Second win an achievable goal for Cavan


A victory this Saturday is essential if Cavan are to have a real tilt at promotion, writes DAMIEN DONOHOE.

First things first: I’m going to use ‘we’ when talking about the Cavan team from now on because we all have a role to play in trying to get back to the top table. If that’s us in the media pointing out what we (Cavan) are doing well and not so well or each Cavan supporter getting a little louder to show we are behind the team when they take to the field, then let’s all show our support in the hope that a little more positive energy might just make the difference between winning or losing a tight game.

Cork are in a difficult position and they will surely up their performance this weekend as Cavan head to Leeside this weekend.

John Cleary’s side lost the opening two games of the league on the road to Donegal and Louth. They may have been slight underdogs going to Ballybofey but nobody would have predicted an 11-point defeat. To compound the Rebels’ misery, Louth’s mass defence stifled them and for the second year in a row, they left the Wee County empty-handed.

If there isn’t a bounce in Cork this Saturday then questions have to be asked of their desire. Why Cork are under-achieving as a county is too big of a question to answer in one article but I’m going to try to show where they are weak as a team and where we can get at them.

Cork have bagged 2-19 in their opening two games of the league and seven of those points came from frees so Cavan have a better scoring average with 28 points in two games.

Brian Hurley hasn’t reached his usual heights so far but he will take watching while Chris Óg Jones is their top scorer with 1-4 to date. Louth played a very defensive style against Cork and it was a system that worked really well because it left Cork wide open at the back.

Louth and Donegal punished Cork when they counter-attacked with real speed so we will have to use our pace and the kick passes forward to good effect on Saturday.

Something that stands out when watching Cork is their unwillingness to bring the ball into any contact. This can happen when a management team are emphasising possession lost in tackles as part of their post game analysis.

“Avoid the contact” was a buzz phrase for a few years but now I think the better coaches at inter-county level are instructing their players on how to be able to beat their man to create the vital overlaps.

Cork, when facing the mass defence, work the ball from side to side in an attempt to stretch the defenders. When doing this you have to be patient, wait for a gap to appear and attack it with speed and support runners. Not all of the Cork players are comfortable being patient and it led to a lot of turnovers in both games. A Rebel would break into the scoring zone on his own at the wrong time and cough up possession.

The other downside of coaching players to not bring the ball into contact is your defenders aren’t getting practice tackling. Against Louth, Cork conceded five points from frees which on its own isn’t terrible - but it was the missed tackles that really cost them.

Louth’s second goal was a perfect example. The Louth midfielder was allowed to pick up a ball that had hit the ground after a poor handpass while inside the Cork 13-metre line. He then easily went round his man along the endline and was able to fist the ball into the square for a palmed goal.

In contrast, eight minutes before half-time, Cork midfielder Ian Maguire was inside the Louth 13-metre line close to the sideline when he had to bend his back to pick up a poor pass. Identifying the opportunity, Louth doubled up on him and forced the turnover to set up an attack and a score.

Once again, kick-outs are going to play a key role in Saturday’s game. Patrick Doyle is between the sticks for Cork and he showed a tendency to go long and to his left in the Donegal game.

Donegal, while playing man-for-man, were winning a lot of the Cork kick-outs in the first half by breaking the ball and just getting more bodies in for the ground battle.  Louth gave Cork free men in their full-back line to force them to go short.

I’d like to see us really press the Cork kick-out early to test their desire for dirty ball. Supervalu Páirc Uí Chaoimh is one metre longer and two metres wider than Kingspan Breffni so the dimensions are so similar that the spacing between players should be familiar. If we can get a few early scores off their kick-outs, it will be a major blow to their already brittle confidence.

Cork’s strategy on opposition kick-outs varied in the two games. It looked like they were more afraid of Donegal than Louth as they gave up the Donegal kick-out a lot. Against Louth, they used a man-for-man press and at times a zonal press.

Twenty minutes into the Louth game, Cork set up a zonal press for a Louth kick-out with four in the full-forward line, four in the half-forward line and four across the middle of the field. The problem Cork had was they went man-for-man with the two remaining outfield players and the final line of four was well inside Niall McDonnell’s kicking distance. Louth went along with the kick-out over all 12 Cork players and broke at speed to bag the game’s first goal.

There are lots of ways we can get at Cork and, tactically, a strong argument could be made for using a blanket defence after what Louth did to them but I don’t think that’s the correct approach. I would expect Raymond Galligan to set the team up to be aggressive and for him to continue to ask the lads to play on the front foot. It is creating a bit of chaos but that isn’t a bad thing when our players are as good on the ball as they are.

They are playing on instinct and have the athletic and technical ability to win chaotic games.

We must also match Cork’s desire from the very start and test their mental toughness.

Moving the ball at speed to the scoring zone will be vital and once it’s there, we need to take the chances better than we did against Donegal.

We have to get straight back to winning ways if promotion is going to be achieved and Saturday is definitely a winnable game.

Listening to Brendan Deveney and Aaron Kiernan on the DL Debate podcast, it sounds like Armagh and Donegal think they have promotion wrapped up. I’d love if we were in a position to spoil the Orchard party when we head to the Athletic Grounds on March 16 but it has to start with a win against Cork.