Cavan and Galway meet in winner-takes-all showdown
Allianz National Football League Division Two: Cavan v Galway
(Sunday, Kingspan Breffni Park, 1.30pm)
THE team that grabs this chance on Sunday will spend next year in Division One and both counties would have taken that at the start of the season.
Cavan - losers in their first two games - have won their last four on-the-trot and have home advantage in the last, knowing a draw would send them up. Despite their poor start, defender Conor Moynagh says the Breffni men always had belief they could compete in an ultra-competitive second tier.
“There was word at the start of the year that we were wrote-off and we could be struggling for relegation, but we never looked at it like that,” he said.
“We knew what the squad had in it. After the first game or two, we knew we hadn’t quite clicked, but we knew we weren’t far off and, if we corrected one or two wee things, we’d be laughing. The two-week break helped us to do that; we didn’t start well against Meath, but we got the finger out after half-time and turned things around and it turned our league around.”
Tyrone are already guaranteed promotion and Sunday's winner will join them in the top flight in 2017: “We’re really looking forward to it," Moynagh added.
“We’re coming off the back of a good spell. Last week [against Laois], we weren’t quite as good as we have been, so we have a few things to look at this week. Galway are coming in with the same mindset - they’re going to be looking at it the same as us. It’s fairly even between the two teams and it’s winner-takes-all.”
There was a kick of the ball in it when the sides met in Salthill last year, but Cavan, spearheaded by five points from Martin Dunne, won by 0-12 to 0-10. Dunne has opted out this year, but Terry Hyland’s men have been able to cope without him and the injured Niall McDermott thanks to a startling improvement in how they work the ball from defence to attack.
Under Hyland, the Breffni men’s game has been based on getting men back into their own half behind the ball. They were hard to break down, but found scores hard to come by at times.
An influx of new blood this year and the return of forwards David Givney, Eugene Keating and Seanie Johnston has propelled Cavan to a new level. Givney (2-4) and Johnston (3-16) have worked well as a two-man inside forward line in an attack that has showcased a venomous punch since Tyrone limited them to 0-8 in the first league match.
Cahair O'Kane and Neil Loughran run the rule over Sunday's fixtures in Division Two:
Givney and Gearoid McKiernan played at midfield in that game, but the emergence of new centrefield pairing Tomas Corr and Liam Buchanan, who made his debut in the 17-point annihilation of Armagh, has allowed team captain McKiernan to push up to centre half-forward.
The Swanlinbar clubman has been in superb form. He has the ability to help out the midfield for opposition kick-outs and, with the ball in his hands, he can pass it, run with it and score too - a total of 1-19 from six games is an excellent return.
Both corner-backs are regular scorers too and the defence is well marshalled by Killian Clarke at full-back and ball-playing sweeper Moynagh. Every man knows his job and puts in a shift and - although promotion is within touching distance - Moynagh doesn’t expect nerves to play any part on Sunday.
“A lot of the players have played big games at underage and senior level and we’ve been playing for a few years now,” he said.
“People have been talking about us being a young team, but we’ve been a young team for the last two or three years - at some stage we’re not a young team, we come of age and we have to step up. We’re not looking any further than Sunday, if we get to Division One that’s next year’s problem. At the minute, we’re just looking at Galway and we’ll look at them and look at ourselves and see what needs to be done to get the result.”
Cavan had been vilified by some sections of the media as an ultra-negative side, but this year’s version is playing with style and confidence: “Everyone likes playing football and, the more I’m on the ball, the happier I am,” said Moynagh.
“We have a lot of lads the same, I wouldn’t say there’s anyone on the team that’s uncomfortable on the ball and that’s what is good this year. We’ve had 20 different scorers this year. We have a team that is full of running and full of football and full of confidence and the lads are delighted with that.”
While Cavan have lost two out of six, Galway have been defeated just once in this campaign but draws in their last three games (against Meath, Armagh and Fermanagh) mean they trail the Breffni men by a point and need to win to go up.
The Tribes men - skilful and direct, with pace on the flanks, trailed Armagh by eight points at the Athletic Grounds but battled back to grab a draw with the last attack of the game. There’s no doubt they will fight to the finish in Cavan town, but the home side have the tools to get the win they need.
This season, they have shown they can soak up pressure, compete at midfield and take scoring opportunities when they come along, so they start as favourites to book a deserved place in Division One next year.