• Gaelic Football

Cavan can get season back on track

Thursday, 9th February, 2012 9:30am

Story by Paul Fitzpatrick
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Cavan can get season back on track

Eugene Keating.

Cavan can get season back on track

Eugene Keating.

Mention of June 25 2011 brings back painful memories for Cavan football supporters.

That was the afternoon that saw Longford roll into town and consign the hosts to one of the most crushing defeats in recent championship history.

The only comparable loss could have been the replay against Tyrone in 2005, a day of high fives and backheels as the Red Hands put on an exhibition in Clones, but at least the opposition were the best side in the country. With all due respect to a seasoned, fit and focused Longford, they were a Division 4 side and yet were able to turn Cavan over in Breffni Park, weathering an early storm before running away with the tie late on.

In the second half, they simply tore us apart and the manner and margin of the loss were embarrassing and alarming.

But, time is a great healer. Cavan have as much training in the bank now as they had in high summer last year and the players and management deserve enormous credit for this. If there's any justice (and in sport, the cliché that you only get out what you put in usually rings true), then this young Cavan team will get their reward.

Because fitness is not an issue. Neither is heart or attitude, the ability to win primary possession around the middle or convert chances up front. What is a problem is a defence which has been leaking like a sieve.

Yes, we have a rookie full-back who has found the step up from Intermediate club football challenging, but the presence of Phil The Gunner or Gabriel Kelly minding the square wouldn't have stopped Wexford from creating the chances they did last week. The full-back is not to blame; the goalkeeper, a two-time All Star nominee who made a rare blunder for a goal last Sunday, isn't either. The fault lies with the the system, or at least Cavan's application of it. And systems can be tweaked.

The problem is a collective one, as Anthony Forde pointed out in his column in The Anglo-Celt last week.

"I don't know what it is about the system Cavan are trying to deploy, they're obviously trying a zonal system but while men are dropping back into space, they're not picking anybody up," wrote Forde.

"That was evident in the goals we conceded. Eric Bradley, who caused us trouble all day long, started the move in midfield for the last goal and when the centre-back came forward, two or three defenders went to him - there was no communication, and by this stage Bradley was totally unmarked around the back. He was one on one with James Reilly and he buried it.

"That was the pattern of almost the whole game. We were moving back and moving back into a zonal defence and allowing them to come on to us. At times the defenders did well dispossessing them and turning it over when Wexford were coming through but it's hard to do that every time."

Val Andrews is a man of great integrity so when he says that the National League is the priority, you tend to believe it. We're only one-seventh of the way through it but we're behind in our mission and if that ground isn't made up tonight, we're in massive trouble.

Sure as night follows day, there will be calls for the head of the manager and the season will unravel as young players lose confidence. It's a situation that must be avoided; that's how important this match is.

It's worth noting that Cavan's home record in the National League in recent seasons has been excellent. For all the criticism the team have received, this cannot be faulted. We haven't lost a league match in Kingspan Breffni Park since Tipp came calling in 2009 and in the period since, we've picked up wins over the likes of Offaly, Wexford, Roscommon, Tipp, Waterford, Louth, Fermanagh and Limerick.

Our downfall has come on the road, where we haven't won since February 2010 when we beat Roscommon in Hyde Park. This year, we have four home matches and if the trend of winning them continues - and McKenna Cup form suggests it might - then we'll push for promotion. Lose the first of them this evening to Longford, however, and we're in a scrap for survival.

It's stating the obvious but if we get the match-ups in defence right, which we didn't do last time against Longford, and if we can keep the figure in the "goals conceded" column to either 1 or 0, we can win this one. In Sean McCormack, Longford have one of the most reliable free-takers in the game and a player who could easily kick 0-10 or more, so the concession of frees must be kept to a minimum.

Simple things, yes, but important ones. Are we a couple of tweaks from a good team or no better than the one that fell to our neighbours last June?

Tonight will tell a tale and reveal all. Cavan to rise to the challenge and get their season back on track with a two-three point win.

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