Perfect start built on work ethic and attacking intent

Opinion: Tactics Board

Cavan’s victory over Kildare was the perfect start for new manager Raymond Galligan and sets the team up nicely for the remainder of the Division 2 campaign, writes Damien Donohoe.

what made Cavan’s win against Kildare last Saturday night so great was the context: Cavan have a poor record in the opening round of the league in the last 10 years. The only two wins came in Division 3 last year against Westmeath and in Division 4 against Leitrim in 2022 so to win in Division 2 against Kildare stands up as a very notable win.

And adding to a super win was the fact that it was a great performance. You can have a win where you just fall over the line, but it doesn’t mean it was a good performance. This wasn’t one of those. This was one of the best performances, if not the best performance, since the Ulster final of 2020. The winning margin falls a little short of a true reflection of how much better than Kildare Cavan were.

I wrote last week that kick-outs would be key for Cavan to win against Kildare so let’s start there. By my calculations, Cavan did really well with Liam Brady’s kick-outs, winning 15 from the 18 (83%) he had. Sometimes stats can look great but a deeper dive might show that the opposition stepped off the kick-out and so you should be winning all of those - but Kildare didn’t step off.

Brady showed great variation with his boot and the majority of the time he hit his targets. Cavan did really well when they went long with their kick-outs as Killian Clarke broke a lot of ball and Cavan’s hounds on the ground gobbled up the breaking ball. Having the option to go long was a super platform for Cavan to get scores off and they scored four times in the game within a minute of Liam Brady kicking out the ball.

Kildare also performed well on their kick-outs as they won 17 of the 21 (80%) they had. At least one of the four Kildare kick-outs Cavan won resulting in a point for Raymond Galligan’s side. Cavan opted to stay man-for-man which was the correct call because they were doing so well in stripping the ball from Kildare hands. Not only did Cavan earn and win those turnovers but, on a number of occasions, they turned them into scores.

Cavan played the game on the front foot with players willing and able to take on their man and go by him. Gerard Smith, Oisin Brady, Dara McVeety, Niall Carolan, Ciaran Brady and Padraig Faulkner all broke lines and beat their men while in possession of the ball to create an overlap. This lead to Cavan taking 23 shots at the goal scoring 16 (69.5%) of them, which is their best conversion rate in the three games so far this year.

Watching Cavan play, it’s clear that they want to get the ball to the scoring zone as quickly as possible. In doing this, they are giving the forwards a better chance of finishing the chance created because the opposition are running back facing the goals instead of defending with their backs to the goals as they’d like. This strategy in time should lead to an even better conversion rate as players get used to the idea of a fast attack being the first and better option.

A key component in the win for Cavan was discipline. Paddy Lynch frees accounted for six of Cavan’s scores with the Crosserlough man only missing one of his dead ball chances. On two occasions, Kildare were punished for mouthing at the referee with the ball being brought forward. Cavan, at the other end, gave away only three frees in the scoring zone, with Kildare taking two of them.

Speaking to football people from Kildare, they believe they have forwards as good as any team in the country on their day, but they are very individually minded and have yet to gel as a unit. Ben McCormack and Darragh Kirwan are their two main men for scores and Niall Carolan and Killian Brady curtailed their influence hugely and overall won these crucial battles for Cavan. While Jimmy Hyland and Paddy Woodgate are usually a threat, they were given little opportunity to get into the game by Jason McLoughlin and Oisin Kiernan (Denn).

Cavan’s game management was brilliant as they did something every team tries to do but very few can: they kept the score board ticking. The longest spells of play Cavan went without a score were eight minutes and in two of those three spells they didn’t allow Kildare to score in what could have been seen as their purple patches. It was also note worthy that their were nine different Cavan scorers on the night, all getting a score from open play.

While Cavan’s win was built on hard work, it still has room for improvement which is the really exciting thing. I believe a number of Saturday’s team are well below their maximum fitness and you have the likes of Conor Brady, James Smith and Cian Madden to come back and fight for a place. In the coming weeks we’ll find out if it was a case of Cavan are really good or Kildare were really bad but one thing's for sure, the Cavan fans who travelled to Carlow were happy turning back up the road.