Ulster Senior Football Championship semi-final
Down v Cavan
Sunday, Athletic Grounds, 1.30pm
BY NIALL MCCOY
DOWN could have a key ingredient that could prove decisive in Sunday’s Ulster semi-final against Cavan – freshness.
The Mourne county have had a different post-lockdown compared to their opponents ahead of the clash at the Athletic Grounds.
Mickey Graham’s side have had energy-sapping Division Two meetings with Kildare and Roscommon and then there is the mental fatigue that accompanies a derby match with Monaghan in the Ulster Championship.
The Breffni county were back in action the following week too as they saw off Antrim in their quarter-final, and they did look a bit leggy.
Down have had a less hectic schedule. Their first Division Three match with Leitrim was postponed as their opponents conceded. That result, along with Longford’s forfeiture to Cork, meant that promotion was secured ahead of their final league game with Louth, and Paddy Tally duly gave his panel a run out.
Even in last week’s Ulster opener against Fermanagh, the outcome was clear long before the final whistle and key players like Donal O’Hare, Kevin McKernan and Barry O’Hagan were called ashore before the 70 minutes were up.
Tally, however, isn’t exactly sure if that will play a key role, and instead he expects to see a Cavan side that will be brimming with confidence after back-to-back provincial championship wins.
“I don’t know if that will give us an advantage or not,” said Tally.
“As a manager you like your team to be playing competitive games and Cavan showed a lot in the Monaghan game. They showed a bite, and a real fight and a refusal to quit. That will stand to them.
“We saw it against Antrim too, a match they had to grind out. There was a real refusal to quit there so Cavan are going into this on the back of two wins.
“They’ve also had the guts of a week to recover again and with all the good stuff that’s going on in terms of sports science and recovery protocols, I’m sure their management team will have them fresh for the game.”
Down should also be feeling fairly fresh after they stretched their legs and eventually ran out 1-15 to 0-11 winners over Fermanagh at Brewster Park last Sunday.
The Mourne county had led by the minimum at half time, but once Donal O’Hare palmed home Daniel Guinness’s clever pass there was only going to be one winner.
Newer members to the panel like Patrick Murdock, Guinness and Pierce Laverty further enhanced their growing reputations with fine showings, and Tally is happy with the options that are starting to appear in red and black.
“There are a lot of new players to inter-county football but we seem to be getting a better panel together,” he said. “A lot of good players aren’t getting into the game-day squad, which is a real pity.
“We’re very happy with the squad and how the boys are performing for us.”
Down have the same panel of players to select from with no injuries picked up against the Erne county.
Tally, like a number of Ulster managers before him, did stress that he was disappointed that panels were restricted to just 26 players in the current Covid-19 situation.
He also feels that January’s decision to reduce the number of substitutions from six back to five should have been reversed and, perhaps, increased given the tight schedule of this year’s All-Ireland Championship.
“I think it would have made sense for this season, maybe even increasing it to seven subs for the year that we are having.”