GAA Football

Dublin should extend Cavan's long wait for a Division One victory

15/11/2015 Scotstown manager matthew mc gleenan pic seamus loughran.

Allianz Football League Division One: Cavan v Dublin (Kingspan Breffni Park, 2pm tomorrow)

MATTIE McGleenan won't have happy memories of Cavan's last victory in Division One. The Eglish clubman lined out at full-forward as Tyrone lost at home to the Breffni Blues by 0-8 to 1-4 on March 2, 1997, with a teenage Dermot McCabe scoring late on to inflict a first league loss in Dungannon for the Red Hands in 11 years.

To add to his disappointment, McGleenan was taken off after 40 minutes, having had a great goal chance blocked by Cavan full-back Ciaran Brady; it was probably some consolation that his replacement was a certain Peter Canavan.

McGleenan is now tasked with keeping Cavan in the top flight, having succeeded Terry Hyland, the Lacken clubman stepping down after five Championship campaigns in charge.

Cavan actually beat Tyrone again a month later, in April 1997, in a relegation play-off in Clones but to no avail – both counties ended up in Section C when the League was re-structured for the 1997-98 competition.

Still, 1997 turned out to be a very good year for Cavan, as they ended a 28-year Ulster SFC title drought, but they haven't had much to celebrate at senior level since then. Indeed they've gone the longest without an Ulster Final appearance of all the northern counties, an absence stretching back to 2001.

Hyland increasingly built his team around players from the sides that won four consecutive Ulster U21 titles, a run that he started in 2011.

The challenge for McGleenan is to make the Breffni Blues competitive with the big guns again.

Cavan journalist Paul Fitzpatrick this week Tweeted the question of when his county had last beaten a ‘top 8' team in League or Championship. They edged out Donegal in round two of the 2005 All-Ireland qualifiers, although the Tir Chonaill men had been relegated from Division One earlier that year. They had taken eventual All-Ireland champions Tyrone to a replay in the Ulster semi-finals too.

Armagh, All-Ireland Finalists the previous year, were thrashed in 2004's Division 1B, by 3-12 to 0-8, but bizarrely that was the Breffnimen's only League win as they finished bottom on three points.

After three seasons they finally escaped Division 2B, topping the table to earn promotion to Division Two after another League re-structuring.

Yet that elevation only lasted one season, with a solitary League victory, over Cork, and six defeats.

One of those losses came against Dublin, a 0-7 to 1-9 loss in Breffni Park, the last senior meeting between the counties, as their paths diverged.

Dublin went on to top Division Two, and have been top flight fixtures ever since, including winning the last four finals. They've also won four All-Irelands in the past six seasons, including the last two back-to-back.

In contrast, six seasons in Division Three followed for Cavan, then two in Division Two.

Hyland clearly improved Cavan, taking over after a disappointing Division Three campaign in 2012 and leading them to two promotions in the four League seasons he oversaw.

There are glimmers of hope for Cavan. They shocked Tyrone in the McKenna Cup opener and might fancy catching Dublin cold given that the visitors' side team surely have had little or no competitive game-time as they won the O'Byrne Cup with not even a second string side.

However, Cavan's last outing was a disappointing defeat against an admittedly decent Ulster University team, costing the hosts a place in the McKenna Cup semi-finals.

McGleenan has handed League debuts to defender Fergal Reilly and forwards Gerard Smith and Niall Clerkin, although Smith did come off the bench in four of their five Championship outings last year.

Last season's skipper, Gearoid McKiernan, is on the bench after a recent knee injury absence, along with Ulster Allstar goalkeeper Ray Galligan, Jason McLoughlin, Tomas Corr, and James McEnroe.

However, it's Dublin's immense depth of talent that should leave Cavan's search for a top flight League victory extending closer to 20 full years.

Cavan: J Farrelly; F Reilly, P Faulkner, K Brady; M Reilly, C Moynagh, J McCutcheon; K Clarke, R Dunne; C Brady, D McVeety, G Smith; N Clerkin, N McDermott, S Johnston.

Substitutes: R Galligan, J McLoughlin, S Murray, S O'Rourke, T Corr, J McEnroe, C Madden, P O'Connor, N McKiernan, S Tierney, G McKiernan.

Dublin: TBC

Referee: Padraig O'Sullivan (Kerry).

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