GAA Football

Cavan face a "huge test" against Donegal - but they passed it in 2020

Martin Reilly scored two points against Antrim after coming off the Cavan bench at Corrigan Park. Picture: Seamus Loughran.
Andy Watters

CAVAN manager Mickey Graham insists that Donegal are overwhelming favourites to win Sunday’s Ulster Championship semi-final but his Breffni side has been in that position before and they’ve ripped up the formbook before.

Just 18 months ago, Declan Bonner’s Donegal were rated as All-Ireland contenders and chasing a provincial three in-a-row in the Ulster final but a relentless Cavan effort, spearheaded by Conor Madden's 1-2, saw Graham’s men claim a shock win and a first Anglo-Celt Cup since 1997.

Cavan went back into their shell last year and suffered a complete loss of form but they have repaired some of the damage with promotion from Division Four followed by an impressive 13-point quarter-final win over Antrim at Corrigan Park.

Graham has a full panel to choose from for Sunday’s Clones battle and says competition in the squad is intense as Martin Reilly and Ciaran Brady, both subs against Antrim, push for starting spots.

“Sunday is going to be a huge test for us,” he said.

“Donegal have been the most consistent team in Ulster this past 10 years and they can back that up with all the titles they’ve won and finals they’ve got to. So it’s going to be a huge step up for us.

“They were very impressive against Armagh. A lot of people thought going into that game that Armagh would cause an upset but Donegal showed all their experience and were very impressive.

“They have huge quality from the goalkeeper right up to the full-forward line and they have players of equal quality to come in and finish the job of.

“They’re well-balanced with plenty of experience and they’ve introduced a couple of new players who have fitted in well so they’re a formidable outfit and it’s going to be a huge, huge task for us. It’s Division One versus Division Four so people will be saying there’s only going to be one outcome.

“Our objective at the start of the year was to get out of Division Four and get over that first round against Antrim and we’ve done that so we’ll see where the next game takes us – we’ll go in and give it our best shot.”

Having watched Armagh come up short against Donegal, Graham will be well aware of the perils of allowing Declan Bonner’s fleet-footed side to have short kick-outs. The Cavan manager will also want to utilise the form of emerging full-forward Paddy Lynch who top-scored with 0-8 against Antrim. He was one of nine Cavan scorers on the day.

“Paddy is a young lad who still has a lot to learn,” he said.

“We don’t expect huge things from him but he’s going out and expressing himself and that’s all you can ask from a young lad – you want him to go out and enjoy what they’re doing. He enjoys his football which is great to see.

“Playing in Division Four this year gave us the opportunity to give lads like him some game-time. We had a bit more time to persevere with them and let them find their feet which was great and hopefully they will continue to do that.”

Graham added: “The scoreline probably flattered us a small bit against Antrim.

“It was just one of those days when everything seemed to go for us, especially in the second half. Antrim had a couple of key players who were missing and a few injury worries as well so that probably played into it but we were just delighted to go up there and get the result – that was the main thing.

“We went up there to do that and that’s what we did and we have to be happy with that.”

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