A top flight return but disappointment in the Championship is the story of 2018 for Cavan
Story of the Season
A DRAW against Clare in Cusack Park followed by a double-scores (3-17 to 0-13) home win over Louth got Cavan’s Division Two campaign off to a good start and the Breffnimen keep their foot on the accelerator throughout the early months of this year.
Meath – so often in the Division Two promotion shake-up – visited Kingspan Breffni next and Cavan fans left delighted after a 2-14 to 1-12 win. The goals came from Ciaran Brady and Conor Moynagh who broke forward to finish off sweeping moves but Cavan maintained a presence in the full-forward line and numbers 13 to 15 (Caoimhin O’Reilly, Adrian Cole and Niall Clerkin) contributed seven points between them.
After years of defensive systems, Mattie McGleenan’s offensively-minded set-up came as a breath of fresh air and it continued to pay dividends for the Breffnimen who travelled to Cork and came home with another two points to leave themselves top of the table going into the two-week break.
The fortnight off did Cavan no harm at all and they returned with a 0-17 to 0-14 victory over a Down side that was heading in the opposite direction. Gearoid McKiernan, making his first start of the campaign, was the go-to man and he finished with four points as Cavan moved to within touching distance of a return to the top flight.
Next up was a trip to Dr Hyde Park and a top-of-the-table showdown with promotion rivals Roscommon. The Rossies recovered from a sluggish start to lead 0-9 to 0-6 at the break and, although Cavan battled back to level it in the second half, they held on to win by a brace.
The defeat meant Cavan needed to beat Tipperary in their final fixture and the talented Premier County side pushed them all the way at Kingspan Breffni. Despite having a man sent off, Conor Sweeney’s goal had Tipp ahead and they had opened up a four-point gap before the McGleenan’s men switched gears. Four points on-the-trot had them level and, although Sweeney put Tipp back in front, late scores from McKiernan and, at the death, Conor Madden ensured that Cavan would return to Division One.
The Division Two final at Croke Park against Roscommon was an extraordinary game which swung this way and that and finished 4-16 to 4-12 in the Connacht county’s favour.
Dara McVeety, Enda Flanagan, Conor Bradley and Martin Reilly all scored goals but despite the defeat the objective of promotion had been secured and it was the ideal preparation for an Ulster Championship campaign that began (and ultimately ended) with a preliminary round clash against Donegal at Ballybofey.
The Tir Chonaill men had been relegated from Division One so hopes were high in the Cavan camp and McGleenan was at his inspirational best as he looked ahead to the game.
But despite his best efforts and a battling display from his players, Donegal won by eight points on the day and there were periods in the game when there was an obvious gulf in class between the sides.
And so with Ulster title dreams dashed, Cavan went back to the drawing board and refocused on the Qualifier draw which threw out a meeting with Wicklow in Aughrim in round one.
Wing-backs Ciaran Brady and Martin Reilly got the goals in a walk-in-the-park 2-14 to 1-5 success and Cavan went into their second round clash with Down – who had been taken apart by Donegal at the Ulster semi-final stage – as favourites.
The Mournemen ripped up the script and looked the better team for much of the game but mistakes and indiscipline coast them dear and Cavan held their nerve to nick it at the death and keep their Championship summer alive.
It was Ulster opposition again in round three in the shape of McGleenan’s native Tyrone and, after their lacklustre effort against Down, Cavan were rank underdogs.
News that team captain Dara McVeety and Conor Moynagh had been cleared to play despite being red-carded for their involvement in a post-match brawl against Down was a boost to the team and Cavan produced their best Championship performance of the season against the Red Hands.
Tyrone, who went on to reach the All-Ireland final, were four points up at the break but Martin Reilly’s goal closed the gap to within a point early in the second half.
McKiernan equalised before Tyrone pulled away through Ronan O’Neill and Niall Sludden. Oisin Kiernan and a superb score from Seanie Johnston tied it again entering the home stretch but Tyrone produced a strong finish to out-score the Breffnimen six points to three in the closing stages and take the win.
A QUALITY player who would challenge for a place on any team in the country, the ball-winning Swanlinbar midfielder is quick, strong and skilful and he produced a series of superb Championship performances, consistently conjuring up vital scores to keep his side in the hunt.
After top-scoring against Donegal with seven points, he produced five more as the Breffnimen saw off Wicklow in Aughrim in the first round of the Qualifiers.
Cavan were out-played for long periods of their round two Qualifier against Down but McKiernan kept them in the game with a Trojan display in midfield and 1-2 from play. A week later, he dragged Cavan back into their game against Tyrone and produced five points as the Breffnimen bowed out of the Championship.
Another player who performed consistently was wing-back Ciaran Brady. Super fit and focussed, Brady was rock solid at wing-back where he mixed his defensive duties with attacking forays and he scored in three of Cavan’s four Championship games.
End of the line?
CAVAN found a new role for perennial star forward Seanie Johnston last season. The Cavan Gaels clubman was used in a play-making role in the middle third and he saw a lot of the ball, using it wisely and bringing other players into the game.
The talented Johnston, who made his senior inter-county debut in 2004, scored an inspirational point to equalise in the Qualifier against Tyrone but it may well have been his last score in the Breffni county jersey.
Meanwhile, Cian Mackey has covered acres of ground in every game for his county but he could also have reached the end of the road. He only returned to the fray this season after a fair deal of soul-searching.
“There were a few phone calls and a few missed phone calls [from McGleenan],” admitted.
“It was a good call to go back in. I sat down and had a chat with a few lads and made the call, and so far this year it’s turned out to be a good one.”
Another who may decide to hang up his inter-county boots is former Burnley soccer star Martin Reilly. The versatile Reilly has played all over the pitch for Cavan and there is a touch of class about his work, but he may have some thinking to do over the winter.
AFTER two years at the helm, McGleenan stepped down as manager following the loss to Tyrone. The former Red Hand and Eglish forward was an enthusiastic and inspirational presence in the Breffni dugout throughout his tenure. His first season ended in relegation from Division One, his second in promotion but the long-awaited Championship breakthrough failed to materialise.
McGleenan has been replaced by Mickey Graham, a Cavan Gaels clubman and former Cavan senior player.
Graham has previously managed Cavan minors and had success at club level in Cavan winning junior and intermediate titles with Butlersbridge and Drumalee. With Mullinalaghta in Longford he won back-to-back senior titles in 2016 and 2017.
Current Cavan GAA Games Development Manager and former Allstar Dermot McCabe will be part of his backroom along with Monaghan native Martin Corey who will have a coaching role.
What they need
MORE belief in the Championship. Cavan’s League form was excellent in 2018 and they deservedly sealed promotion to Division One with a string of impressive displays but their Championship performances were some distance short of top flight level.
The Breffnimen were well beaten by Donegal in the Ulster preliminary round and, as in 2017, they struggled to maintain their enthusiasm for the Qualifiers. Following a comfortable win over out-classed Wicklow, Cavan failed to produce the goods against Down and it was only the Mournemen’s indiscipline and mistakes that allowed them to wriggle off the hook.
Of course, they deserve some credit for hanging in there during that game and their performance in round three of the Qualifiers against Tyrone gave their frustrated fans a glimpse of what the team is capable of.
Cavan battled back from trailing at the break to create a winning situation, but they lacked the resources – and the belief – to force victory.
Their Championship scoring tallies of 1-15, 2-16, 1-14 and 1-12 illustrate the need for new manager Graham to develop and add to the forward talent that his predecessor McGleenan was able to unearth. The Breffnimen have become over-reliant on the inspirational performances of team captain Gearoid McKiernan who contributed at least five points in every Championship game.
The new breed
FORWARDS Caoimhin Reilly and Adrian Cole both showed glimpses of their potential throughout the 2018 season.
Reilly scored 1-3 in the Ulster preliminary round clash with Donegal while Cole also scored in that game but had to settle for a place on the bench for the rest of the campaign.
Cavan came close to fielding the first set of triplets to play county football together when Jack, Dan and Andrew Wharton were included in the panel for the McKenna Cup clash with St Mary’s University in early January
Meanwhile, the Cavan minors reached the All-Ireland semi-finals last year and new manager Mickey Graham has said he is confident that some of that talent will filter through.
“There’s lots of players there,” said Graham.
“Cavan were in a minor All-Ireland semi-final a year ago. You’d be hoping that some young lads will put their hands up in the club championship and give us something to think about.”
Ulster SFC preliminary round:
Donegal 2-20 Cavan 1-15
All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers round one:
Wicklow 1-5 Cavan 2-16
All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers round two:
Cavan 1-14 Down 0-15
All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers round three:
Cavan 1-12 Tyrone 0-18
CHAMPIONSHIP TALLY FOR
(average): 5-57 (18)
CHAMPIONSHIP TALLY AGAINST
(average): 3-58 (16.8)
TEAM KNOCKED OUT OF ALL-IRELAND
J Farrelly; K Brady, E Flanagan, F Reilly; N Murray, C Moynagh (0-1), C Brady (0-1), M Reilly (1-0); G McKiernan (0-5, 0-2 frees), K Clarke (0-1); O Kiernan (0-1), S Johnston (0-1), C Mackey; D McVeety (0-2), C Bradley Subs: S McCormack for Clarke (35), A Cole for Mackey (h-t), P Faulkner for Murray (43), J McLoughlin for Flanagan (43), C Mackey for K Brady (62), C O’Reilly for Johnston (62).
G McKiernan (1-19, 0-5 frees), C Brady (1-6), C O’Reilly (1-5, 0-5 frees), M O’Reilly (2-0, 1-0 pen), S Johnston (0-6, 0-4 frees), C Mackey (0-4, 0-2 frees), D McVeety (0-4), O Kiernan (0-3), N Murray (0-3), B Magee (0-1), A Cole (0-1), C Bradley (0-1), P Faulkner (0-1), S McCormack (0-1), C Moynagh (0-1), K Clarke (0-1)
NFL DIVISION TWO
Cavan (P) 7 5 1 1 23 11
Roscommon (P) 7 5 1 1 21 11
Clare 7 3 2 2 -10 8
Tipperary 7 3 1 3 22 7
Meath 7 3 1 3 14 7
Cork 7 3 0 4 3 6
Down (R) 7 3 0 4 -6 6
Louth (R) 7 0 0 7 -67 0
Final position: first
Clare 1-12 Cavan 2-9
Cavan 3-17 Louth 0-13
Cavan 2-14 Meath 1-12
Cork 0-11 Cavan 0-14
Cavan 0-17 Down 0-14
Roscommon 0-15 Cavan 0-13
Cavan 0-17 Tipperary 2-10
Final: Roscommon 4-16 Cavan 4-12
"Cavan GAA would like to put on record their appreciation and gratitude for the huge commitment and effort Mattie and his management have given to Cavan football."
Cavan county board after manager Mattie McGleenan stepped down