GAA Football

McVeety injury leaves Cavan counting a double cost of defeat

Cavan's Dara McVeety and Roscommon's Conor Daly in action during Sunday's Division Three final
Picture by Philip Walsh
From Cahair O'Kane at Croke Park

Allianz National League Division Two final: Roscommon 4-16 Cavan 4-12

IF you’d said a few years ago that Cavan might one day be involved in the highest-scoring National League final of all time, most would have wondered how that would ever come about.

Woe betide the man that isn’t entertained by a game that has eight goals, 28 points and a host more chances on top, but it left Mattie McGleenan with more questions than answers, and potentially counting the cost.

He would have agreed to cut the game 15 minutes early and give Roscommon the silverware they ultimately earned had it staved off the possible loss of Dara McVeety for their championship opener with Donegal.

His pain was evident the second he hit the turf after losing the race for a ball inside with Niall McInerney. The Crosserlough man played on very briefly but came off soon after and left the pitch looking very dejected with the back of his left leg heavily strapped with ice.

McGleenan said early indications were that he would be out for at least four-to-six weeks, putting him in serious doubt for their trip to Ballybofey.

That will hurt them because he has been outstanding of late, as he was again on Sunday. His pace caused Roscommon’s defence all sorts of trouble as he finished with 1-3 from play.

Kevin McStay’s men were at sixes and sevens defensively in the first quarter, with their decision – which he afterwards called “a mistake” – to push man-for-man from the start, leaving huge gaps in their defence.

And Cavan took full advantage against the wind, racing into a 2-1 to 0-1 lead inside eight minutes.

Conor Bradley left Ultan Harney for dead to slice through and net on three minutes, and McVeety was about to pull the trigger on a second when he was dragged down by Conor Daly for a penalty which Martin Reilly brilliantly slid into the side netting.

But for almost 20 minutes thereafter, once they dropped Niall Kilroy back as the sweeper, it was the Connacht champions who bared their teeth and showed exactly why they have the good record against Cavan that they have.

Their forward line was lethal. Donie Smith and Conor Devaney were the pick of them in the first half, sharing six of their 12 first half points between them.

Roscommon started to win all the individual battles, with Ciaran Lennon a strong focal point at full-forward despite the lack of scoring return. Much came off him, while the Murtagh brothers had their moments too, most notably Diarmuid.

It was the struggles to deal with him and Devaney that led to Cavan reshaping their defence before the half hour. Killian Clarke had struggled on Murtagh and he moved to midfield, with the unfortunate Brian Magee the one replaced.

By that stage they had just steadied the ship, with McVeety tearing through after Cian Mackey’s turnover to drill a third Cavan goal in at the near post, making it 3-1 to 0-9 after a run of eight consecutive Roscommon points.

Two Donie Smith efforts and a cool finish from the ghosting Niall Kilroy helped the Rossies lead by 0-12 to 3-2 at the break, with Padraig Faulkner getting a late riposte for the Breffnimen before the short whistle.

The same defensive affliction that had affected Roscommon in the first half grew legs in the Cavan camp after the interval as they conceded as many goals as they did points (4-4) in the second period.

“Throughout the National League we set ourselves targets, one of which was to only concede 14 scores. I think we conceded 20 today, and that’s not good enough,” said McGleenan afterwards of his side’s defensive performance.

Roscommon looked like scoring a goal every time they came forward, partly down to Cavan abandoning their shape at times to go and chase the game, which they did to good effect.

And in some ways, the losers’ second half performance was better than their first on the whole. Their aggression at midfield, where Gearoid McKiernan and Killian Clarke set about breaking ball, gave them a platform that saw them go back in front at 3-5 to 0-12.

Within three minutes, though, it had gone back the other way. First Brian Stack’s composure opened up a 3v2 that saw Conor Devaney square for Niall Kilroy to palm home, and no sooner had that cheer settled than Donie Smith’s wonderful crossfield pass to Stack opened another opportunity, with corner-back David Murray making the most of a great advantage from the referee to power through and drill home.

“When we were in the ascendancy in the second half, we let Roscommon off the hook,” said McGleenan.

“That’s a part of our game we have to improve. Throughout the League, we seem to do well in spells and then for some particular reason, we seem to step off the pedal.”

Enda Smith drilled just over with options either side to make it 2-14 to 3-5 as a sense grew that it could get ugly for Cavan, but they doubled down and hit a quick 1-2 to waken the game up again.

The goal came off Adrian Cole scrapping for a dropping ball in front of goal, with Enda Flanagan meeting it on the half-volley and sending it to the top corner some five seconds before he was replaced.

Behind by one at 2-14 to 4-7, Cavan dominated the next 10 minutes but only had a single Seanie Johnston score to show. They should have had a fifth goal when Stephen Murray collected a rebound off Niall Clerkin’s saved effort, only to stumble and allow himself to blocked virtually on the goal-line.

And in another blistering salvo, Roscommon took the game away again with two goals in three minutes for the second time. Diarmuid Murtagh’s sublime pass slit the Cavan defence down the middle and Cathal Cregg, who scored 2-1 off the bench, slid home a finish to match the pass.

They took full advantage then when Stephen Murray threw himself full length to intercept a ball inside but didn’t get there, creating an overlap that allowed Devaney in on goal. Raymond Galligan – whose superb kickouts were a feature of Cavan’s play – made a fine save but the ball fell perfectly for Cregg, who made no mistake.

Cavan continued to battle and brought it back to a three-point game in stoppage time, but they never looked like winning in those closing few minutes and Cregg finished them off again with a late left-footed point.

Plenty for them to ponder before Ballybofey, not least what they will do if McVeety doesn’t make it.

MATCH STATS

Cavan: R Galligan (0-1 45’); J McLoughlin, P Faulkner (0-1), K Clarke; M Reilly (1-0pen), E Flanagan (1-0), C Brady (0-1), O Kiernan; G McKiernan (0-1f), B Magee; D McVeety (1-3), C Mackey, C Bradley (1-0); C O’Reilly (0-1f), A Cole

Subs: N Murray for Magee (29), N Clerkin for McLoughlin (h-t), S Johnston (0-4, 0-2f) for C O’Reilly (h-t), S Murray for Flanagan (51), C Madden for Bradley (51), C Moynagh for McVeety (62)

Yellow cards: E Flanagan (46), S Johnston (73)

Roscommon: J Featherston; D Murray (1-0), P Domican, F Lennon; C Daly, U Harney, B Stack; T O’Rourke, C Compton; C Murtagh (0-1f), N Kilroy (1-1), C Devaney (0-3); D Smith (0-3), C Lennon, D Murtagh (0-4, 0-2f)

Subs: N McInerney (0-1) for Daly (h-t), E Smith (0-1) for O’Rourke (47), C Cregg (2-1) for C Lennon (51), N Daly for Stack (61), I Kilbride (0-1) for F Lennon (67)

Black cards: C Compton (52) replaced by T O’Rourke; D Murtagh (71) no replacement

Yellow card: D Smith (70)

Referee: S Hurson (Tyrone)

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