Cavan at full strength for Tailteann Cup semi-final battle with Sligo
AS soon as Cavan's participation in the Tailteann Cup was confirmed, it was obvious that if Mickey Graham could keep his squad together they had every chance of winning the inaugural edition of their second tier competition.
Graham managed to do that and, two months on from their Ulster Championship loss to Donegal and with wins over Down and Fermanagh behind them, the Breffnimen are now preparing for a semi-final against Tony McEntee's Sligo at Croke Park on Saturday.
Cavan will have Conor Moynagh, Conor Madden and Niall Murray available for their second tussle with the Yeatsmen this year. The first, a Division Four clash in March, was a nip-and-tuck affair that required a second half comeback from Graham's men. They trailed 0-6 to 0-2 at the interval but an unanswered spell of 1-4 (the goal came from Paddy Lynch) swung the game their way and they ran out six-point winners.
“It was a tight game, a physical game,” said Graham.
“They felt a bit unlucky in that they were reduced to 14 men in the second half due to a black card and we got a couple of scores at key points. So there will be very little between both sides, we know each other well and hopefully it will be a good game of football.”
Cavan gave Donegal their fill of it in the Ulster semi-final but late goals from Conor O'Donnell and Paddy McBrearty decided the issue at Clones. After the loss there were concerns that Cavan players might not commit for the Tailteann Cup but that hasn't been the case.
“The boys were disappointed after the Donegal game,” said Graham.
“They put in a good performance and if we had taken a few more of the chances we created it could have been a different story. They went back to their clubs for a week and the dust settled and we regrouped and had a good chat about where we wanted to go.
“We realised we had an opportunity to keep building, to give lads' game-time and keep developing the newer lads who came into the squad.”
Graham expects to have a fully fit panel to choose from for Saturday and says his players are relishing the opportunity to play at Croke Park again. They've been regular visitors to Headquarters over the past seasons - Cavan were in an All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin in 2020 and beat Tipperary in the Division Four final this year.
“The teams in the Tailteann Cup look well balanced and there have been some great games in it so far,” he said.
“I'm expecting the same this weekend with ourselves and Sligo and Westmeath and Offaly in the other semi-final. All four of the teams would fancy their chances of getting to the final.
“I think the Tailteann Cup has worked well. If you're trying to build, the more games you get and the longer you stay together, the more morale and confidence you are going to pick up. If we'd gone into the Qualifiers, our season could have been over now whereas we're still in competition.
“To get these few extra weeks and some more games has been great and it builds good excitement. There is good excitement around Cavan, a lot of people are supporting us. All the kids are looking forward to a trip to Croke Park and the more games you can get there, the more you're inspiring those kids to want to play football.”