'Our experience was key' - Graham


In the basement of the big house, Mickey Graham paused to draw breath. After a hectic 70 minutes, during which his team mixed some terrific attacking football with some very sloppy defending, they got over the line.

Asked for his reaction, Graham insisted that he always expected Sligo to ask some tough questions of his side.

“To be honest, we expected a tough task,” he said.

“We did a lot of work on them during the league and we felt that they matched up well to our players. They have a couple of quality players all over the field and they had nothing to lose today, they came in as huge underdogs and we’re just delighted to get over the line.”

Early on, Cavan dismantled the Sligo defence with power and excellent movement allied to accurate finishing but, even then, the Connacht side were getting through at the back with alarming ease.

Sligo were wasteful at times and unlucky at others, although Cavan, too, squandered some clear-cut goal chances. It was a recipe for chaos; Cavan should have been able to relax on the home stretch in this match but when the game came to the boil in the final 15 minutes, there was nothing between the teams.

What pleased the manager most was how his players responded at this stage. While there was some last-ditch defending and some poor decision-making, by and large, Cavan did not panic – and that made all the difference.

“I thought the way the boys saw the game out, used their experience. I thought Jason McLoughlin and Gerry Smith were just outstanding today. When we needed Gearoid to step up, he stepped up, like he always does and I think he’s allowed to do that now because he has good quality players like Paddy and James and Gerry and Oisin and all the boys around him to help him.

“I just thought our game management near the end was good, our bit of experience probably told.”

Cavan had an excellent spread of scorers. Graham felt that had Gearoid McKiernan put away his goal chance just before the break, Cavan could have pulled away. That would have left eight between the teams; as it was, there was five in it at half-time and Sligo soon began to eat into that.

“Somebody was telling me we had 11 different scorers at half-time. Gearoid had a goal chance just before half-time, if that goes in I think we probably would have won more comfortably. I suppose it kept the game on a knife edge right to the end and in fairness to Sligo, they were after coming through extra time twice so they were battle-hardened and they were always going to keep going right to the end.”

Sligo supporters and media seemed to unanimously agree that their side played very well on the day and Graham agreed.

“In fairness, they were hungry for it. These are games that sometimes, when we’re not mentally tuned in, we’ve lost in the past and it was good to see that even when they threw everything at us, we were able to find a way to win.

“[Cavan were] living on the edge a wee bit, the boys in fairness threw their bodies on the line in those situations, sometimes you probably have to throw your body on the line further up the field to prevent them but… Look, we’ve lots of work to do, we wouldn’t be happy with certain aspects but we’re just delighted to get over it now, back to the training field and correct an awful lot.”

Asked about Cavan’s full-forward Paddy Lynch, who was engaged in a great tussle with Sligo’s impressive full-back Evan Lyons, Graham said: “In fairness, Paddy is a young lad. He was probably disappointed he didn’t get a few more scores but in fairness, it’s not going to happen for you every day. In saying that, he created a couple of goal opportunities for other players and that’s always a good sign of a player, if he’s not getting on the scoreboard, that he’s contributing in other ways.

“He kept presenting for the ball even though things weren’t maybe going his way at times, he set up a couple of goal chances. Maybe the next day could be Paddy’s day.”

For Killian Clarke, it was a special occasion as he reached the milestone of playing 100 matches at senior level for the county.

“Great servant to Cavan football, it’s great to get acknowledged for making 100 appearances. It’s not easy in this day and age with the commitment and dedication that’s required. He joins an elite club there with a number of lads who are over the 100-mark,” said Graham.

Westmeath, who played very well in taking apart a disappointing Offaly side, are up next and Graham, without hesitation, agreed that Cavan will have to improve if they are to get their hands on the cup.

“Without a doubt, we have lots of work to do. Stuff that we talked about doing, we didn’t do it as well as we know we can. The scoring end of things is good now, we just need to tighten up on other areas.”