Danny Hughes: Cavan must discover an edge after lame defeat to Donegal in Ulster SFC opener
A MONDAY morning after a Championship defeat is not a nice place to be. You question almost everything. Doubt creeps in.
Doubt in the ability of the team, in yourself, of the management.
You contemplate the commitment, the last nine months of preparation and, if you have been around the county squad for a while, you will question whether Championship Sunday is even worth it.
The diametric opposite is the victor on the Monday morning.
Even if times have changed, a few hardy pints after the game will not dampen the satisfaction of the morning after the day before.
Expectation will grow from within the group and you will inevitably have some fans telling you how great you are.
A strong management team will highlight the positives and dampen expectation by highlighting that harder days lie ahead, which is precisely what Declan Bonner did.
Cavan were disappointing.
A fundamental when going to play Donegal in Ballybofey or in anyone’s back yard is aggression.
You have to draw the home team into something that resembles a war zone.
While I have never been in a war zone in the proper use of the word, I have played in plenty of intimidating locations.
A small mistake can be pounced upon and punished at inter-county level and, if it was your mistake that leads to a score, this can lead to mental torment for the duration of your time on the field.
This can be accompanied by some hateful sledging into the bargain by the opposition.
We talk about the participation at this level as ‘playing on the edge’.
Where was Cavan’s edge?
If you are not prepared to be stretchered off the field in exhaustion, you really shouldn’t be playing at this level.
I know for a fact that there will be regrets in Cavan’s subconscious this week.
For Mattie McGleenan, it will be a frustrating time. He will think that he has prepared the team well, the positivity from a promotion was surely something to build on. As a second year manager, he will know the players better and they will understand exactly what system he wants to play.
The problem Cavan seem to have at the minute is that they are conceding far too many scores.
The Division Two League final scoreline resembled that of an underage game and, unfortunately, against Donegal last Sunday, Cavan didn’t fare much better.
The magic tide-mark in Gaelic football at senior level is 13 scores.
If you can secure more than this, the law of GAA football averages would suggest you will win the game.
In an Ulster Championship game, 1-15 is usually enough to secure a win, however, when you are conceding 2-20, you know that (a) you have a defensive problem and (b) you have a system problem. You add both (a) and (b) and you get Cavan’s outcome.
The Breffnimen’s Championship pedigree has not been great in recent years and, while they have plenty of ‘potential’, I would always contend that ‘potential’ without ‘results’ is just a word.
Do I think that a Qualifiers run is possible for Cavan? Yes.
However, McGleenan and his team have a hell of a lot of defensive work to prepare, while maintaining that balance offensively.
Cavan could well take a leaf from Galway’s playbook. As the Tribesmen proved, nobody will care how they defeated Mayo; the facts are that Galway progress to the next round and Mayo must travel the uncertain route through the Qualifiers.
So Brolly, O Sé and O’Rourke thought it was ugly? It was. Galway’s performance was a practical one. Kerry won an All-Ireland in 2014 in one of the worst finals/ games in living memory. Yet manager Eamon Fitzmaurice was lauded as a tactical genius.
Paddy Tally, as trainer, shipped a fair bit of criticism indirectly around Galway’s style and negativity.
It is easy to ignore that, in both finals last year, Dublin retreated collectively with 14 players behind the ball on numerous occasions.
In the wide-open spaces of Croke Park and with a full arena, the All-Ireland final can seem significantly better quality than the game in Castlebar last Sunday.
Yet Tally, unfairly, takes the criticism on the back of making Galway a much more competitive team. Instead he was seemingly blamed for everything under the sun.
In a perfect world, of course, we want to be entertained with edge-of-the-seat fare. But in a competition where Dublin have won the last three All-Ireland titles and wholly dominate along with a select few teams including Mayo and arguably Kerry, can we blame Galway for adopting a more practical approach to winning?
Okay, Galway are not the finished article. In addition, the result should have been much more comfortable in the end, with Diarmuid O’Connor’s dismissal midway through the first half a significant blow for Mayo.
It was a clear red card and the fact that Paul Conroy failed to recover from the elbow smash, showed you just how justified the sending off was.
Galway will get better and Damien Comer, Shane Walsh and Conroy are class forwards worthy of gracing any team in Ireland on current form.
Where now for Mayo then?
I still think they will be in the shake-up in August/September.
Mayo in recent years have improved as a team via the Qualifiers. Their players will be confident that history can repeat itself.
It’s a long road, though, and Mayo have been on it for a long time now. Eventually all roads come to an end and the disappointment of numerous All-Ireland final defeats in recent years may well take its toll.
The wins for Carlow and Laois have been used as fodder for a second tier Championship.
The closeness of the games has somehow lent evidence to the merits of a B Championship.
I just cannot accept the concept because I fundamentally believe that the GAA would be obliterated in so-called weaker counties.
Even in the structure that currently exists, Carlow’s fantastic result was achieved without Brendan Murphy. How would a second tier Championship prevent his exodus?
I would argue that you would have many more players like Brendan Murphy opting out of a B competition and exploring opportunities abroad.
The Super 8s, like them or not, create a Championship within a Championship and will support an ‘elite’ competition and more competitive games of better quality for teams that qualify for it.
The negativity, the complaining and the over-analysis of games is nothing new from pundits. It just feels a bit boring at this stage.
This game of ours is not perfect; neither is the structure, rules, refereeing or quality.
The sooner we accept the imperfect nature of it, the more we will all start to enjoy it.