shields in the full-back line and Ciaran O’Hanlon at No 11 making their championship debuts. All eyes will be on Jamie Clarke at No 14, with Tony Kernan alongside him also pivotal as the Orchardmen look for a decent scoring return.
Cavan give starts to Conor Gilsenan in goal and Martin Dunne at full-forward. David Givney will start at midfield in place of Gearoid McKiernan who is out with a cruciate ligament injury. Givney, Cian Mackey and Niall McDermott are all natural score getters and so the scene is set for what could be a high scoring game at Breffni.
Sunday’s winners will face Fermanagh in the quarter-final and will feel that is a hurdle they can overcome. For the loser it’s a near six-week wait for the qualifiers. Much at stake then!
Armagh have been operating at a higher level than Cavan in recent seasons, but the later may feel that they are now ready to turn underage success into something tangible in the senior ranks.
Weighing up both arguments, the preference, albeit with no great conviction is to go for an Armagh victory.
Cavan: Conor Gilsenan; Jason McLoughlin, Rory Dunne, Killian Clarke; Jason McEnroe, Alan Clarke (capt), Ronan Flanagan; Damien O’Reilly, D avid Givney; Cian Mackey, Jack Brady, Fearghal Flanagan; Niall McDermott, Martin Dunne, Eugene Keating.
Armagh: Philip McEvoy, Paul McKeown, Declan McKenna, Mark Shields, Aaron Kernan, Brendan Donaghy, Ciaran McKeever, James Lavery, Stephen Harold, Caolan Rafferty, Ciaran O’Hanlon, Kevin Dyas, Tony Kernan, Jamie Clarke, Stefan Forker
Live television coverage of Cavan v Armagh and Galway v Mayo on The Sunday Game Live from 13:15 on Sunday 19 May on RTÉ Two and RTÉ.ie (Ireland only).
Live radio coverage of all the day’s action featuring Galway v Mayo from 14:00 on RTÉ Radio 1, RTÉ RnaG and RTÉ.ie (Worldwide).
Highlights and analysis of all the weekend’s action on The Sunday Game from 21:30 on Sunday 19 May on RTÉ Two and RTÉ.ie (Ireland only).