By Niall Gartland
MUCH has been made of Armagh’s poor provincial record in recent years, but Cavan legend Damien O’Reilly says there’s just as much at stake for the Breffni County in Saturday’s Ulster Championship quarter-final clash at Kingspan Breffni.
Cavan have to progress to the Ulster final if they’re to be included in the new 16-team All-Ireland Championship round robin – anything less and it’s another crack at the Tailteann Cup.
It’s a big ask but not an impossible one. It was only three years ago that they came out on top of the Ulster Championship, let alone reaching the final, and they’re on what’s perceived to be the ‘handier’ side of the draw.
O’Reilly, a star of Cavan football spanning the eighties and nineties, said: “We’re at home, we’ve been a solid championship team in recent years and the team definitely don’t fear Armagh.
“What I’d love to see is Cavan getting into the Sam Maguire series and it’s not beyond the realm of possibilities. It’s well-poised as they have the potential to get the better of Armagh and would quietly fancy themselves in the semi-final against either Down or Donegal.
“There’s obviously a question mark over whether teams like Mayo and Tyrone, who are already guaranteed of a play in the All-Ireland, are better off with their early championship exits as they have time to get ready for their games in the round robin. Armagh mightn’t be hell bent on Ulster whereas Cavan really have to win this game.”
O’Reilly’s main concern heading into the game is that Cavan may be undercooked following their successful Division Three campaign. Armagh by contrast have already faced the big contenders for the big prizes.
“I’ve seen Cavan play quite a few times and have been pleased with them. The aim at the start of the year was to gain promotion and blood a few young players and they’ve done that. They’ve also won the Division Three league final as well so you have to say it’s been successful by that measurement.
“The one little worry is that Division Three isn’t as competitive. If you look back at the league final, Wicklow and Sligo played in the Division Four final beforehand, and it was quite a poor game in damp conditions. I thought ‘you’re going to see a big difference’ in our game against Fermanagh but both sides were very poor in the first-half and it was only in the second-half that Cavan took control of the game. The Division One and Two finals the next day were quite a step up in terms of pace so it’s a concern for me that Cavan haven’t faced one of these top level teams so far this year.”
Looking back on their league final win over Fermanagh, there was a bit of healthy debate about Mickey Graham’s decision to give Jack McKenna the hook after only 20 minutes of play. McKenna had picked up a yellow card, informing Graham’s decision, while the experienced Gearóid McKiernan was also subbed with 10 minutes to go, so it’s fair to say Graham doesn’t hesitate when it comes to making the big in-game decisions.
“Jack got a yellow card and you could see he was disappointed coming off. I think the surprise was that the decision was made so quickly.
“As for Gearóid, he’d been caught in possession a few times at that stage. To be fair to Mickey, he’s using his bench quite a bit so he’s obviously keen to give lads game-time as well, Conor Madden came on for Gearóid and kicked a point. The likes of Paddy Lynch is back as well, so there’s a lot of options and Mickey is doing his best to keep everyone happy.”
While Cavan do have a settled enough line-up, there are still a few questions about who will line out this weekend and in what positions. For example, whether Gearóid McKieran would make an effective target man or is he best played elsewhere?
“Since the ‘mark’ came in, there’s obviously logic behind playing a target man whom we kick the ball into an odd time and Gearoid fits that bill perfectly.
“But I suppose I need to quantify that by noting that Thomas Galligan is away for the summer and it’s left a gap at midfield. We have Killian Clarke in the middle who was traditionally predominately a defender. Mickey has tried a few different midfield partners for him.
“I wouldn’t mind Gearóid being tried in the middle for a period. Paddy Lynch is a good full-forward and if Gearóid was playing there, Paddy would have to go out to the corner so that has to be considered as well.”