GAA Football

Tyrone and Cavan clash in Dr McKenna Cup semi-final at Breffni Park

Cathal McShane gave glimpses of his rambunctious old self with an energetic display against Derry
Andy Watters

Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup semi-final: Cavan v Tyrone (Kingspan Breffni Park, today, 5pm)

WHILE Tyrone were losing their way in the second half against Derry on Wednesday night, Cavan cut loose to beat Armagh and progress to their first semi-final in this competition since 2016.

Tyrone were champions (their fifth title in a six in-a-row) that year and, despite their speed-wobble at Owenbeg, a draw was enough for the Red Hands to top their group on scoring difference.

Mickey Graham’s Cavan had their hands full in a see-saw first half against Armagh but they took control after the Orchard management threw on 11 substitutes at half-time. That tinkering seemed to destabilise the visitors who fell away after the break and managed only one score in the second half.

Meanwhile, the home side, who beat Antrim comfortably in their opener at Portglenone last Sunday, made morale-boosting hay and had five points to spare at the finish.

Three of those points came from Dara McVeety who missed the last two county seasons but has returned from his travels and picked up from where he left off. Youngster Ryan O’Neill got Cavan’s goal in their 1-14 to 1-9 win and another plus point for the Breffnimen was Gearoid McKiernan’s return from injury.

Meanwhile, at Owenbeg, Tyrone looked poised to canter to victory but their derbies with Derry are never as simple as that and the home side came roaring back at them in the final quarter and Lachlan Murray’s equaliser six minutes’ into stoppage time meant the game finished level at 10 points apiece.

Okay, Tyrone sailed close to the wind but there were reasons to be cheerful for their management and perhaps top of the list was the form of Cathal McShane who gave more than glimpses of his rambunctious old self with an energetic display that included five points, three from play.

Tyrone, who traditionally take full value out of this competition, started eight of the All-Ireland winning class of 2021 alongside several new faces including defender Nathan McCarron who coped admirably with Derry forward Shane McGuigan.

Management Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher also kept a targetman at the edge of the square – never a bad idea under lights at this time of the year – and Brian Kennedy, Richie Donnelly and then Conn Kilpatrick all did well in their spells at full-forward.

On the negative side, Padraig Hampsey was red-carded late in the game and will miss out this evening. Logan is hoping for another valuable run-out for his team in Cavan town.

“We’re glad of another game,” said the Tyrone joint-manager after the draw.

“We have young lads in there learning their trade, the older lads are sharpening their tools and the fitness is coming. I don’t know why we dropped-off so badly tonight in terms of scoring, but that’s what happened and Derry got the draw.

“You couldn’t criticise our boys for the effort they put in. On the field, off the field, at training and let’s hope that continues to bear fruit.”

These counties met at Breffni Park in the group stages last year and Tyrone – not long home for their pre-season holiday – were hammered 1-17 to 0-5 on the night. No-one thought it mattered particularly then but it turned out to be an early warning of a disappointing season for the Red Hands.

That’s all history now of course and the Tyrone management will expect much better from their men this evening as both counties crank up the intensity a notch in an effort to book their place in the final.

GAA Football