Cavan will start the game in Enniskillen as hot favourites; primarily on the back of the county’s recent string of U21 provincial titles successes (2011/12/13/14), the degree of experience boasted by the current squad and Fermanagh’s much inferior record in the competition - they have failed to win it since ’94.
However team-manager Niall Lynch (Cuchulainns) contends that Fermanagh will be no pushovers.
“I’m sure Cavan supporters will be expecting us to have the measure of them (Fermanagh) but as we witnessed in last weekend’s preliminary round game between Monaghan (last year’s winners) and rank outsiders Antrim, derby games at underage level – especially in Ulster – can turn out a lot different than most people expect,” Lynch opined.
“Fermanagh are at home and I’m sure when the draw was made, they were as happy to get us as we were to be drawn against them.
“Okay, we’re probably favourites to go through to the semi-finals but we can’t take anything for granted. I think victory will be hard-earned and we’ll be telling the lads to forget what the pundits have been saying in the run up to the game.
“Games in the Ulster championship, especially mid-week games under lights, can often turn out to be real dogfights but we’re ready for all eventualities.”
Lynch is adamant that Cavan won’t allow themselves to be lulled into a false sense of security this evening.
He is quick to point out that Cavan haven’t chalked up a win in the Ulster U21FC since last winning it in 2014 and no one on the current panel can boast a championship victory so the hunger to succeed ought to be there in spades.
Now in his second year at the helm, Lynch says his charges are one year wiser and stronger now than in 2016 and he expects his charges to benefit from the “learning experience” of having lost to Tyrone last year when they looked well-placed - albeit a point adrift - at half-time to go on and cause a shock against the then defending All-Ireland champions.
After six months of preparatory work, Lynch (above) says he is excited to see the white flag being raised and delighted that the four DCU all-Ireland winning Freshers, Conor Smith, Thomas Edward Donohoe, Eoghan Cooney and Conor Brady are fit and available for selection again.
As to Fermanagh’s possible selection this evening, the Cuchulainns clubman admits that a rather unknown foe lies in-wait with former St. Pat’s and current DCU star Cian McManus the only Ernesider to show up on Cavan’s radar.
“The thing about Fermanagh is that they didn’t enter either the Hastings Cup or the North-West Cup so we couldn’t really get a look at them and because of that we’ve concentrated to a very large degree on what we can bring to the table.
“But I’m sure Peter McGrath (Fermanagh manager) will have them exceptionally well-prepared. He’s a shrewd coach and has years of experience at all sorts of levels.
“I’m hoping that having to look after the seniors (Fermanagh) as well will have been a bit of a distraction for him. We faced each other along the side line 12 months ago and I’m looking forward to crossing swords with him again.”
Over the last couple of weeks, Cavan have concentrated their efforts at training on staging in-house games and the level of intensity, eagerness and grit displayed by the squad delighted Lynch, he concedes.
The Hastings Cup formed the bulwark of Cavan’s preparations since the New Year and although victories were recorded against Roscommon (home) and Westmeath (away), defeats to Longford (home) and Meath (away) meant Cavan exited the competition at the semi-final stage.
“I couldn’t really over-state the value of those matches in the Hastings Cup. There’s been some tight stuff in the in-house games recently but the Hastings Cup provided some very good opponents and the spirit and work rate in the camp has come on a tonne with the help of those games.
“The players have been helped a lot too by Damien Keaney in terms of strength and conditioning and we hope to see the benefits of a good four months work in that regard in Enniskillen.”
Apart from long-term absentee David Brady (Ballyhaise) who is still recovering from a serious arm injury, Lynch and co. have a full panel to choose from.
If Cavan make it through to the last four, Lynch anticipates that Brady will be available for selection at that juncture of the competition.
The U21 Football Championship signs off this year (in favour of an under 20 lookalike from 2018 onwards) and it will be a major surprise if Cavan don't make a sizeable impression on the competition ahead of its sell-by date.
* Check back later for update from Brewster Park