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Cavan underwhelm despite youthful promise

Cavan boss Terry Hyland was given the backing of the county managerial committee and will see out his four-year term
Neil Loughran

THERE'S nothing worse than noisy neighbours – just ask Cavan.

Having to sit back and watch as Monaghan, the Breffnimen's conquerors in Ulster, lifted a second provincial title in three years was bad enough.

But then Fermanagh poured salt into an already gaping wound, Pete McGrath's green giants battling their way through the Qualifiers to an All-Ireland quarter-final against the Dubs.

After their Ulster semi-final defeat to former manager Malachy O'Rourke's Farneymen, McGrath and the Erne players made a pact that they would still be playing Championship football in August.

They made good on that bond.

Across the Cavan border, it was all over for another year before July was a week old.

For Terry Hyland and co, it was a familiar tale. Plenty of promise, the threat of a major upset and then, bang, the game was up.

In some counties a sense of frustration may start to creep in that their team can't quite seem to take that next step; that they appear to keep hitting the same brick wall.

But Cavan folk know patience is required. The spine of the panel is still young, and there's talent coming through.

Slowly but surely, progress has been made since Terry Hyland took over the reins in 2012, having previously served alongside Val Andrews.

The clean sweep of Ulster U21 titles from 2011 to 2014 is testament to that, as the county support waits in hope, and a small measure of expectation, for that success to transfer to senior level.

Consolidating their position in Division Two this year is not to be sniffed at, considering Cavan had just escaped the clutches of Division Three after years of toil and little reward in the National League's third tier.

Away-day wins over Laois and Galway laid the foundations of a solid campaign and by the time Championship came around, they were in decent shape.

Paired with Monaghan in the last eight, few held out much hope. Without the likes of former captain Alan Clarke, talented forward Eugene Keating and towering midfielder David Givney, the task appeared all the greater.

Yet from the throw-in they tore into their opponents – hassling, harrying and knocking Monaghan off course.

Leading by four, 0-13 to 0-9, 13 minutes into the second half, there was a growing sense among the patrons inside Kingspan Breffni Park that the biggest upset of this year's Ulster Championship could be unfolding before their eyes.

In the end though, it wasn't to be. They held out until the 61st minute when a Kieran Hughes free put the Farneymen ahead.

Cavan had chances to get back into the game but didn't take them – O'Rourke's men were more clinical when it mattered.

Monaghan used that victory as a springboard to lift the Anglo-Celt Cup seven weeks later.

For Cavan, it was the back door, and a kind draw saw them ease past London. Racking up a score of 2-22, it was their biggest tally of the year.

Hyland and his management team of Anthony Forde and former Mayo great Liam McHale knew greater tests lay ahead.

Roscommon had sent Cavan spiralling out of the back door in 2014, and the revenge mission fell flat as the Rossies repeated the dose again at Breffni Park.

Trailing by just a point at half-time, the final score of 3-17 to 1-16 was harsh. An early injury to forward Niall McDermott didn't help as a big, powerful Roscommon hit their stride.

The Rossies would eventually fall foul of a miraculous late comeback from – you guessed it – Fermanagh, as the Ernemen emerged as one of the stories of the summer.

A few years ago it was Cavan reaching the last eight of the All-Ireland through the back door. This time all they could do was watch, and hope upon hope that their chance to silence the noisy neighbours comes around again soon.

WHAT THEY NEED

GOALS would help. Without Eugene Keating – who plays his football for St Sylvester's in Dublin – Cavan offered considerably less threat in terms of direct running and physicality.

The tall, imposing Michael Argue was preferred to the small, nippy Martin Dunne at full-forward for the Championship games against Monaghan and Roscommon, and while their direct style caused the Farneymen all manner of problems in the first half, their challenge eventually fizzled out.

Tall and athletic, getting Keating back into the panel would be a huge boost. The same could be said of David Givney. After transferring to Dublin club Ballymun, he opted out of the panel due to work commitments.

His return is key. Thomas Corr filled in well on occasions this year but when Givney and Gearoid McKiernan line out at eight and nine for Cavan there are few, if any, better midfield partnerships in Ulster.

The elephant in the room for Cavan remains Seanie Johnston who, despite returning to play for Cavan Gaels last year, appears unlikely to have an inter-county future with the Breffni Blues under the current regime.

While there is much focus on their lack of scoring potential at one end of the field, there was also room for concern at the other.

Harshly labelled ‘the black death' by Joe Brolly in 2013 because of their defensive set-up, that solidity deserted them somewhat in 2015. There was pressure on boss Terry Hyland to be more positive, more adventurous, and this was thought to be a key reason for bringing former Mayo star Liam McHale on board.

Yet Cavan scored just one goal in the National League, the lowest return across the four divisions, while worrying leaks in defence were exposed, most notably against the Rossies when - albeit down to 14 men from half-time - they conceded 3-17 as they were dumped out of the Championship.

They must address the balance between defence and attack if they are to make any real progress next year.

MANAGER STATUS

THERE appeared to be an element of doubt in Terry Hyland's voice when he spoke about his future in the aftermath of the crushing All-Ireland Qualifier defeat to Roscommon.

A period of reflection was needed, he felt. Conversations had to take place with his backroom team before a decision could be made.

The county management committee made it clear they wanted Hyland to stay at the end of July, just weeks after their Championship exit, and the Lacken man agreed to see out the fourth and final year of his term in charge.

MR CONSISTENCY

THERE were two players who stood out in a fairly unremarkable season in the Breffni blue– Cian Mackey and Gearoid McKiernan.

While the Breffimen are not renowned for their creativity, Mackey has proved time and time again that he is a playmaker capable of unlocking any defence on his day.

After an injury-ravaged 2014, the Castlerahan man's cool head and eye for a score were a welcome addition to the Cavan panel.

In terms of League and Championship though, Gearoid McKiernan was the team's most consistent performer.

Without usual midfield partner David Givney, McKiernan shouldered the extra responsibility in the middle third and was Cavan's best player when they were edged out by Monaghan in Ulster.

Capable of chipping in with his fair share of scores, as proved by the 1-6 registered in the victory over London. A quality operator, and a player to build a team around.

END OF THE LINE

WITH a predominantly young panel, there are few who stand out as obvious candidates to call time on their inter-county careers.

At 27, Cian Mackey is one of the more experienced heads on Terry Hyland's panel, but it is extremely unlikely he will walk away – especially after missing so much of 2014 through injury.

Mark McKeever has been around the Cavan panel for some time and, following the departure of James Reilly and Alan Clarke, is the elder statesman of the side.

Still only 31, the summer didn't deliver much game-time for the Gowna postman – just four minutes in fact as Hyland emptied the bench at the end of a comprehensive Qualifier win against London.

Whether that will be enough to persuade him back for another year remains to be seen.

NEW BREED

AFTER amassing title after title at U21 level, you would think Cavan have no shortage of young talent pushing hard for a place on Terry Hyland's panel. As is often the case though, some made the breakthrough at senior level, but most did not.

The emergence of the St Patrick's, Cavan team will have given renewed hope for the future, with midfielder Thomas Galligan arguably the pick from that side.

The Cavan school bridged a 43-year gap when they lifted the MacRory Cup back in March, and Galligan – brother of senior goalkeeper Raymond - could be used at midfield or on the edge of the square in years to come.

Thomas Edward Donohoe, who scored 2-3 in the victory over St Patrick's Academy, Dungannon, also looks a good prospect and also played a part in the county minors' run to the Ulster final.

Midfielder David Brady was undoubtedly the stand-out player of that campaign, and could have a big future in county colours. Tall, elegant and with an eye for a score, he registered four points and was hugely influential as the Breffnimen despatched Antrim at the semi-final stage.

QUOTE

“There is loads of ability in our team. It is only a matter of getting the boys outside the group to believe in them. Sometimes they get knocked back a little because people pigeon-hole them”

Terry Hyland after Cavan's Ulster SFC defeat to Monaghan

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