GAA Football

Monaghan's experience may edge them past Cavan again

Who will be left standing between Monaghan's Conor McManus and Cavan's Padraig Faulkner?
Pic Philip Walsh

Ulster SFC quarter-final: Cavan Monaghan (Kingspan Breffni, 7pm TONIGHT)

WE all know what familiarity is supposed to breed – but it can also bring success.

Monaghan have lived that dream. Cavan, in contrast, are still dreaming, still living in hope.

Therein could lie one of the marginal differences that might decide this latest instalment in an age-old rivalry.

Might.

While Monaghan's team selection could mostly be predicted, Cavan don't have that same consistency and cohesion.

Only seven of the side which started last year's All-Ireland qualifiers defeat to Tyrone are named to face Monaghan tonight: Conor Moynagh, Killian Clarke, Niall Murray, Dara McVeety, Gearoid McKiernan, Martin Reilly, and Oisin Kiernan. Most of those may be deployed in different roles too.

Strangely, though, there are more question marks over the Monaghan team, at least in terms of selection, with Cavan boosted by having men such as Raymond Galligan, Jason McLaughlin, Padraig Faulkner, and Conor Madden all back in their starting side.

Monaghan's problems are around midfield, with last year's excellent duo both almost certain NOT to start. The experienced Darren Hughes is definitely ruled out due to a broken ankle, while 21-year-old Niall Kearns, a 2018 Allstar nominee, had to have heart surgery late last year. He did not feature at all in the League, nor did Hughes's younger brother Kieran, although the latter may be pressed into action this evening.

Still, most of Monaghan's team could probably be guessed, particularly their defensive department.

The likelihood is that this will be tight. Only a cumulative 1-2 has separated the sides over the last three Championship meetings, all of them won by Monaghan. Their 1-15 to 0-15 victory two years ago had the biggest winning margin in this derby since 1994.

Cavan won the clash before those most recent three, in the Ulster semi-final, but that was way back in 2001, making it almost 18 years since the Breffni Blues enjoyed the bragging rights after a 'Drumlin Clasico'.

Perhaps even more astonishingly, it's 32 years since Cavan beat Monaghan in the Championship in this famous ground, in a 1987 quarter-final.

Monaghan's recent dominance jolts the folk memory.

The Farneymen never beat Cavan in the senior championship between 1930 and 1988. That's not one of those facts skewed by few meetings – the teams played 21 times, Cavan winning 18 of those.

Monaghan had actually beaten Cavan by seven points in the 1930 Ulster final, en route to their only appearance in an All-Ireland decider, before one of the biggest turnaround in fortunes ever. Cavan won the next encounter, in 1932, by 20 points – 8-8 to 2-6, and proceed to lord it over their neighbours for almost six decades.

Still, even in Cavan's glory times Monaghan could pose problems – drawing with them in 1947 before the Breffnimen went on win their fourth All-Ireland and only losing by a goal in 1952 when Cavan claimed 'Sam' for the fifth time.

Even when the counties have been in different divisions of the League their Championship matches have been close. That's a moot point at the moment, with Cavan relegated from Division One, although Monaghan only just about survived themselves.

So, despite that disappointment of demotion, Cavan have reasons to be, if not confident, at least hopeful.

Converting that hope into triumph is another matter.

While Monaghan have reached seven Ulster semi-finals in a row, three finals, and won the Anglo-Celt Cup twice, Cavan have had just three provincial victories over the past decade.

The desire for a home win, especially against the old enemy, cannot be under-estimated.

Former playing hero turned new manager Mickey Graham has a track record of getting the most out of players, as he demonstrated to amazing effect with Mullinalaghta in Longford and Leinster.

Monaghan have a tendency to be susceptible to shock results against lesser lights, such as Fermanagh, Longford, and *coughs" Down.

However, Cavan don't come into that category, because of where they were and are. The Breffnimen have been in Division One and are cheek-by-jowl neighbours

'When' matters too. Monaghan can be caught out when they've become over-confident due to praise following an impressive victory.

This, though, is a Championship opener, going into the backyard of their arch-rivals.

Cavan winning a derby match in Kingspan Breffni wouldn't exactly constitute a shock but to do that their chance conversion ratio from the League will probably have to improve dramatically.

Apart from the freak result of not only beating nemeses Roscommon, but doing so by scoring 3-13, Cavan averaged just over 0-11 from their other six games – including 1-8 in a three-point defeat away to Monaghan.

New manager Mickey Graham has, quite rightly, pointed to them recording 16 or 17 wides per game, but whether they can increase that accuracy against a packed Monaghan rear-guard remains to be seen. Caoimhin O'Reilly coming into the Cavan attack could offer a crucial goal threat.

The upside for Cavan was at the other end of the pitch, where they conceded the fewest goals in the entire League, just three – and those against the top teams of recent times, Dublin, Mayo, and Tyrone. This year in Division One Cavan had four clean sheets, Monaghan only one – conceding eight goals.

Goals have been at a premium in this Championship fixture, though, with Cavan bagging only four in the last 10 meetings. Monaghan averaged a goal per game, but netted in just five of those matches – including three in a 1994 quarter-final victory.

However, the Breffnimen did give away far too many kickable frees in this year's Division One, which would be welcomed by Rory Beggan and Conor McManus.

For all the importance of physical preparation, mental toughness matters just as much.

Monaghan may have lost some close encounters in the league this year, but in the finishing straight tonight they should be able to flex their muscle memory and edge clear.

Cavan have, laudably, decided to make Kingspan Breffni a smoke-free ground, so it may be a case of fingernails in mouths late on.

This does seem like a 'toss of a coin' encounter, where both sets of players and supporters will be on edge, but Monaghan may just have the extra experience to squeak through to the familiar territory of Ulster's last four.

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