GAA Football

Kearns criticism stoked Cavan's fire says Clarke

Killian Clarke's delight was evident as Cavan regained a place in Division One. Picture by Colm O'Reilly

AS Killian Clarke moves from one selfie to the next, and the handshakes and backslaps continue, there is an undoubted sense of achievement in the air.

When they won promotion to the top flight in a final day shootout with Galway two years ago, there were wild scenes in Breffni Park as they ended a 14-year absence from Division One.

There was every bit as much joy and excitement about Sunday. No wonder. Last year they had Dublin, Donegal and Kerry at home, and they won in Castlebar. There was a sense of occasion about them all, just as there was about this.

Tipperary looked home and hosed when, even down to 14 men, they notched a second goal through Liam McGrath to push four clear with not much beyond a quarter of an hour to play.

But there was plenty to spur the Breffnimen all year, and Clarke cited some recent comments by Tipp boss Liam Kearns as a prime motivation.

“I read an article recently with Liam Kearns where he said a poor Cavan team beat Down. Is a poor Cavan team after beating Tipperary there as well? He can answer that question if he wants.”

If Kearns was writing them off, he was far from the only one. Despite having plied their trade and held their own against some of the big guns last year, there were few if any tipping them for an immediate return.

That, too, was a motivation.

“Definitely. We got relegated last year but we felt we put in some really good performances against the top teams – we beat Mayo, and you could see them pushing on into an All-Ireland final, and we felt ‘why can’t that be us?’ We’re always learning.

“We experimented a wee bit in the McKenna Cup and a lot of people were writing us off.

“We played good football in parts but we still have a lot to work on. We’ll take on board the flaws and try and work on them for the league final and Donegal.”

Their bouncebackability, both in the short and medium term, have been impressive. They looked gone at different stages on Sunday but battled their way to victory, knowing that even a draw would effectively kill their hopes.

Given the number of examples of sides that can suffer further drops after a relegation – see Kildare, Derry, Westmeath in recent years – Clarke says it was vital that Cavan bounced back this season.

“You could see a lot of top teams coming down from Division One, and you see Armagh and Fermanagh coming up, two top quality teams that won’t get anything easy against any day.

“There’s two top class teams coming down as well, so we knew we had an opportunity to right a few wrongs from last year. Tipperary beat us in the championship last year so it was a great opportunity to swing it back in our favour a bit.”

Promotion leaves them on a solid footing heading first to Croke Park to face a Roscommon side against whom they have a terrible record, and then to fortress Ballybofey for the Ulster SFC opener in early May.

“We’ll get the league final over us in a week’s time and then we’ll focus in on what Donegal are going to bring,” said Clarke. “We need to focus on ourselves and what we can bring to the table moreso than who we’re playing. It’s a great opportunity to really push on and you can see the standards we’re setting for ourselves.

“We won today but we still wouldn’t be happy with some of the performance standards not being hit, so we need to right those wrongs.”

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