GAA Football

Cavan must sort their own imbalance before they can exploit Kerry's

Kerry saw off Tyrone last weekend in Peter Keane's first game in charge, but some of the locals were unimpressed. Picture by Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile

Allianz Football League Division One: Cavan v Kerry (tomorrow, 2pm, Kingspan Breffni)

THE equilibrium between defence and attack that all football teams need still varies.

Jumping from grade-to-grade, as Cavan have done in recent years, creates a see-saw that they just haven't been able to get to sit still.

Mattie McGleenan struggled with it throughout his term in charge. He took over a side that had to live with a perception that was foisted upon them by Joe Brolly's ‘black death' tag, even though they had scored more than any team in the top two divisions when they won their promotion to Division One in 2015.

He set about making them a fearsome attacking force, but last year's Division Two final and their Ulster Championship defeat by Donegal saw them concede 6-36 in two games.

When they exited at the hands of Tyrone, they looked exactly as they were – a side jumping back and forward between a focus on one and the other, and falling through the cracks in the middle.

Kerry, despite operating in a different stratosphere, are not any different.

It was the bane of Éamonn Fitzmaurice's reign. The All-Ireland semi-final against Mayo two years ago, they went from being destroyed by the space in front of Andy Moran the first day to shutting that up in the replay, but having absolutely no attacking half-forward presence.

Last year was the exact same. They tried to mirror Galway and were toothless. So they came out man-for-man against Monaghan and that only handed Conor McManus the keys to rip them apart in a game they lost in all but name.

Such is the challenge laid down, then, to both Mickey Graham and Peter Keane.

Much debate has centred this week on Kerry's ‘new' style. Keeping a hard-running, counter-attacking side like Tyrone to just two points from play is something that almost nobody has achieved in recent years.

But the reaction has been mixed. The Kingdom did only score 0-11 themselves. Tomás Ó Sé publically denounced the idea that they played an overtly defensive style.

Yet every second texter to the popular Terrace Talk radio show was complaining about the manner of it, despite the new boss claiming a win over last year's beaten All-Ireland finalists in his first game in charge.

Nothing will please Kerry folk until Sam has been prised from Stephen Cluxton's demon grip, whereas despite them sharing the same plains this weekend, Cavan's medium-term ambitions are a bit more modest.

Spring is simply about staying afloat. Last weekend in Salthill could have been different had they taken the grip on the game that they might have done in the first half.

They were 0-5 to 0-2 up after 25 minutes and should have been further ahead. Galway kicked the final three unanswered scores of the half to deflate them.

Cavan were still well in it at 0-8 apiece, but then the black death really visited. Martin Reilly, Killian Brady and Killian Clarke were all black carded in such close proximity that they spent four minutes with just 12 men. They ended up 0-13 to 0-8 behind before the final three scores in injury time put a softer look on it.

Reilly was a particular loss given that he had a superb game from wing-back, while Dara McVeety and Clarke were both glad to get back into it having not been involved in the McKenna Cup.

Michael Argue's return at midfield does somewhat offset the absence of Gearoid McKiernan for the next few weeks at least, but beyond that it was close to a full-strength Cavan side.

Kerry have lost a bit of experience over the winter and handed debuts to goalkeeper Shane Ryan and recent minor stars Diarmuid O'Connor and Dara Moynihan.

James O'Donoghue and Mikey Geaney are both expected to come back into the side tomorrow, and it could well be the more established faces of Jonathan Lyne and Stephen O'Brien that miss out.

Cavan are long enough in the tooth to know it represents an opportunity, but they must overcome their own imbalances before they can do anything about Kerry's.

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