GAA Football

Cavan still 'alive and fighting' says boss Mickey Graham ahead of semi-final clash with Down

Fighting spirit. Cavan's Martin Reilly takes on Antrim's Kevin O'Boyle in Saturday's Ulster Football Championship quarter-final at Breffni Park. Picture: Seamus Loughran.
Andy Watters

CAVAN were written off by all and sundry before their first round clash with Monaghan but, two games later, the Breffnimen are “still alive and fighting” in the Ulster Championship.

A campaign that was expected to last for one game continues into a third on Sunday when Mickey Graham’s scrappers take on a Down team that has taken their place in Division Two and had too much for Fermanagh in their Ulster opener last Sunday.

It’ll be Cavan’s fifth game in-a-row on heavy ground but winning is the best tonic for tired legs and Graham says: “The lads are just glad that we got through the matches and we’re still standing and we’re still alive and fighting.”

He added: “You just have to try and get the recovery in and get the minds and bodies freshened up as much as possible between the games and hope that the games haven’t taken too much out of them.

“We are still training away. There’s lot of stuff we can work on and improve on as a team and we try and work on things. The intensity mightn’t be as high but we’re still doing bits and pieces to keep us ticking over between the games.”

Graham’s men swapped League divisions with Down after they lost against Kildare and, in the final round, Roscommon. Meanwhile, Leitrim’s no-show meant Division Two football was assured for Paddy Tally’s Mournemen before the final round of games and they kicked on from clinching promotion by beating Fermanagh by seven points at Brewster Park last Sunday.

“I thought Down were very impressive,” said Graham.

“It’s Paddy’s second year and you can tell that they’ve put a lot of work in. They’ve a lot of young, enthusiastic lads and also they have experienced lads there too. They were impressive, especially in the second half and when they got the opportunity to push on they did.

“It’s a new challenge for us and they’ll be confident, they’ll see it as a real opportunity to progress to an Ulster final. We have a lot of improving to do after the Antrim game but it’s going to be an interesting game that could go either way.”

Stephen Murray, Conor Madden, Conor Smith and James Smith could come back into the squad for Sunday’s clash.

“We’ll not know until later in the week how they’re going,” said Graham.

Cavan’s Championship resilience has been impressive but perhaps not entirely unexpected. In their first League game of the season, Graham’s side were mauled 2-18 to 1-8 by Armagh but bounced back to beat Westmeath, Laois and Fermanagh.

Graham says it was a slip-up against Clare that proved to be their downfall.

“If you look back on the League, to get relegated on six points was probably unlucky,” he said.

“The results went against us on the last day as well. We should have got something out of the game in Kildare and we didn’t play well against Roscommon but still we were only two points down although they were missing a few players.

“We could have scraped something out of that game. And we felt we had responded well after we were well beat by Armagh in the first League game - we won three on the bounce and two of them were away against Fermanagh and Laois and, with Clare coming to Kingspan Breffni, it was in our own hands.

“We ended up losing that game and that was the game that cost us our position. If we’d have got a result that day we’d have been laughing but we got a wee bit complacent and we paid the price.”

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GAA Football