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MOSTLY FOOTBALL: Monaghan game could be the start of a successful Cavan run

Story by Tom Kelly

Thursday, 14th February, 2013 9:30am

MOSTLY FOOTBALL: Monaghan game could be the start of a successful Cavan run

Impressive Cavan defender Oisin Minagh.

If Cavan's key men can continue the level of performance they showed last Saturday, they will win plenty more games in Division 3, WRITES MICHAEL HANNON.

Derby games are special. Local bragging rights are at stake, and in the lead up to such matches it can be easy to get distracted. But as a wise man once said, the main thing is, the main thing stays the main thing. In other words, focus in on the performance as everything else is irrelevant.

This is of course easier said than done. Being an inland county means Cavan are surrounded by other teams. Over the last few years we have faced numerous derby matches in the league against the likes of Longford, Fermanagh, Westmeath, Meath, and last Saturday's opponents, Monaghan.

When looking at the list above I'm reminded of an old post-match interview involving Arsene Wenger. Having just watched his side being held to a draw by a low-lying Charlton side, he bemoaned the fact that Arsenal had so many London derbies to contend with in any season, the crux of his argument being that if Arsenal were from Manchester they'd have won more Premier League titles by now.

Well, if Cavan were from Kerry...

Of course Wenger's point has some validity to it. Over the course of a season all the local derbies can take a toll on a team so it is through that prism that Saturday's victory can be looked back on with so much satisfaction. An eight-point victory over local rivals Monaghan has the potential to ignite the season and send this Cavan side on an invigorating run.

There were extenuating circumstances that meant the match itself never truly developed into the cut and thrust derby game most would have anticipated. Five dismissals would leave you under impression that sparks were flying throughout. Truth be told, the sendings disrupted the flow of the game. They affected Monaghan more who lost their most influential forward of the last couple of seasons in Conor McManus after just 12 minutes.

Cavan who were in the ascendancy at that stage by a single score, failed to push on, only adding one more point to their tally by the time referee Barry Cassidy decided to even up the head count with the dismissal of Cavan's Martin Dunne.

By now both teams seemed to have settled into similar patterns of play. Lots of players filtered back behind the ball, balls were turned over and counter-attacks were initiated.

Presumably this is how both teams had intended to set up from the outset, but for anyone hoping to see something different, with marquee forwards now missing at either end, it was probably inevitable that this approach would be adopted. In either case it was clearly Cavan who dealt better with the game scenario.

I thought Cian Mackey played an influential role throughout the match. He was the most effective player on show at turning defence into attack.

The earlier Cavan can get the ball to Mackey after a turnover the better chance they have of scoring down the other end. A few years ago Cian was moved into corner-forward by Tommy Carr after a raft of injuries to the other inside options on the panel. I suppose he had some moderate level of success as Cian put in some good performances over that league campaign, but I was never a fan of the move. What you were gaining by having him inside didn't equate with what you were losing out the pitch.

To compound matters, by the time Cian was returned to the half-forward line he wasn't as effective as he could have been. There is a different level of conditioning needed to play in the half-forward position compared to the corner-forward position. A big part of that conditioning work is gained through game time and having played the entire season in the corner, Cian had missed out. Thankfully, Cavan are seeing the best of him now and he'll get even fitter as the season progresses from playing on the wing.

That's why performances and games such as last Saturday's are important to certain key players. It's petrol in the tank for later on in the year and must be built on with every game.

There were other positives for Cavan too. Gearoid McKiernan upped his game from the last day which was great to see. His performances for this team will have a major bearing on every game. Any day he plays well, Cavan will have a great chance of winning. Any day he fails to hit those heights, Cavan will struggle.

Gearoid probably does not recognise himself this year compared to other years as his footballing commitments have been greatly reduced. No longer an U21 player, and no longer a Sigerson footballer, he's free to focus on Cavan seniors. This, however, means he has probably played a lot less football by this time of the year than he is used to.

And while people tend to focus on the negatives of playing a lot of football for different teams, such as burn-out and the risk of injury, the benefits are often overlooked. You can train as hard and as often as you like but there is no replacement for competitive games. Match fitness and mental awareness get sharpened by game time so I'd like to think that by now all the cobwebs have been blown away and Cavan can continue to show their best form.

I said before the Antrim game that every match in this division can be won or lost - there is little between the teams, and that was borne out by the fact that all of the teams who lost on day one, barring Wicklow, came back and won a week later.

What will determine Cavan's results, as I wrote before, is the performance of their key players - the likes of Mackey, McKiernan, Mark McKeever, David Givney and Alan Clarke - and each of those players stepped up to the plate against Monaghan, and deserve great credit for doing so.

If they can comtinue to do that, to provide the leadership needed, Cavan will win more games in Division 3 and build towards a successful season. The Monaghan game was the start of that process and will provide a considerable confidence boost to players and management.

There's no reason why that can't be continued. Here's hoping.

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