Tyrone have all the tools to bring an end to Cavan campaign at Brewster Park
All-Ireland Qualifying round three: Cavan v Tyrone (today, 5pm, Brewster Park, live on Sky Sports Arena)
THE ghosts of shoves, shoulders and punches thrown may still be kicking up dust around the field seven days on from last week’s battle of Brewster as, for the second weekend in-a-row, Cavan journey into Enniskillen to take on Ulster opposition.
This time they travel with an overwhelming sense, from the outside looking in at least, that they must be running out of lives after getting out of jail against Down.
Of course, the Mournemen contributed handsomely to their own downfall. Black cards for their best forward, Connaire Harrison, and the influential Kevin McKernan didn’t help. Nor too red for Ryan Johnston.
And then there was the Gearoid McKiernan effort that dropped harmlessly from the sky, through goalkeeper Shane Harrison’s hands and into the back of the net.
A win’s a win, and victories over Ulster opposition aren’t easy to come by, but the Breffni supporters streamed towards the exits last weekend shaking their heads, wondering just where this Cavan crop was going.
Long gone is the wave of optimism that carried them into the Championship after a Spring that brought promotion back to Division One and promised more attacking intent by the time Ulster kicked into action.
Plenty gave them half a shout heading to Ballybofey to take on Donegal, and plenty were left to eat humble pie on the way out the road as a decent start was soon erased from memory.
Cavan had plenty of bodies in defensive positions but no defensive structure as men in yellow and green jerseys bounded through, seemingly at will.
They were at a loss what to do with Michael Murphy, while the pace of Jamie Brennan and Michael Langan, as well as the forward raids of Eoghan Ban Gallagher and Caolan Ward up the flanks caused chaos.
Even Mattie McGleenan, normally a paragon of positivity, seemed somewhat perplexed by what he had just witnessed when speaking to reporters afterwards.
Towards the end of Terry Hyland’s tenure, the Breffnimen – having previously been derided as ‘the black death’ – began to demonstrate an attacking edge to complement their defensive sensibilities.
But then they had the Velcro-fingered David Givney winning ball at full-forward while McKiernan was able to roam free and provide an attacking spark. He did the same at times last weekend, yet there remains a sense we still aren’t seeing the best of him.
Monaghan had to score 1-18 to send Tyrone tumbling out the Ulster exit door in May, and it is difficult to see where Cavan will come up with that kind of total.
Dara McVeety, returning from a hamstring injury, can cause trouble if afforded any kind of freedom, as evidenced by his superb performances through the League.
But, considering he will be just one of a huge number of bodies clogging up the middle third, it is hard to see where he might be able to find space to have the required influence.
Seanie Johnston still offers plenty of guile and clever movement but, at 33, is not the force he once was. Caoimhin O’Reilly caught the eye against Donegal, exploiting space behind Gallagher, but he is only expected to feature from the bench.
It has also been suggested that Tyrone too don’t have the forwards to compete with the big guns, but in terms of personnel on show at Brewster Park, there looks to be no comparison.
The dry conditions will suit their ball-carrying style and, across almost every line, Tyrone hold all the aces.
Peter Harte proved Cavan’s nemesis in the past when roaming from deep, scoring two goals in their 2016 Ulster semi-final replay rout of the Breffnimen, while Niall Sludden is superb at engineering a yard and inflicting maximum damage.
Cathal McShane too has established himself as a mainstay of this Red Hand outfit, offering pace, athleticism and directness.
Mickey Harte may also look at how much joy Donegal, and even Down last week, got from using the width of the pitch to their advantage. The Tir Chonaill, in particular, dragged men here, there and everywhere, leaving Cavan bamboozled by the close of play.
Against the Mournemen, despite their aerial superiority, the Breffnimen dropped off on Down’s kick-outs, allowing Eamonn Burns’s men to kick short and work the ball up the flanks.
Tyrone are sometimes guilty of labouring their build-up from the back but the pace of Connor McAliskey provides a direct option to complement the runners from deep, while Richie Donnelly has done well since being given his opportunity inside.
Against a defensive Carlow outfit, they remained patient before slowly killing off the game. Tonight’s encounter could follow a similar pattern when faced with a Cavan team from whom it is really hard to know what to expect.
Even in victory over Down, there was little to suggest they had been granted anything more than a stay of execution. The Qualifiers haven’t really lit Cavan’s fire in years gone by, but at least this time they have built momentum of a kind with back-to-back Championship wins for the first time in five years.
If last week is anything to go by, there is no doubt that Cavan will be well up for the physical battle in a game expected to take on the typical characteristics of Ulster Championship fare.
But the Breffnimen will need much more than fight to get past Tyrone.
PATHS TO QUALIFYING ROUND THREE
Ulster SFC preliminary round: Donegal 2-20 Cavan 1-15
All-Ireland Qualifying round one: Wicklow 1-5 Cavan 2-16
All-Ireland Qualifying round two: Cavan 1-14 Down 0-15
Ulster SFC quarter-final: Tyrone 1-16 Monaghan 1-18
All-Ireland Qualifying round one: Meath 0-19 Tyrone 2-14
All-Ireland Qualifying round two: Carlow 1-10 Tyrone 3-14