Cavan carry all the momentum but Down can sneak another win on the road
Allianz National Football League Division Two: Cavan v Down (tonight, 7pm, Kingspan Breffni Park)
THERE are only three games left to go as the National League shakes off the snow before springing back into action, and this evening’s clash at Kingspan Breffni Park will go a long way to deciding where Cavan and Down sit by the end of it all.
A look at the Division Two table suggests the Breffnimen are only going one way, a late draw snatched in Clare on the opening night followed by impressive wins over Louth, Meath and Cork leaving them top of the pile.
Few might have expected it at the start of the campaign but Mattie McGleenan’s men look well placed for an immediate return to the top flight, although their final two games are away to second-placed Roscommon and home to third-placed Tipperary.
The former Tyrone forward is a happy man though. Some of the emerging talent within the county, including the likes of Caoimhin O’Reilly and Bryan Magee, have stepped up to the plate, while two gems look to have been unearthed in corner-back David Phillips and Castlerahan forward Oisin Kiernan.
Unfortunately for Phillips he picked up a knock at training on Wednesday night and is out of tonight’s game, replaced by Conor Brady.
Captain Dara McVeety has been the star man thus far, their driving force from deep, while experienced campaigners Gearoid McKiernan and Cian Mackey have been phased back into the side as they return from injuries.
McKiernan played the second half against the Rebels and is down to start at full-forward tonight instead of Adrian Cole, while Raymond Galligan comes in for James Farrelly between the sticks as the Breffnimen aim to keep their momentum going.
Down, on the other hand, hover around no man’s land.
One of three teams on four points, a shock defeat to Clare last time out suddenly turning talk from promotion to relegation in the flick of a switch.
As it stands both remain possible and, considering Down’s utter lack of consistency, it is almost impossible to make anything other than an educated guess about how it will go.
Like tonight’s opponents they have suffered plenty at the hands of Roscommon in recent years. Three meetings between 2015 and 2016 brought an average losing margin of six points.
Therefore only a brave man would have tipped the Mournemen to return from the west with anything. But, at Dr Hyde Park, it was the Dr Jekyll side of Down’s playing personality that emerged as they came away with an unlikely win.
Next up were the Banner, a county without a victory from their opening three games and on the receiving end of a 14-point shellacking from Meath three weeks earlier. It was a big chance to put together back-to-back wins.
Yet somehow Down contrived to lose thanks to a combination of poor shooting, worse decision-making and some outrageous finishing from Clare dead ball specialist Eoin Cleary.
Eamonn Burns brushed off suggestions that a woeful home record – the Clare defeat was their eighth from nine League games at Pairc Esler during his time – was playing on minds, but there was an anxiety about Down’s play at times that suggests otherwise.
In that respect they might be happy enough to be back on the road tonight, even if they are going into the belly of the beast against the Division Two pacesetters.
Connaire Harrison’s return from a two-game suspension is a huge boost to a full-forward line that, despite some early promise, malfunctioned badly the last day.
So what Down will show up tonight? Who knows? Their patient possession game is perhaps better suited to grinding out away performances than taking the initiative in Newry.
Having Harrison back is massive and, although Cavan are rightly 1/2 favourites with the bookies, there is just a feeling that Down can deliver once again on the road and ease any relegation fears.
Cavan: R Galligan; J McLoughlin, P Faulkner, Conor Brady; M Reilly, Ciaran Brady, Enda Flanagan; K Clarke, B Magee; D McVeety, C Moynagh, O Kiernan; N Clerkin, G McKiernan, C O'Reilly