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GAA Football

Cavan captain Killian Clarke keeps it cool ahead of tough Tyrone test

Cavan's Killian Clarke takes on Niall Sludden of Tyrone in the Dr McKenna Cup opener this year. Pic Philip Walsh

THE ice strapped to the back of Killian Clarke's left calf could almost have been picked off the Castleblayney pitch – and he wasn't sweating about the prospect of taking on Tyrone either.

The Cavan captain knew his side should probably have beaten old rivals Monaghan in the second round of the Allianz Football League on Sunday, instead having to settle for just their first point back in Division One after a 0-7 to 0-7 draw.

However, even though the Red Hands thrashed Cavan in their Ulster SFC semi-final replay last year, and almost beat All-Ireland and League champions Dublin on Saturday night, Clarke remains upbeat about his county's chances when they travel to Tyrone in round three on February 26.

Although Mickey Harte's men came close to ending Dublin's long unbeaten run in League and Championship, Clarke pointed out that the Dubs were far from full strength, either in personnel or in terms of preparation:

"Tyrone set up very well defensively and we ran into that a good bit last year.

"But Dublin were on holidays in Jamaica up to a few weeks ago so I don't think you can read too much into it at the same time."

Cavan can look back with some confidence at their first few performances against Tyrone last year, only losing narrowly in Omagh in Division Two, being competitive in the Division Two final, then drawing in their first meeting in the Ulster SFC. They also shocked them in this year's McKenna Cup opener.

Clarke recalls how they plundered three goals in the first Ulster semi-final meeting, to force a draw: "The first day [in the Championship] we recognised that they were weak under high ball and David Givney took full advantage of that and he caused mayhem on Ronan McNamee inside.

"Even though Justin McMahon was sitting in front, the two boys were simply not able to cope.

"We analysed it after that for the replay and we felt that we needed to push up a wee bit and attack which meant that if we got turned over up the field there was going to be holes behind us and they just went through us like we were a sieve. We will learn from that and we will push on this year."

Dublin, who had deployed almost a third string side to win the pre-League O'Byrne Cup in Leinster, cruised to a comfortable seven-point victory away to Cavan in the Division One opener this year, but Clarke had an explanation for that:

"We showed Dublin too much respect the last day, we stood them off them a wee bit more than we should have and we might have been too defensive, but we went out and attacked the game today.

"We probably did not bring that intensity last week [against Dublin] and if you don't bring intensity you are not going to win too many games."

Cavan could have picked up a victory in Castleblayney but Clarke accepted they were much too wasteful, registering 10 wides and dropping almost as many shots short:

"It was a tough match in what were tough conditions to play in. The wide count reflects that; we kicked a lot of wides in the first half.

"We missed a lot of chances and in these tight games if you don't take your chances, you are not going to win too many games and that is something that we are going to have to work on.

"It was definitely there for the taking. I did not think that Monaghan had any great intensity in the first half, we were cutting them open and we were turning them over at the other end.

"When you are getting [Conor] McManus wrapped up, you know that Monaghan will struggle for scores. We turned them over, we were slicing them open but we were not taking our chances."

Clarke revelled in derby atmosphere in front of almost 8,000 paying spectators, against a county he's very familiar with, commenting:

"It is also great to see big crowds because we did not see that in Division Two last year and definitely last week's crowd in Breffni [16,000 v Dublin] was the biggest I ever saw there for a league.

"There was a great atmosphere in Castleblayney; I'm a Shercock man, I went to school in Carrickmacross so I would know a good few people who were in the stand roaring and shouting. It is a great learning experience for this young team."

Cavan will continue to learn on their return to the top flight, with Clarke noticing several differences from the lower tiers of the League:

"The physicality, the number of athletic players that are around the field and the quality of forwards that you are facing.

"When forwards get their chance at this level they usually take them, although that was not portrayed out there [against Monaghan] - but in the normal run of things that is the way that it goes.

"We are learning but we are really disappointed with the result there, but hopefully we can push on for Tyrone in two weeks."

Playing at this highest level should also help Mattie McGleenan's men come the Championship, meeting either Monaghan or Fermanagh in the Ulster SFC quarter-final, as Clarke is well aware:

"It is great preparation playing this level of teams week in, week out. We were playing in Division Three and then we progressed to Division Two where we played the likes of Tyrone and Galway, but now to be playing the likes of Dublin, Kerry, Mayo, and Donegal, that is another step-up again and hopefully that will pay a dividend come June."

In the meantime, Cavan must try to secure League survival, but Clarke said they had no set points tally in mind: "No, we have no number in our heads. We are just trying to improve with every game.

"In a game like this, where we thought it was there for the taking, we are going to have to analyse it this week and see where we made our mistakes…

"If Monaghan had won today they would probably have been safe and we will probably be hunting for a win against Tyrone - and after that you are probably looking to take a few scalps off teams in the bottom half of the table".

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