Cavan hope to reproduce second half display against Armagh as All-Ireland champions Tyrone arrive at Kingspan Breffni
Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup Section B, round two: Cavan v Tyrone (tonight, Kingspan Breffni, 8.15pm)
THE Dr McKenna Cup has its critics but competitive games against All-Ireland champions Tyrone and top flight outfit Armagh is certainly ideal preparation for Cavan’s Division Four campaign.
The Breffnimen went toe-to-toe with Armagh in the second half of Thursday night’s opener before losing out in injury-time and, if they can reproduce that form tonight, they will test a Red Hand side that is opening their account for the year after returning from a pre-season holiday.
With a Division One opener against Monaghan in the offing, Tyrone management duo Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher will hope their charges can hit the ground running against a Cavan team that could be bolstered by the returns of Pauric Faulkner, Marty Reilly, Conor Brady and Conor Smith.
“We’re hoping that a few of the lads who have been isolating will be back,” said Cavan manager Mickey Graham.
“It’s great to have the All-Ireland champions coming to Breffni. These are all big games and it’s great to get them, they will leave us spot-on going into the National League. You couldn’t get two better games than against Division One teams and Ulster sides - they will always ask questions of you.”
Cavan looked off the pace in the first half against Armagh and failed to score from play but the introduction of experienced duo Killian Clarke and Thomas Galligan inspired Graham’s men to much better after the break.
If they can maintain that form, promotion from Division Four shouldn’t be an issue and their League campaign begins at Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada on Sunday, January 30 where they take on Leitrim. That trip to Carrick-on-Shannon is as far ahead as Graham is looking.
“We’ll take it one game at a time,” he said with a wry smile.
“That’s the problem with Cavan, we get a wee bit ahead of ourselves at times and things don’t always go according to plan. We have a few boys still to come back yet from injury and we’ve had a few Covid cases.
“When they come back we’ll strengthen the squad as we move forward and we’ll take it one game at a time and build and make sure we get to the first National League game in one piece.
“I was delighted with the run-out against Armagh.
“When you’ve the first competitive game of the year, sometimes you don’t know where you’re at and we were a lot of bodies and some new lads got an opportunity and you’d have to be happy with the boys’ endeavour and how they applied themselves.
“We’ll take a lot of learnings from it, we were playing against a team that played Division One football last year and that’s how you learn – playing against the big teams.”
One area where Graham’s men will need to sharpen up is their finishing. Thomas Galligan (wide), Gearoid McKiernan (wide), James Smith (hit the crossbar) and Conor Madden (superb save from Blaine Hughes) all had excellent chances against Armagh. Cavan will need to be more clinical if they are to force the win they need tonight to make the semi-finals.
“On other days, they’d go in,” said Graham.
“Gearoid, James… There were some great chances but, look, at least we created them; I’d be more worried if we didn’t create them. So there’s lots of positives to take from it and we’re delighted we got 70 minutes in against good quality opposition and we’d hope to build on it now against the All-Ireland champions.”