Feature: The brawl behind the band

All hell broke lose when Armagh and Cavan clashed during a pre-match parade back in 2014. We chat to two of the men who played that day for their take on the infamous brawl.

By Shaun Casey

ARMAGH and Cavan matches don’t really have much history behind them, but when the orange and blue do intertwine, it immediately evokes memories of the infamous brawl behind the band back in 2014 at the Athletic Grounds.

It’s customary in the Ulster Championship that during the pre-match parade, the home team line up on the outside, closest to the supporters.

On this occasion, however, the Cavan flag was positioned on the outside and Armagh took objection to this. Following the warm-up, the hosts lined up in the correct position, but behind the blue and white flag.

Like a red rag to a bull, that ruffled Cavan’s feathers. Alan Clarke charged towards Ciaran McKeever as the Breffni Blues intended to regain their territory, and with Armagh refusing to yield, all hell broke loose.

Aaron Findon was just a youngster lining up for his Ulster Championship debut at the time. The nerves were already jangling throughout his entire body.

“I just remember seeing them all (Cavan) legging it up the pitch and thinking what’s going on? And then it all just kicked off,” said the St Peter’s clubman. “I got my ass handed to me! I got put on my back and there was about five people ran over the top of me.

“It was the full-back, Rory Dunne, I remember wrestling with him and getting swung around and then lying on the ground. I think they ran straight into (Ciaran) McKeever and then for the next 30 seconds it was a bit of a blur.”

The parade did eventually take place, with Cavan winning the first psychological battle by claiming the outside lane, but before the ball was thrown in, Terry Hyland was forced to make a late change.

Jack Brady had been listed in the matchday programme as number 15 in the Cavan team, but an early announcement confirmed that Killian Brady would take his place. That was a prearranged switch, so Jack Brady was free to relax at the start of the game.

But during the brawl, Cavan’s star forward Martin Dunne, who had kicked 0-9 (0-8 from play) when Cavan overcame Armagh 12 months previous, had damaged his hand and was unable to play. Brady got the call.

“I was coming back out (of the tunnel), and I could see something happening and you could hear the crowd, they had reacted to what was happening,” recalled Brady. “It was probably over nearly as quickly as it started but we really didn’t think much of it at the time.

“The fallout from it and the media coverage of it probably made it out to be more than it was. Obviously, there’s no place for that in the game, but you get on with it and both teams just got on with it.

“It probably was Armagh setting the tone for the type of game it was going to be. They were well up for it because the year previous we had a good run, and we weren’t coming in this time under the radar.

“We got to the All-Ireland quarter-final and we had a good run in Ulster, beating Armagh as well in Breffni so they were out for revenge, they would have been hurt from that. But on the day, when Dunne got injured, I was nearly looking out in a daze, and I wasn’t really sure what was going on.

“Word filtered through that Dunne was after doing something to his wrist. Even at that stage, I was thinking he would tape it up and play on, but Terry gave me the shout to go in and I didn’t really have time to think about it which might have been a good thing.

“After coming through the u-21s, I was thinking all week about the game and what I was going to do and at that age I was probably wasting a lot of energy thinking about that stuff, whereas when I was just thrown in, I felt good.

“To be honest, Martin was in better form than me, so I had no qualms really about the decision that Terry made (not to start). But then I was in the mind frame of, right I’m in now, I’m getting my chance, I have to try and make a point here.”

Brady hadn’t time to deal with any nerves as he was straight into the fray, and the Ramor United man had to switch mindsets quickly. “In the National Anthem I was thinking about what we were doing on kick-outs, what are we doing in attack, what are we doing in defence.

“I was just trying to make sure I was on the same page as everybody else because no matter what anybody says, if you’re starting compared to being a sub, it’s a completely different mentality.

“You have a game to try and figure things out but once you’re a sub, you can watch it and see how everything is going and watch the way the lads set up on kick-outs for example.

“You know straight away what to do as a sub because you’re after watching it but once you’re starting it’s completely different. Going out, you have to implement the game plan from the start, so that’s what was going through my head.

“I was going through the checklist of kick-outs, Dunne was the free-taker so who’s on the frees, and just trying to work out those few little bits.”

The atmosphere prior to the throw in was electric and for Findon, it was a baptism of fire. “It genuinely was crazy.

“We walked up the stand side and I remember thinking this is what it’s all about. The Athletic Grounds was packed with everybody going mad, screaming and shouting.

“I remember seeing Brendy Donaghy coming running down like Gladiator with the blood pouring out of his head and I just kept thinking, this is it, this is time to go. We ended up on the inside after all, so we didn’t even get what we wanted.

“You’re kind of in a lucky position when you’re midfield because the ball just comes in straight away, so you don’t even really get time to let the nerves build up on you, the ball’s just there so you have to go for it. It was class, it was a great atmosphere.

“I think it was about four or five weeks out from the match when we were relegated (to Division Three), kind of like Armagh were this year, on the last day we lost to Donegal. I remember McKeever pulled us aside at training and said that was next year’s problem.

“He said that there were fellas that maybe wanted revenge for 2013 but the message that I took from it was that this was our time, and we were in control of what was about to happen. That really stuck with me, it felt like my time and my chance to get a championship start.”

“It was a serious atmosphere; it was a great atmosphere,” added Brady. “They’re the types of atmospheres that you want to be playing in in an Ulster Championship match and we knew it was going to be like that.”

On the day, Findon doesn’t believe that the melee had much impact on Armagh but suggests losing Dunne was a huge blow for Cavan. “Cian Mackey was already out injured, so scoring wise, it impacted them,” concluded Findon.

“I don’t think it made much of a difference (for Armagh), it got everybody pumped up, but it made more of an impact for the rest of the year.

“After it, everyone came out and said that we were the worst in the world, so it got the siege mentality going but for the game itself, it kind of increased our energy and once we started quickly, Cavan didn’t score from play until almost half time, so it impacted them more.”

Brady agrees that losing Dunne didn’t help but admits that Armagh were the best team on the day and were deserving 1-12 to 0-9 winners. “In terms of how the game panned out, Armagh had our number, they just outworked us.

“I remember any time I got the ball, Brendan Donaghy was dropping in as a plus one and you’d have a day’s work trying to get out in front of James Morgan. Once you got out in front, Ciaran McKeever and Donaghy were right on top of you.

“You’re in there thinking that the pitch is tiny, that’s what’s going through your head. We had an awful lot of turnovers as well in the final third which just gave Armagh oxygen for the whole game, and they fed off that. The longer the game went on and kept happening, that played into the Athletic Grounds atmosphere.

“I don’t think the row had too much of an impact on it. We had enough leaders, we’d Alan Clarke, who was a great captain and he spoke very well about stepping up and not backing down and we had plenty of strength all over the field. I think it was just that Armagh probably wanted it that little bit more and outworked us on the day and that was it.”

Almost 10 years on, there’s a number of players that lined up behind the band that day that will do the same in Kingspan Breffni this Saturday evening. Both sides will be vying for a spot in the last four so there’s sure to be a spark. And when it’s time to take part in the pre-match parade, anything can happen.

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