Cavan all-round strength should see off Down in meeting of Ulster aristocrats
All-Ireland Qualifiers round two: Cavan v Down (today, Brewster Park, 5pm)
ULSTER aristocrats Down and Cavan will be determined to restore pride and keep their Championship seasons afloat this evening.
The one-time giants have won more All-Irelands between them (10) than the other seven Ulster counties combined, but both have been unceremoniously dumped out of the provincial Championship by Donegal this season.
Development work at Kingspan Breffni means this game has been switched to Brewster Park, Enniskillen and Cavan will hope that the loss of home advantage won't affect their chances of making it through to the third round.
It came in handy during the League when the Breffnimen saw off a determined Down challenge to win by three points. The counties went their separate ways afterwards – Cavan up to Division One and Down down to Division Three - and since then both have been left in no doubt about where they currently stand in the Championship firmament.
Cavan travelled with confidence to Ballybofey for the Ulster preliminary round to take on a Donegal side that had showed glimpses of thoroughbred pedigree in a top flight battle that ultimately ended in relegation. The Breffnimen were buoyed by a first half goal from Caomhin O'Reilly, but the Tir Chonaill outfit moved smoothly through the gears and won by eight points in the end.
Defeat in Ulster against Monaghan last year had knocked the stuffing out of Cavan and they were unable to raise themselves for the Qualifiers but the round one draw was kind to Mattie McGleenan's men and they travelled to Waterford three weeks' after the Donegal loss and were able to coast to a confidence-restoring 14-point success.
Manager McGleenan has a full squad at his disposal now and the reintroduction of fit-again Fergal Reilly, Niall Murray, Steven Murray and Jason McLaughlin is a timely boost.
Like Cavan, Down will have been stung by a drubbing from Donegal – theirs came in the Ulster semi-final a fortnight ago.
The Mourne players will have been left in no doubt that Donegal were on a different level and it took a late salvo from midfielder Niall Donnelly to add a little respectability to the one-sided scoreboard at Clones.
Down started poorly and were 1-8 behind, and beaten, before they managed their first score. After it they did rally and – with Connaire Harrison and Donal O'Hare leading the attack – they had some good periods.
However, the Mournemen couldn't get enough ball into their forwards and that was due to their misfiring kick-out strategy that saw restart after restart gobbled up by eager Donegal hands and returned with interest. Goalkeeper Marc Reid has been replaced by Shane Harrison and Down will hope that their physical midfield pairing of Donnelly and Peter Turley can out-muscle Cavan's Bryan Magee and Killian Clarke and get their hands on primary possession.
Up front, Eamonn Burns has been dealt a blow by losing O'Hare to a knee injury. The experienced Burren forward has been superb from frees this year and has shown well from play too. His place will be taken by the talented, but unproven, Sean Dornan but Harrison remains the main scoring threat and he is likely to be picked up by Padraig Faulkner this evening.
Conor Maginn and Shay Maginn will play off the front two in front of the Down midfield with Niall McParland and Kevin McKernan shielding a defence that will have its hands full with Gearoid McKiernan, Cian Mackey, Dara McVeety and O'Reilly.
With outstanding individuals like Harrison and Caolan Mooney, Down have big game performers who could pull them out on a bad day while Cavan will need to function as a unit to win what should be a good tussle between evenly-matched sides.
Cavan have given up home advantage but O'Hare is a serious loss for Down and the Breffnimen should have the all-round strength to win this and progress to the third round.
Down: S Harrison; R McAleenan, B McArdle, A Doherty; D O'Hagan, N McParland, C Mooney; P Turley, N Donnelly; R Millar, K McKernan, C Maginn; S Dornan, C Harrison, S Millar