GAA Football

Free-scoring Cavan meet Tony McEntee's Sligo battlers in first-ever Tailteann Cup semi-final

Paddy Lynch has scored heavily for Cavan all year. Picture: Phiip Walsh.
Andy Watters

Tailteann Cup semi-final: Cavan v Sligo (tomorrow, Croke Park, 1.45pm, live on RTÉ2)

THE scoring power and class of Cavan versus the never-say-die spirit of Sligo in the first of tomorrow’s Tailteann Cup semi-finals.

The Breffnimen have barely broken sweat on their way to the last four but Tony McEntee’s Sligo have had to battle and scrap every step of the way and they’ve already racked up over three hours’ of football and a penalty shoot-out in their two games so far.

The bumpy road taken by the Yeatsmen is a contrast to Cavan smooth Sunday drive to Headquarters. The Division Four champions and Ulster semi-finalists have breezed through to the last four of this competition thanks to a pair of nine-point victories over Ulster opposition.

The first was a 0-24 to 1-12 win against Down at Kingspan Breffni and then, at the quarter-final stage, goals from Thomas Galligan and Padraig Faulkner put the tin hat on a 2-16 to 0-13 victory over Fermanagh.

Meanwhile, there hasn’t been a dull moment with Sligo. In their opener Tony McEntee’s side took on a London team they had hammered by 18 points in the League and came within a whisker of being knocked out before Alan Reilly, their best forward, forced extra-time at Markievicz Park with a point in the sixth minute of injury-time.

Substitute Brian Egan scored Sligo’s third goal in the first period but the Yeatsmen needed goalkeeper Aidan Devaney to keep them afloat. The Calry/St Joseph’s clubman saved Christopher Farley’s spot-kick and Sligo progressed with a two-point win.

And former Sligo Rovers ’keeper Devaney – coached by Donegal’s Allstar netminder Paul Durcan - was also the hero in the quarter-final win against Leitrim.

Sligo had also beaten Leitrim in the League but Andy Moran’s men proved much more resilient in Carrick-on-Shannon on June 5 and once again Sligo were taken to extra-time. But this time they couldn’t settle the issue in the additional period and so an epic encounter went to penalties.

Nathan Rooney, Alan Reilly, Donal Conlon and Brian Egan held their nerve and netted for Sligo and Devaney had saved from Ryan O’Rourke before Emlyn Mulligan, a faithful servant to Leitrim football down the years, stepped up to keep his county in it.

Devaney dived to his left and blocked Mulligan’s shot with his legs to send Sligo through to the last four.

Despite the absence of forward talisman Niall Walsh, McEntee’s men have had no problem keeping the scoreboard moving. They have registered 4-34 in two games so far with a dozen scorers and Reilly (1-12) and Patrick O’Connor (0-9) have led the way but the Cavan attack will be licking their chops at the prospect of taking on a defence that shipped 2-16 against London and the same again versus Leitrim.

Cavan have been scoring heavily all summer. They kicked 1-20 against Antrim in Corrigan Park in their Ulster Championship opener and out-played Donegal in the first half of their semi-final when Paddy Lynch – a tall, athletic full-forward who was able to acclimatise to the inter-county game and blossom in Division Four this year – James Smith, Gearoid McKiernan and Thomas Galligan were among those who caused the Tir Chonaill defence serious headaches. With a little more belief, Cavan really could have beaten Donegal that day but a preventable goal from Conor O’Donnell turned the game and sent them to the Tailteann Cup.

Since then they have accounted for Down and Fermanagh comfortably and Lynch has added another seven points (0-4 then 0-3) to the 14 he registered in the Ulster campaign.

Cavan will have Conor Moynagh, Conor Madden and Niall Murray available for their second tussle with the Yeatsmen this year meaning Graham has a fully fit squad to choose from for his side’s second trip to Croke Park this year.

The first was for the Division Four final victory against Tipperary. Tipp were the other county to beat Sligo in the basement division and those defeats meant the Yeatsmen finished third in the table and missed out on promotion.

But they will they will take some confidence from their tussle with Cavan in March. They led by four points at the break but lost Sean Quinn to a red card early in the second half and were overhauled. A late Cavan goal (the inevitable Lynch was the scorer) swung the game the Ulstermen’s way and they went on to take the points and clinched promotion.

Sligo will want that scenario – if not the result – in the closing stages tomorrow. There’ll only be one winner (Cavan) in an open game of football and the expanse of Croke Park should suit Cavan’s strong runners most of whom won Ulster Championship medals just two seasons ago.

Sligo’s first priority will be for Sean Carrabine and Peter Laffey to get a handle on James Smith and Thomas Galligan in midfield and cut out the supply to Lynch and McKiernan but they could find themselves plugging one leak only for another to spring up tomorrow.

The Yeatsmen have proved their battling qualities but from the moment their participation in this competition was confirmed, it was obvious that Cavan would have a major say in it and it’ll be a surprise if Breffnimen don’t win with a few points to spare tomorrow.

 

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