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Preview: Cavan has more than just a puncher’s chance

Vaseline 2 months ago

Ulster SFC
Cavan v Tyrone
Sunday, Breffni Park, 4 p.m

By Niall Gartland

In recent years Tyrone has looked like a box of chocolates so there is an exciting sense of unpredictability about Sunday’s Ulster Senior Championship quarter-final against Cavan.

The Red Hands were nothing if not unpredictable during the competition; brutal one weekend, dead average the next, and downright tepid in their attacks against the Dubs in their seventh and final league game (a deadly clash from their perspective, admittedly).

One thing they do have on their side heading into Sunday’s match is history. They have not lost a Championship match to Cavan since 1983, claiming eight wins and two draws along the way. There’s another statistic, which in our view is less relevant: they’ve never actually beaten Cavan at Cavan in Championship football, but that’s more of a historical quirk than anything else.

Cast your mind back to September 11, 2021 and Tyrone reached the Promised Land with a 2-14 to 0-15 win over Mayo in the All-Ireland final.

The Red Hands were imperious that day and were on cruise control at the final whistle, and few could have imagined that they would subsequently fall down the pecking order.

A loss of staff certainly hasn’t helped matters; a host of supporting cast members withdrew the following season, perhaps satiated by their All-Ireland victory, and the erratic Conor McKenna later headed back to Australia, a loss significant enough given his ability to conjure a goal out of thin air .

The Championship hasn’t been fertile ground and last year’s defeat to Kerry was chastening to say the least, but there’s still that feeling with Tyrone that if they get all their ducks in a row they’ll still be a rattler for everyone can give. day.

Maintaining their Division One status was an achievement, especially with a long injury list. Mattie Donnelly and Cathal McShane have returned to the field of play, Conor Meyler, Frank Burns and Michael O’Neill have not seen a minute of action all year, while Conn Kilpatrick, Peter Harte and Michael McKernan sat out their last two league matches.

Asked about the state of their walking wounded at a recent press event, Brian Dooher didn’t give too much away, but whatever the story, expect at least a few newcomers to make their championship bow against Cavan next Sunday.

Confidence will be sky high in the Breffni camp after their well-deserved preliminary round victory over Monaghan almost a fortnight ago (they have now won their three most recent Championship games against their old foes, an impressive run of results).

Cavan did almost everything right that day; they kept in touch in the first half playing against a stiff breeze, they broke down in the second half taking their three goals with aplomb, they got their match-ups right (Killian Brady ignored Jack McCarron and Brian O’Connell kept Conor keeping a close eye on McManus, limiting the Monaghan legend to a single point of play).

They lived dangerously at times – manager Raymond Galligan constantly urging his players to come forward – but their sense of urgency certainly paid off as they booked a place in the first round with a final score of 3-12 to 1-12 .

It was one of those days where almost everyone gave a good account of themselves – Cian Reilly won loads of dirty balls in defence, Oisin Brady was lively in attack, Padraig Faulkner was simply imperious in every facet, but perhaps a concern is an over-reliance on Paddy Lynch for scores. He went 1-9 and scored eight free points from eight attempts, but if he has a bad day this weekend it could be for Cavan.

It will be interesting to see if Jason McLoughlin returns to the starting fifteen. He is on his way back from injury and has been one of the most underrated defenders in the county in recent years, but all of Cavan’s defenses delivered against Monaghan, leaving Raymond Galligan with a potentially difficult decision to make.

One of his priorities this week will be ensuring Cavan has the right mentality for the fight. For whatever reason they generally struggle against Tyrone, and when they came to Omagh in 2021 as defending Ulster champions they went down by eight points in a fairly flat game.

In a way, though, Tyrone is under more pressure here. They have won just one Ulster Championship match since 2021, an away win over Fermanagh, and they need no reminder of what happened this time last year when they were hit by a late Ryan O’Toole suckerpunch in a one-point defeat to Monaghan.

They have two of the best attacking players in the country in Darragh Canavan and Darren McCurry (the former has already won a string of Man of the Match awards this year), but the way they lost to Dublin less than a month ago was certainly worrisome. from a Tyrone perspective.

There were some perfectly plausible excuses – a few key players were rested, a few other key players were unavailable due to injury and Tyrone had nothing tangible to play for – but the porosity in the defense is something that really needs to be looked at. as Tyrone plans to return to the top table.

Tyrone have been both praised and lamented for their sheer fighting spirit since they emerged as a footballing power in the 1990s; something that has been strangely absent in recent years and if they are not on the field of action on Sunday, Cavan have more than a puncher’s chance to inflict their first defeat at this level against the Red Hands in 41 years.