By Niall Gartland
TIMING is everything in life and Cavan seem to have stepped it up a level ahead of Saturday’s Tailteann Cup quarter-final clash against Down in Kingspan Breffni (5.15pm).
Cavan’s progress seemed to have stalled heading into the Tailteann Cup with defeats to Antrim and Fermanagh in the last two rounds of the league following a disappointing day out against Armagh in the Ulster Championship.
But they got back into a winning habit with victories over Laois and London, followed by their most convincing performance all season, a 2-25 to 2-9 victory over Offaly that made sure of their automatic progress to the last eight.
It’s fair to say positives were plentiful on the day – the nuts and bolts of their defensive work was there for all to see, while the transition between defence and attack was simply outstanding. Brandon Boylan caught the eye with a personal contribution of 2-2 while their attacking fulcrum did well to keep his head in the face of an antagonistic and ill-disciplined Offaly rearguard.
Familiar names like Conor Brady, Killian Clarke, Padraig Faulkner and Gearoid McKiernan were also excellent throughout, while Cavan fans will hope that Niall Carolan will be back in action after having to go off with a hamstring complaint.
The only thing that prevented it from being the perfect performance is that there were quite a few unforced errors, most glaringly when a defensive blunder led to Offaly’s second goal. They’ve also slipped into a pattern of conceding early goals – something that will really need to be rectified if they’re to make amends for last year’s Tailteann Cup final defeat against Westmeath.
Moreover, the quality of opposition wasn’t great and Offaly were knocked out of the competition at the weekend in a high-scoring game against Wexford.
That aside, Cavan have still justified their favourites tag for the competition by finishing top of their group with an average winning margin of ten points a game to date. It says something about the expectations placed upon Mickey Graham’s men that the general feeling is that they haven’t been overly impressive to date (barring the Offaly rout), but they’ve done what they needed to do and it’s worth reminding ourselves that they’ve coped admirably with injuries to the likes of Gerry Smith and stalwart Martin Reilly.
They lay down a marker earlier in the year with an impressive victory over Down in Division Three of the league (on a scoreline of 2-14 to 0-10) and they’re a hardened enough outfit at this stage.
While this game is by no means a gimme, it’s fair to say the Cavan camp and supporters will be fiercely disappointed if they don’t book their spot in the last four.