GAA Football

Danny Hughes: Donegal should have too much for Cavan in Ulster decider

Ryan McHugh is one of Donegal’s three most important players – along with Michael Murphy and Patrick McBrearty – and he will be hoping to inflict similar damage on Cavan this Sunday as he did when scoring this goal when the sides clashed in last year’s Ulster SFC preliminary round Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

WHEN Cavan play Donegal on Sunday in the Ulster final they will hope to recreate the euphoric scenes we witnessed at Pearse Stadium last weekend.

Should Mickey Graham lead them to their first Anglo-Celt since 1997, I would dare say that Roscommon's celebrations will be subdued in comparison to Cavan's.

But first they will have to beat a form team in Donegal.

Donegal put Tyrone away in 35 minutes with a ruthless first-half performance.

After that, it was a matter of absorbing a few attacks and hitting Tyrone on the break, which they did effectively.

Declan Bonner has created something different with this Donegal team and back-to-back Ulster titles would be a fair achievement given the assumption was that Donegal needed a couple of years to rebuild after the Jim McGuinness/ Rory Gallagher era.

The three players critical to Donegal are Michael Murphy, Ryan McHugh and Paddy McBrearty.

If you stop them, you stop Donegal.

Tactically, if you could afford to double-mark Murphy, you should.

You are taking a chance – a big one – if you don't.

He is just so good from kick-outs and when he is coming onto a

re-start at full pace, very few can live with him.

As for McHugh and McBrearty, you need to expertly man-mark and shadow each player continually, even if this means following them home.

Cavan will need to be innovative tactically and take the chance that you are taking four players to mark three and then rely on the remaining 10 outfield players to work tirelessly against 11 Donegal men. This is another risk, especially against a well-coached short-passing team such as Donegal.

You need to forget about sweepers for a game against a team such as Donegal.

When a Donegal man is out of the game, it will take this huge effort for Cavan players to get into defensive positions and stop Donegal penetrating offensively.

They rarely cough up possession and the combination of Eoghan ‘Ban' Gallagher and McHugh will drive Donegal into enemy territory, creating overlaps, which in turn will allow Donegal players that half-a-yard of space they need to find their range.

This will normally involve a short handpass or lay-off.

The tactic of using a sweeper will be ineffective because no direct ball tends to be kicked to Donegal's inside line.

That option is always there for Donegal and they are far from one-dimensional, but McBrearty is usually finding a loop to come off a shoulder, using other players as a shield to buy himself the space to get onto that enviable left foot.

I would start Cian Mackey for Cavan. It's a final and for a final you need the best players on the field from the start. Mackey is a willing runner, tactically very smart, and has the experience for the big occasion.

He is the one Cavan player Donegal will fear because he plays similarly to McHugh.

Neil McGee has been around a long time and should Cavan go early with direct ball into a Cavan full-forward line McGee will eat that up for breakfast.

If Cavan are to cause problems for Donegal in that area it would be important to keep McGee guessing, indeed keep all Donegal full-backs guessing.

I am reminded of the 2004 All-Ireland quarter final between Fermanagh and Armagh when Fermanagh's smaller forward line dragged Armagh's robust defence all over Croke Park.

On that particular day, Fermanagh didn't carry ball into unnecessary challenges but isolated slower, more physical Armagh defenders, which allowed the smaller, faster Fermanagh players to take on their counterparts and pick off scores.

The difference, though, is the type of defenders now playing in today's game. You have a leaner and more mobile player, and individuals such as Paddy McGrath and Frank McGlynn are equally as competent going forward as they are going back.

Put it this way, I certainly wouldn't want to encourage them forward. But you have to be brave and put that doubt in the defender's head as a forward. Asking that question of them early in the game will be important from Cavan's perspective.

Cavan still have to prove that they deserve to be there on Ulster final day. That may sound harsh, with wins against Monaghan and Armagh, but these wins are not the same as defeating a Tyrone.

Mickey Graham is ahead of expectations – in bonus territory – so early in his tenure as manager.

A place in the Super 8s is a realistic prospect for Cavan this season and you have to believe that having a successful underage conveyor belt will bear some kind of fruit sooner rather than later.

Contrastingly, Donegal have been the consistent team in Ulster this decade and expect to be in Ulster finals now – and expect to win them.

FOR the rest of the Ulster teams, it is last chance saloon this weekend.

As a Down fan, I am excited at the prospect of Mayo coming north to face Paddy Tally's charges.

It is a great chance to see where we are and, for the players, a great opportunity to play against a team who have for the most part played at the latter stages of the All-Ireland series for many years now.

There is nothing to lose and everything to gain from a Down perspective.

At this stage Mayo will be hurting, pretty badly I would say. Unlike last year, I don't think as a group they will take the outcome for granted, having been fatally wounded last season in Newbridge against Kildare.

I don't write off Antrim's chances against Kildare and the fact it is a home tie for them will surely add a point or two. If Antrim combine the energy, forward play and best elements of the games against Tyrone and Louth, I fancy them to beat the Lilywhites.

The Armagh v Monaghan match is a toss of a coin. On that one, I will sit on the fence. Too close to call.

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