Match preview: Sink or swim time for the Breffni County

By Niall Gartland

IN a sense it’s all gone according to script, but the events of the last few weeks will no doubt have caused considerable consternation for fans of the Breffni County.

It’s hardly the shock of the century that it’s come to this, Cavan’s All-Ireland campaign hinging on their third and final group stage clash against Roscommon this Saturday.

A win and Cavan advance; anything less and it’s goodnight Irene for 2024, so there’s a tasty knock-out feel to this one, but what isn’t so palatable is the manner of their recent defeats to Mayo and Dublin.

Year One of the Raymond Galligan project was going fairly well and their extra-time defeat to Tyrone in Ulster wasn’t much of a setback all things considered.

However, the news that Paddy Lynch was ruled out for the rest of the season on the eve of their All-Ireland campaign was a punch to the gut, and there hasn’t been much to shout about in the mean-time.

They fell flat on their faces against Mayo on their first day out and then were taught a lesson by the Dubs a fortnight ago, losing out on a scoreline of 5-17 to 0-10.

Roscommon have fared only a little better in this lop-sided group, but they were at least competitive for long stretches against Dublin in particular and have been installed as 4/11 favourites to progress to the preliminary quarter-finals next weekend.

This really is sink or swim time for Cavan and it’s hard to paint a positive picture of where they stand at present. Against the Dubs they conceded five goals and it could’ve been more as they were far, far too lax at the back, failing to track runners which is just asking for trouble.

Up front their decision-making was poor, hitting too many wides and taking the wrong option, and they didn’t seem to have much of a plan to curtail Brian Fenton in the middle either, who had a field day from restarts.

The old reliables, admirable lads like Padraig Faulker, Gerry Smith and Ciarán Brady, have struggled in their group stage campaign. They’ll know themselves that they can do better, and their leadership is badly needed especially with the likes of Martin Reilly, Gearóid McKieran and Thomas Galligan not part of the set-up. Elsewhere, injuries have curtailed the involvement of other key figures like former captain Dara McVeety, Paddy Lynch, Conor Brady, Jason McLoughlin and Killian Clarke.

It’s been a bit of a perfect storm in that sense and it’s a big enough ask to stop the rot against Roscommon. Davy Burke’s side caught the imagination in 2023, doling out a few upsets in Division One in the league, ambushing league champions Mayo in the first round of Connacht and eventually bowing out in the preliminary quarter-finals against Cork on a scoreline of 1-14 to 0-16.

In comparison, 2024 has been something of a comedown.

They were dumped out of the top flight, their only win coming against an out-of-sorts Monaghan side, and are yet to notch a victory of any description in their championship campaign.

In terms of personnel, they aren’t quite as strong as last year. It emerged over the winter months that Ciaran Murtagh, a mainstay of the team, had decided to opt out for the 2024 season. A few others are unavailable, including the incredibly talented Ben O’Carroll, who starred for St Brigid’s in their All-Ireland final defeat to Glen back in January.

He’s been plagued by injury all season while stalwart Enda Smith, is reported to be 50/50 to feature against Cavan having limped off in the dying embers of their defeat to Mayo less than a fortnight ago.

That aside, their manager Burke has copped his fair share of flack this season as well. Coaches Mark McHugh and Gerry McGowan stepped away from their roles at the end of 2023, and with their performances seemingly going backwards, it’s been easy for supporters to point the blame at their manager.

They have been porous enough at the back, their kick-out strategy hasn’t been great, they aren’t faring well in the middle but at the same time, they made a better fist of things against Mayo and Dublin than their beleaguered opponents Cavan.

The Rossies will fancy their chances of extending their championship run for at least another week, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that Saturday would be a mere stay of execution for whichever team prevails. It’s Roscommon’s to lose, but maybe Cavan can provide a sting in the tail if they get their house in order.

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