By Shaun Casey
DESPITE losing their last two games, Cavan are preparing for a National League final and their fourth outing in Croke Park inside 12 months. The Breffni Blues earned promotion to the second tier with a string of five wins from their first five outings, before losing to Antrim and Fermanagh in the closing two rounds.
But promotion was the number one goal from the start of the season for Mickey Graham’s men and they’ve already secured that target, so they want to finish the campaign now with another piece of silverware to add to their Division Four title from last year.
“It’s a good experience for everyone in the panel and all the big days are in Croke Park,” said Cavan’s versatile defender Ciaran Brady.
“I suppose the more you’re up there, you’re obviously on an upward trend. We will take as many days as we can get playing up there, that’s where you want to play.
“We would have set our stall out earlier in the year to get promoted to Division Two, to get up to a higher standard of football and I suppose we’ve ticked that box now so we’re happy with that.
“Any time you get to play for a national title it’s absolutely brilliant as well. We’ll certainly give it our all and we’ll hopefully have picked up a few learnings from last Sunday as well and we’ll be ready to go.”
Cavan’s most recent defeat came last weekend, in the final round of league action, at home to Fermanagh, the same team they’ll line out against in Headquarters on Saturday afternoon.
Having only lost once throughout the entire campaign, a second-round defeat to Offaly, Fermanagh climbed to the top of the table with their final day, one-point win over Cavan, and Brady insists his side know they are in for a tough test.
“Fermanagh are a really good team, and they are really well set up. There is a lot of experience in that team and they’ve been in Division Two themselves not so long ago and they probably are a Division Two team.
“They’re a strong outfit and they played well against us last weekend and probably showed greater hunger than we did and came out on top. I’ll be expecting nothing less on Saturday, it’ll be a teak-tough test.”
Saturday will mark Cavan’s 11th game of the 2023 season, between the McKenna Cup and National League, and Fermanagh pose their seventh Ulster opponent this year. Cavan faced Antrim, Armagh and Tyrone in the pre-season competition while Antrim, Fermanagh and Down were all competing in the same division as Mickey Graham’s side.
There will be a familiar feel to proceedings when both sides line up against each other on Saturday, and Brady insists his team are expecting nothing less than a “very tough” encounter.
“We’ll get to know each other fairly well but like most teams in Ulster, we play each other that often that you do get to know all the players well in Ulster. It’s a quick turnaround with the game on Saturday and we’ll known them fairly well now after that game.
“The local derbies, there’s always a good atmosphere around them. The fans travel to the games and they all really enjoy them.
“They’re very tough, there’s very little, usually a kick of a ball between the teams in most games, they usually go right down to the wire and we’re expecting nothing different in the league final and the upcoming Ulster Championship as well.”
The Ulster Championship campaign is just around the corner as well and the Breffni Blues await the winners of Armagh and Antrim, who compete in the preliminary round.
But it’s first things first for Brady. Cavan will get this weekend over them before turning their attention to the provincial campaign, which they last won in 2020.
“The Ulster Championship is down the road, and we know it’s going to be either Armagh or Antrim, they’ll have a tough battle together and we’ll start out preparing after Saturday for both teams and see who we get on the day.”