Graham keen to play down rare win over Red Hands

GAA news

While this was “only the McKenna Cup” in the words of Cavan manager Mickey Graham, and Tyrone were not at full strength or close to the peak of their powers, the context of the win is still important.

The Red Hands have been Cavan’s kryptonite for a few decades now. The Blues haven’t picked up a championship win against the O’Neill county since 1983 and haven’t beaten them in the National League since the 1990s.

In the McKenna Cup, Cavan recorded a win in the final in 2000 and waited 17 years before following it up with another victory in Mattie McGleenan’s first game in charge, in the same competition.

That was very much “set right” a year later when Tyrone inflicted a record 22-point home defeat at Kingspan Breffni and further defeats have followed in the interim.

It was easy to see why, then, when Cavan got on top in this match that they kept the pressure on. Tyrone have inflicted so many heavy defeats on the Breffni men, for so long, that is has certainly left scar tissue and wrecked many a well-laid plan.

It would not be exaggerating to estimate that Cavan have played Tyrone as many as 30 times at senior level since that 2000 McKenna Cup win – in 2016 alone they met four times in league and championship and in 2005, three – and have one victory to show for it.

Perhaps some statistician could collate just how many times Tyrone have inflicted double-digit defeats on their southern neighbours in that time, too; that would not make for pretty reading.

So, a win over Tyrone – any win, in any competition – is a rare thing and is most welcome, even if Cavan boss Mickey Graham was understandably keen to play it down.

“Look, I suppose we’ll put things into context. Tyrone were probably missing half their squad tonight and are only back from a sun holiday too so they’re probably still in holiday mode,” Graham said.

“But look, we weren’t focusing on Tyrone tonight to be honest with you, we were just focusing on ourselves. We were really disappointed last week that we didn’t get something out of the Armagh game so we just wanted to really try and correct a few things from last week and focus on those things that were inside our control.

“I’d be happy that we did that at stages of the game. I wouldn’t be happy with other things but as I said, it’s still only McKenna Cup, we’ll not get too carried away with it.”

Graham was happy that so many of his forwards got on the scoresheet, including players who came off the bench. Cavan’s work-rate, too, pleased him greatly.

“That’s good to see, it’s great to see that spread of scorers and everybody chipping in. As you well know, it’s important nowadays not to be relying on one man (to score), sometimes they can be easily tied down.

“The most encouraging thing today was how the boys applied themselves, their energy and work ethic was exceptional, commitment to the jersey and passion, just like last week… They showed that when you have that, good things happen.”

Regarding centre-back Chris Conroy and full-back Padraig Faulkner, who both impressed, Graham said: “Chris is around a long time now, very intelligent player. In fairness, he doesn’t waste too many balls but also I suppose lads presented for the ball as well. There are lots of positives to take from it but still lots to learn too.”

“Padraig has put a lot of work in, he came down with Covid during Christmas and he was only back last week training with us. It’s great to get 70 minutes into Padraig.

“The more games we get the better, a semi-final would be great, just to get more minutes into the legs. We have three or four lads returning from injury in the next week as well so it’s important we try and get minutes into them.”

As it transpired, Armagh held off an improved Tyrone to make the semi-final so Cavan will not get another competitive game prior to the National League opener against Leitrim in Carrick-On-Shannon at the end of the month.

However, as things stand, Graham is content with how things are shaping up, albeit that there is, of course, an element of shadow boxing at this stage of the season.

“We’d be happy with were we’re at but as I said, we still have a lot of work to do. No more than losing last week, we’ll not read too much into it and it’s the same with getting the win tonight.

“At the same time, winning does bring confidence and we’d just be hoping now that the lads will gain a wee bit of confidence out of that.”