Monaghan cautiously favoured to overcome old rivals Cavan
Allianz Football League Division One, round two: Monaghan v Cavan (Castleblayney, 2pm tomorrow)
FAMILIARITY may breed caution, along with the usual smattering of contempt, especially from the hosts’ perspective.
Manager Malachy O’Rourke may well recall that his first League campaign in charge of Monaghan opened with an impressive win over a county beginning with the letter ‘M’ – Meath then – followed by an embarrassing defeat against Cavan.
Having won in Mayo last Saturday evening, against an admittedly under-strength and under-prepared home side, O’Rourke and his players will be as wary as ever about the threat posed by the Breffnimen.
That eight-point loss four years ago, 1-10 to 0-5, was in Division Three, and away at Breffni Park, but predictions about advantages have tended to bear little relation to what actually happens in this derby.
The previous League encounter, in 2008’s Division Three, also at the Cavan town venue, also resulted in an eight-point win – for the visitors Monaghan.
In the two most Championship recent clashes, in 2013 and 2015, heavily favoured Monaghan teams have struggled to one-point wins on both occasions.
That 2008 season marked a parting of the ways between these counties, but they’re obviously closer in ability again.
Both had earned promotion to Division Two after their 2007 campaigns, but while Monaghan came close to another elevation, Cavan dropped back down to Division Three – and spent the next six seasons there.
Monaghan, in contrast, became a ‘yo-yo county’ over the same time-frame, with three promotions and two demotions.
Despite that devastating defeat in round two of 2013, O’Rourke’s men went on to top the Division Three table and win the final, beating Meath again.
They earned promotion to the top flight the next year, beating Donegal in the Division Two Final, having shocked them in the 2013 Ulster SFC Final.
After that initial impressive improvement, O’Rourke has brought stability. From the ‘yo-yo’ years, Monaghan are now in their third consecutive season in Division One.
Another win tomorrow would be a big step closer to staying at the top table, and challenging again for Ulster and the latter stages of the All-Ireland series.
Cavan are clearly seeking similar stability and major matches, and inclusion among the big boys. Terry Hyland provided the improvement, earning two promotions up from Division Three from his four League campaigns in charge, but the task of consolidating those gains falls to Mattie McGleenan.
The former Tyrone forward made his name as a club boss, in Monaghan to boot, most recently leading Scotstown to a third county SFC crown in four seasons under his command.
That means he will know many of the Monaghan players well, with five `An Bhoth’ clubmen named in the starting line-up – goalkeeper Rory Beggan, the Hughes brothers Darren and Kieran at midfield – and Shane Carey and Conor McCarthy in attack.
He’ll also be up-to-date on the qualities of most of the rest of the home panel, after his recent involvement in the Monaghan club scene.
That doesn’t necessarily make matters easier, of course. He’ll realise the talent in the county, which has brought Ulster Minor (2013) and U21 titles (last year) as well as two Anglo-Celt Cup triumphs at senior level.
Cavan have talent too, of course, having won the 2011 Ulster Minor Championship and four U21 titles, from 2011 to 2014 inclusive.
What – or who – Cavan don’t have, though, is Conor McManus, or anyone close to his quality, although that could be said about many counties.
The Clontibret man once again kicked some superb scores in his tally of 0-6 in Castlebar last weekend. Notably, he was sent off early on in that defeat four years ago – the first of five red cards that night, three of them to Monaghan.
Perhaps the memory of that match is one reason why Meath official David Coldrick, who tends to allow a fair degree of physicality, has been asked to referee this match.
Cavan put in a decent display against a clearly superior Dublin side last weekend and can expect to show more of their attacking prowess tomorrow; they’ll also anticipate better displays from the likes of Martin Reilly and Dara McVeety, and more game-time for Gearoid McKiernan.
Still, Monaghan will be favourites – but that’s only a cautious nod to the hosts.
Monaghan: R Beggan; F Kelly, D Wylie, R Wylie; K Duffy, N McAdam, C Walshe; D Hughes, K Hughes; K O’Connell, S Carey, G Doogan; C McCarthy, T Kerr, C McManus. Substitutes: C Forde, J Mealiff, O Coyle. B Greenan, N McKeown, A Lynch, D Malone, O Duffy, R McAnespie, J McCarron, B McGinn.
Referee: David Coldrick (Meath).