Cavan and Donegal seek to continue positive starts


After a superb start against Kildare, Cavan will lock horns with Jim McGuinness’s Donegal today in round 2 of the National League on Sunday (4pm) at Kingspan Breffni.

Ray Galligan’s men were excellent against the Lilywhites. There was pressure on the new manager and his team and they responded with one of Cavan’s best first-round wins in the last 20 years and a first opening-day victory in Division 1 or 2 since the linear four-tier structure was introduced in 2008.

And yet, Donegal are favourites (4/9) with the bookmakers to get the win in Cavan given the manner of their own opening-round win over Cork on a weekend where, remarkably, the nine Ulster counties went unbeaten (Fermanagh drew with Meath and the other eight won).

McGuinness’s side won by 1-20 to 2-6 at MacCumhaill Park in tough conditions. The hosts played with a strong wind, blowing towards the river end, in the first half and dominated, despite missing Oisin Gallen, Michael Langan, Eoghan Bán Gallagher and Jason McGee.

Donegal had 12 different scorers and landed 1-14 from play. They pressed high up the pitch and looked to push forward at every opportunity, with goalkeeper Gavin Mulraney (replacing the suspended Shaun Patton) on a lot of ball, although he was turned over for a Cork goal.

Full-back Brendan McCole got forward for a rare point while centre-back Caolan McGonagle, a noted line-breaker, also impressed as did outside-of-the-boot specialist Odhran Doherty.

Among the league debutants were St Eunan’s man Ciaran Moore and Kevin McGettigan, who scored the late winning goal for Glenties against Gowna in the Ulster Club Championship last year.

Peadar Mogan and Ryan McHugh were also on board in what was a fairly formidable Donegal line-up – but Cavan have plenty of reasons for optimism themselves.

At the outset, it was felt that consolidation, and the resulting Sam Maguire Championship status that would provide, would represent a successful campaign and while that is still the case, the Cavan supporters will be dreaming of promotion should the team record a second successive victory on Sunday.

While only seven of the players who saw game time in the 2020 Ulster final win over Donegal featured last Saturday – namely Jason McLoughlin, Gerard Smith, Killian Clarke, Oisin Kiernan, Killian Brady and joint-captains Padraig Faulkner and Ciaran Brady – it is still a very experienced panel, with a number of players who usually start still to return including the likes of James Smith, Cian Madden and Conor Brady.

Interestingly, only eight of those who featured for Donegal in that match also got game time against Cork last week. Six started both – McCole, McGonagle, McBrearty, Brennan, Mogan and McHugh – while Daire Ó Baoill and Ciaran Thompson came on in the 2020 final and started last week.

From Cavan’s point of view, while the likes of Gearoid McKiernan, Martin Reilly, Thomas Galligan and Conor Madden (who scored 1-2 that day) are no longer on board, a number of quality footballers have broken into the side since then.

Former captain Dara McVeety, excellent against Kildare, is back and Liam Brady, having served a long apprenticeship behind Galligan as sub goalkeeper, appears to be the incumbent number one now and turned in good shift.

Niall Carolan and Tiarnan Madden are both graduates of the U20 side who lost the 2022 Ulster final by a point to All-Ireland champions elect Tyrone; Oisin Brady was selected as Cavan’s Player of the Year last season while Ryan Donohoe has been outstanding at midfield for Gowna over the last three seasons.

Paddy Lynch, meanwhile, has scored 8-89 (48f, 8m, 1-0 pen) in 22 league and championship starts since the first round in 2022.

Oisin Kiernan from Denn, who played on the minor team which reached the 2017 All-Ireland semi-final, also did well on his National League debut. Cavan, it seems, are in a good position but as Galligan stressed after the game, Donegal will represent a massive step-up.

McGuinness guided his home county to an U21 All-Ireland final and two senior finals, winning one, before moving into professional soccer but his return has shaken things up and has Donegal already being spoken about as potential All-Ireland contenders again.

They boast a talented panel but lost their way in the last three seasons. A win for Cavan would be a major fillip and would mean that one more victory from the remaining five games would more than likely be enough to remain in the division (although Cavan did depart Division 2 on six points in 2020) – and it would also set up a promotion tilt, too.

Cavan haven’t beaten Donegal in the National League since 1985/86 but have three championship wins over the Tír Chonnail men in that time (1997 Ulster semi-final, 2005 qualifier and 2020 Ulster final).