GAA Football

Cavan slip through Division Two trapdoor after day to forget against Roscommon

After leading Cavan to an Ulster final in his first year at the helm, Mickey Graham has now seen the Breffnimen relegated to Division Three. On Saturday they face neighbours Monaghan in the Ulster Championship. Picture by Philip Walsh
Neil Loughran at Kingspan Breffni

Allianz National Football League Division Two: Cavan 0-13 Roscommon 1-12

CROWDED radio rooms can more closely resemble a chicken coop when the action before the men and women with the mics reaches fever pitch but, in this era of social distancing, it was with haunting clarity that one lone voice seemed to fill Kingspan Breffni Park at around 3.38pm on Saturday afternoon.

“And it’s Roscommon who have won here today,” announced Owen McConnon on RTE radio in the seconds after the long whistle, “they go up to Division One, but it’s relegation for Cavan. Cavan are down to Division Three.”

The words of McConnon, a proud son of the Breffni County, echoed around the empty bowl as the sorry news was broken to the boys in blue below.

Given the wide open promotion and relegation permutations, there was always potential for a day of snakes and ladders to unfold.

Yet while any lingering hopes of a return to the top tier were long gone as they struggled to keep pace with a makeshift Roscommon side, Cavan’s Division Two status at least looked secure for another season heading towards the last.

They needed Fermanagh to beat relegation rivals Laois at Brewster Park and, with five minutes left, the already-relegated Ernemen looked like pulling their neighbours out of a hole as they led by five against a side reduced to 14 following the sending off of captain Kieran Lillis.

From out of nowhere, though, the O’Moore men somehow conjured a remarkable 3-3 to seal an unlikely win, eventually finishing fifth after dicing with the drop, and leaving Breffni boss Mickey Graham with a job on his hands to raise spirits ahead of Saturday’s Ulster Championship clash with Monaghan.

“When we came into the game, we weren’t hoping for any other results, we were just concentrating on our own performance,” he said.

“It was in our own hands, we knew what we had to do - we weren’t going in hoping other teams did us a favour but we just didn’t put a performance in.

“We have to take this on the chin and be men about it. We had opportunities over the course of this League to get results, we had done well to get back into contention…. the boys are disappointed, they know themselves the opportunities were there.

“When you don’t take them you deserve to be punished.”

Only a highly unlikely series of events could have prevented Roscommon from securing promotion, yet it was the westerners who came out like the team with everything to play for.

From the starting 15 that had seen off Armagh, eight changes were made – some enforced following the positive Covid test in the camp that hindered preparations through the week, and also saw boss Anthony Cunningham unable to travel as a result of being deemed a close contact.

Yet being able to bring in a completely new full-forward line of Donie Smith alongside Diarmuid and Ciaran Murtagh shows the kind of strength-in-depth the Rossies possess, and why they were too good for the rest in Division Two.

“We’re delighted,” said Donie Smith, “we had a tough enough week with everything that went on off the pitch… we said we’d win the game for the lads who couldn’t be here – Anthony, the selectors, the players, so we’re delighted to do that.”

It was the Boyle man’s dead-eyed accuracy from placed balls, into a stiff enough wind, that helped Roscommon into a 0-7 to 0-4 lead at the break. However, their success was largely built at the back.

With a blanket defensive system that Cavan just couldn’t get to grips with, and a six-game run without conceding a goal, it isn’t hard to see why many give Roscommon a decent shot at upsetting Mayo in a couple of weeks’ time.

Any chance Graham’s men had of hauling themselves back into the reckoning suffered a hammer blow when Rossies captain Enda Smith bagged the game’s only goal 11 minutes after the break,.

The quick restarts from goalkeeper Colm Lavin were a feature of Roscommon’s superb counter-attacks all day and, after Cavan sub Luke Fortune had brought the gap back to three, Lavin’s rapid-fire delivery just evaded Jason McLoughlin, catching the Breffnimen cold. Six seconds later, Smith was on hand to palm home, finishing a five-man move.

Ciaran Brady led the Cavan fight with three excellent points from play but, while they pushed hard towards the end, it never looked like being enough to stop them slipping to defeat and, ultimately, slipping out of Division Two.

Cavan: R Galligan (0-1, free); J McLoughlin, P Faulkner; K Brady; G Smith, C Conroy (0-1), C Brady (0-3); J Smith (0-1), K Clarke; O Kiernan (0-1), M Reilly (0-1), N Murray, C Madden; G McKiernan (0-1), C O’Reilly (0-1). Subs: O Pierson (0-2, frees) for Murray (29), L Fortune (0-1) for K Brady (HT), S Smith for Conroy (42), T Galligan for Madden (52), O Brady for O’Reilly (60)

Yellow cards: J Smith (25), P Faulkner (35+2), C Brady (48), K Clarke (50)

Roscommon: C Lavin; F Lennon, S Mullooly; D Neary; P Scott, C Cregg (0-1), C Devaney; E Smith (1-0), T O’Rourke; N Kilroy, C McKeon, F Cregg (0-1), C Murtagh (0-2, 0-1 free); D Smith (0-7, 0-3 frees, 0-1 45), D Murtagh (0-1). Subs: H Darcy for F Cregg (50), U Harney for McKeon (52), H Walsh for Devaney (57), A Glennon for D Murtagh (60), J Casey for C Cregg (68)

Yellow cards: T O’Rourke (47), C Cregg (55), C Lavin (67)

Referee: S Hurson (Tyrone)

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