GAA Football

Tyrone up next as Cavan look to shake off Ulster hangover in Qualifier run

Niall Madine of Down in action against Niall Murray, left, and Conor Bradley of Cavan during Saturday's Qualifier at Brewster Park. Photo by Barry Cregg/Sportsfile.
Andy Watters

CAVAN’S target at the start of the season was the Ulster final and they’ve been suffered from an eight-point hangover since Donegal ended their Anglo-Celt race in mid-May.

The Breffnimen had three weeks to get over that 2-20 to 1-15 loss to Donegal before they beat Wicklow but they still looked groggy in their lacklustre performance against Down on Saturday evening. It was only Down’s mistakes and misfortune that got them over the line at the finish.

Now Cavan have been drawn against Tyrone and, on the evidence of last weekend, the Red Hands should progress to round four.

“The first Qualifier is the trickiest sometimes,” said Cian Mackey.

“Whenever you get knocked out of the province it’s difficult. Every team worth their salt is looking to win their province and, at the start of the year, we were looking to make the Ulster final.

“When Donegal beat us so comprehensively the whole lot was down for a week or two.

“We got back on the horse and we got a good victory against Wicklow and playing Down meant a bit more because they are a Division Two team. We were expected to beat them on paper, but Down are different gravy and we’re just happy to get over the line.”

Down’s players and management team must have been shaking their heads all the way back to Newry wondering how they lost on Saturday night, but all footballers can tell tales of losing games they should have won and winning games they should have lost.

“It’s a fair assessment to say we got out of jail,” said Mackey, after Cavan’s two-point win at Brewster Park.

“We were ahead after 20 minutes and we looked comfortable and then we took our foot off the gas and it’s hard to get back into it when they get momentum. They were four points up when we got back into the game.

“There are loads of positives and negatives but the biggest positive is that we’re in the draw for the next round and you never know what’s going to happen in the next day – it’s the Qualifiers.

“Against Tipperary last year we were playing great stuff and winning at half-time,” Mackey recalled

“But we lost the game by three or four and we fell apart in the second half. That can happen in the Qualifiers – momentum is key.

“This year we’re starting to get a small bit of momentum and looking forward to next weekend.

“Winning this is huge because when you’re not playing well but winning games it’s a good sign we most certainly didn’t play near our potential today and we still got the win.

“This week is a big week to improve and hopefully next week we can lift it to another level.”

Cavan had led six points to two in the first half on Saturday but – despite losing Kevin McKernan (his second in three games) and star forward Connaire Harrison to black cards – they were up by two at half-time.

“Down always have good footballers and they’ve broke my heart more often than I’ve broke theirs,” said Mackey.

“They’re very unpredictable, like ourselves, but they can put it up to the best in the country and they can play badly against the worst in the country.

“Today it was a ding-dong game, maybe not the best of a spectacle to watch, but it was in the melting pot for the whole game – there were sendings off, there were black cards, good scores, hits… We’re just happy to come through it.”

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