By Barry O’Donnell
FORMER Tyrone favourite and Breffni boss Mattie McGleenan has warned that his native county face a wounded Cavan side this weekend who are not only battling to retain the Anglo Celt Cup but to ensure they will be competing in the All-Ireland series next season.
McGleenan managed Cavan for two years, leaving the post after his side lost to Tyrone at Brewster Park in round four of the Qualifiers in 2018.
The northern footballing landscape has dramatically altered since that tie, with the Breffni once again now Kings of Ulster.
Mickey Graham’s side memorably bridged a 24-year gap last November to clinch the provincial senior crown when Conor Madden swooped for a dramatic late goal to leave holders Donegal shell-shocked.
However Cavan’s fortunes have taken a nosedive ever since and just last month they were relegated to Division Four of the National League.
With Tyrone themselves having been ‘hit for six’ in their final league encounter down in Killarney, both counties are in bad need of a timely championship fillip at O’Neills Healy Park. Therefore McGleenan feels that the stakes couldn’t be any higher for the two teams.
“Tyrone, let’s be honest, were given an education down in Kerry last time out but they have had a couple of weeks which is fantastic preparation to settle their heads and get back to basics.
“They are playing the Ulster champions in Healy Park so it’s a massive game for both counties. Cavan have been relegated into Division Four so if the new system is adopted next year they won’t even be playing in the All-Ireland Championship. That is how massive this is for them.”
Tyrone and Cavan have shared some iconic championship moments down through the years, with McGleenan at the hub of one of the more significant when he latched onto Adrian Cush’s sublime pass to fist home the decisive goal in the 1995 Ulster final triumph.
Current Tyrone joint-manager Feargal Logan lined out at midfield on that sunny Clones afternoon, and McGleenan feels that this weekend represents the first major assignment for the new Red Hand backroom team.
“Tyrone have a new management team in, Feargal and Brian, outstanding men. They have some massive decisions to make in terms of team selection. If they leave the door open for Cavan in this game they have impressive options coming off the bench. If they get a run you don’t know where their confidence will take them.
“But Tyrone have been a Division One team this past 20 years give or take the odd season. They know what it is all about winning at this level and Tyrone at Healy Park are always a dangerous animal.”
Despite the unusual nature of last season’s Ulster Championship (played in the winter behind closed doors), McGleenan believes it would be unfair to dismiss Cavan’s provincial success as a one off.
“Mickey Graham has always put his cards on the table over this past couple of years, forget about the National League and go for the Ulster Championship. They got to the Ulster final in his first year and won it last year. There is no team ever wins the Ulster Championship by chance.”