Castlerahan take on Erne champs

GAA preview

Damien Donohoe

Has there ever been a Cavan team more prepared for a provincial club championship than Castlerahan are? The Ballyjamesduff-based side fell further and quicker from the top of the pile in Cavan to the second tier then they or anyone around the county would have thought.

This time three years ago Castlerahan were preparing for their Ulster senior club championship opener for the second year in a row. Waiting on the Donegal champions Naomh Conaill, who had been brought to a third replay and after a county final win on a Wednesday night they landed to Kingspan Breffni the following Sunday and beat Castlerahan much to everyone in Cavan’s surprise.

That had to hurt the pride of a group of players who had brought the club to its highest point. It wasn’t long after Killygarry defeated them in the 2021 relegation play-offs that the attention switched with non playing members of the club to another big challenge. Winning the Intermediate Championship in Cavan was the minimum requirement for 2022.

Of the Castlerahan team that lined out that day, nine players (Stephen Cooney, Enda O’Connell, Oisin Kiernan, Shane O’Reilly, Cormac Daly, Karl Cosgrove, Oisin O’Connell, Enda Flanagan and Gavin Daly) played in this years Intermediate Championship final in Cavan and would be expected to start against Devenish on Saturday.

Their opponents Devenish on the other hand, will have very little if any Ulster club experience to draw on ahead of the weekend. They won the Fermanagh Junior Championship in 2001 which came after a rapid fall from senior where they won a championship in 1996 so Castlerahan should hold the upper hand in experience.

While Cavan have a poor record in the Ulster club championships, it is improving with Mullahoran reaching the Intermediate final in 2018 and Butlersbridge making the semi-final last year. In Fermanagh you have to go back to 2014 for their last victory in the Ulster Intermediate championship when Derrylin made the semi-final.

As is the case in in this weekend’s senior game, the Fermanagh champions, on a scores for and against basis, hold the upper hand. Devenish are scoring an average of 15.4 points compare to Castlerahan’s 14.1 while on the defensive end the Fermanagh champions are conceding 8.4 points per game while Castlerahan are letting an average of 10.5 points past them.

Devenish, who lost last year's Intermediate decider in Fermanagh, went one better this year when they beat Tempo in a 1-8 to 0-5, with Ruairi Maguire’s 49th minute goal finishing off the game as a contest. In the middle of the field Jason Love controls a lot of ball and drops back into a mass defence to force turnovers when the opposition attackers get outnumbered.

Either Oisin O’Connell or Enda Flanagan can expect to be picked up by Devenish’s go-to man marker Lorcan O’Brien. Their manager Marty O’Brien has them well set up defensively as they focus on crowding out the scoring zone so Castlerahan may need to be patient in possession while not being after to attack.

The interesting thing is that Castlerahan are one of the best teams in Cavan to stay composed when faced with a mass defense. We saw in the county final against Ballyhaise how difficult weather conditions didn’t faze them and in fact worked to their advantage which is as a result of the years of experience they have built up competing at the top of senior in Cavan.

For Castlerahan to win, the usual big names will have to perform well. Stephen Cooney and Oisin Kiernan are crucial at the back but Sean Og McGearty has grown in stature in this year's campaign to date. Cormac Daly and David Wright are going to be vital in the middle of the field and if they can manage to both fire on Saturday, then they should win that area.

Enda Flanagan, Oisin and Enda O’Connell will be marked men but still will be expected to come up with big plays for Brian Donohoe’s side. In a tight game, it can often come down to the freetakers and in Cian McCabe Castlerahan have a good one. The gap between the county final and the opener in Ulster should have given Karl Cosgrove the time to get back up to the level he’s capable of and with his left foot sailing over two or three points, Castlerahan’s attack is a lot more formidable.

Castlerahan will rightly enter the game as favourites and if they get the win, Cavan teams will have won the opening round of the Ulster intermediate championship on three of the last four occasions.