Cavan could win again away to an understrength Galway
Allianz Football League Division One, round one: Galway v Cavan (Pearse Stadium, Salthill, 2.30pm tomorrow)
AN Béal Bocht – putting on ‘the poor mouth’ – is common practice among sports team managers, but on this occasion Kevin Walsh appears to have genuine cause to plead poverty.
Never mind the strain on the Galway county board’s credit card, the Tribesmen’s playing resources seem set to be severely stretched ahead of their League opener against promoted Cavan.
The hosts will be without several players due to long-term injuries, including the key men of midfielder Paul Conroy and full-forward Damien Comer, along with forwards Eamonn Brannigan and Adrian Varley.
All-star attacker Ian Burke will be absent due to his club commitments with Corofin, as will his clubmate Kieran Molloy, who kicked a superb winning point for NUI Galway against Queen’s in Belfast in midweek, while Killanin duo Cathal and Patrick Sweeney have withdrawn from the squad.
Another forward, Sean Armstrong, has retired from the inter-county scene again, while – with the team not named at the time of writing, there were reportedly fitness doubts over Declan Kyne, Johnny Heaney, Michael Daly, Cillian McDaid, and Barry McHugh, the first two of whom were regular starters in defence last season.
On the upside, Moycullen’s Peter Cooke was in fine form for NUI Galway in that Sigerson Cup victory at the Dub on Wednesday night, while Galway still managed to reach the Connacht FBD League Final, albeit they were well beaten by Roscommon.
The very mention of the Rossies may make Cavan shudder but they can travel with a certain confidence to Salthill. They won the last time these two counties met there, less than four years ago, in round five, and also came out on top in a 2016 promotion decider in the final round of Division Two, albeit at Kingspan Breffni.
Cavan are likely to be much-changed since those days, under new manager Mickey Graham, who has to work without the influential midfielder/ forward Gearoid McKiernan and attacker Caoimhin O’Reilly, with both likely to be out for quite some time due to injury. There are also doubts over Oisin Kiernan, Mattie McKenna, and Gerry Smith.
At least the Cavan Gael will be able to call on arguably his two best players, the versatile pair of Killian Clarke and Dara McVeety, both of whom sat out the Dr McKenna Cup campaign. Cavan were underwhelming in that, losing at home to Down and away to Donegal, although they did thrash Queen’s, and what mattered was Graham and his players getting to know each other better.
With only three home matches in Division One – against Kerry, Roscommon (gulp!), and Dublin (double gulp!) – the Breffnimen would love to pick up some points on the road as they aim to survive for more than a season in the top flight this time around.
At least two of their trips are fairly short, heading to Tyrone and then to neighbours Monaghan, but this might be their best chance of an away victory, especially given Galway’s personnel problems.
There really are no easy games in this division, though particularly for a promoted outfit, but Graham has a knack for bringing the best out of his players, as he has demonstrated at club level, most notably with three-time Longford and current Leinster SFC champions Mullinalaghta.
Beating Galway wouldn’t be as big a shock as Mullinalaghta’s triumph over Kilmacud Croke’s - but it would still be a serious scalp for Cavan to take.
Referee: Derek O’Mahoney (Tipperary).