GAA Football

Castlerahan set for hat-trick of heartache in Cavan football final

MACH 3: A trio of late Cian Mackey scores saw Castlerahan past Ramor in the semi-final Picture: Philip Walsh
By Padraig Kelly

Hotel Kilmore Cavan Senior Championship final: Castlerahan v Cavan Gaels (Sunday, Kingspan Breffni, 3.30pm)

CASTLERAHAN are hoping to avoid the imperfect hat-trick when they go in search of a first ever Oliver Plunkett Cup against Cavan Gaels on Sunday.

If they achieve that goal, the Ballyjamesduff outfit will atone for the horrors of the last two finals. In 2015, they lost to Kingscourt by a point. Last year Ramor United needed a replay to see them off by two points. Those are the days that haunt.

A 2011 final loss to the Gaels also lingers in the mind of supporters, some of whom would have been present in 1976 when the club won the title as St Mary’s.

They were amalgamated with Munterconnaught that year though, and achieving a win on their own steam would eclipse that success 41 years ago.

The two finalists have enjoyed a similar path to tomorrow’s showpiece. They were joint top of the group stage with seven points from a possible eight and were pushed to the pin of their collars in their respective quarter-finals.

The one main difference came in the semi-finals when Cavan Gaels, managed by Jason O’Reilly, eased past Kingscourt while Castlerahan earned some revenge on Ramor with a one-point win.

Cian Mackey, Castlerahan’s top scorer this year with 22 points, was the main driving force behind that narrow win.

They were two points down late on and another season of anguish looked likely, but Mackey kicked the last three scores of the game – including a 64th-minute free – to get them over the line.

It is a fairly changed side from last year and manager Donal Keogan seems to have added more defensive steel to a side that was fairly airtight as it was.

Paul Smith’s return from injury and Pauric Smith’s return from Australia have beefed up their defensive structure and they are conceding less than 12 points a game on average.

The Gaels have enjoyed a similar return at the back but they do seem to have more firepower than their opponents, and will feel that they have a number of forwards who can use their game intelligence to get through the Castlerahan defence.

They have goaled in five of their six championship games this year, Castlerahan have drawn a blank in four of their six games.

Seanie Johnston and Martin Dunne have both continually caught the eye while Paul O’Connor, a cousin of the famous Mayo O’Connor brothers, has had an increasing influence on the team.

When it comes to competitive county finals, Cavan stands pretty tall. The last five games, including replays, have had a combined winning tally of five points.

Those numbers are a far cry from the 2011 final when the Gaels had 16 points to spare over Castlerahan, and it’s set up to be more like recent finals than that one-sided affair six years ago.

Sadly for Castlerahan, the Gaels’ firepower should see them as the narrow winners.

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