CAVAN have every chance of reaching the Ulster final for the second year running, but one of their best ever players is worried that playing five weeks in-a-row will take its toll on the team.
Damian O’Reilly, who played for Cavan for 15 years between the mid-80s and late-90s, says they already showed signs of weariness in their fairly underwhelming victory over Antrim at the weekend.
It was a performance that stood in starkest contrast to their swashbuckling preliminary round win over Monaghan, and it remains to be seen if they can rise to the occasion in Sunday’s semi-final clash against Down/
O’Reilly, whose son Cormac is in his first season on the team, admits he’s somewhat concerned that they haven’t had a break of note heading into the match.
“The performance against Antrim wasn’t great but you have to take into consideration that it was their fourth week in-a-row. Antrim set up extremely defensively and when our players got to the opposition ’45’ and were up against a wall of defenders, they were inclined to go laterally to retain possession.
“I think they were a little cautious but I also think that they could do with a bit of a break. What’s different about this time of year is that the ground is heavier. Matches are lasting 75 or 76 minutes and there’s a lot of physical play and sore bodies.
“It’s not as if you have a second chance anymore so these games are very important so I think it would benefit Cavan greatly if they had one week off but they are not going to get that. I think it probably did affect them a bit against Cavan – five weeks in-a-row at this intensity is quite difficult. I’d say it gets a bit repetitive as well as there’s no-one outside the bubble involved as well, it’s not like they’re going to different venues with different atmospheres.”
Cavan shipped black cards in the 35th, 59th and 67th minutes but O’Reilly doesn’t believe it was indicative of a lack of discipline. Referee Paul Falloon was lauded for having a good game, but O’Reilly believes that Killian ‘Gunner’ Brady was particularly unlucky to be sent to the sin bin after challenging an Antrim player on the cusp of half-time.
“I definitely think it was a one-half. Mickey is very strong on discipline and we’ve had no issues there.
“I looked at it two ways. If you look at the rule book, the referee adhered to it very strictly and arguably Killian did push the Antrim player to the ground.
“However, I felt there was also mitigating circumstances as the Antrim player leant into him and it was almost as if Killian helped him down to the ground. It was a shame, he’s a good player and a good tackler.”
While Down were cagey in the first-half against Fermanagh, they came out of their shells in the second-half and cruised to a relatively comfortable quarter-final victory at Brewster Park.
“What I was impressed by was their ability to score long-distance points. They seem to drive forward more than in the past. Their midfield weren’t afraid to attack and to draw a few frees. I was impressed enough by them and it is going to be difficult for Cavan. In fairness, if Cavan play to their potential it should be a very good game.”
O’Reilly fully expects Donegal to emerge from the other side of the draw – they take on Armagh this weekend. There’s a chance it’ll be a Donegal-Cavan final for the second year in-a-row and O’Reilly would be absolutely delighted if they come out on the right side of the result against Down.
It would be a real litmus test for Mickey Graham’s team if they do end up playing one of the top teams in the country because they were going really well last year before losing heavily to Donegal and Tyrone on successive weekends.
“I would love to see Cavan back in the Ulster final after the big disappointment of getting relegated to Division Three. Donegal look so good at the moment and look like the team that could topple Dublin. I suppose nobody would be expecting anything from us if we do get to the final and it does look like a fairly safe bet at this stage that Donegal are going to win Ulster again.”