Opinion: Worryingly, Cavan have taken their foot off the gas


Going into the championship off the back of three sub-par performances is concerning, writes DAMIEN DONOHOE.

Armagh and Cork squared off in the definition of a dead rubber last Saturday night. A win for Armagh made no difference other than it kept them in winning ways and for Cork, who had secured Division 2 status for 2025, a win would have seen them jump into third on the table but that will only be important if we see a run of freak provincial championship results as they, like Cavan, are 99% sure to compete for Sam Maguire this year.

Yet in that game, coming into injury time Armagh battled back with two late points from Oisin Conaty and Aidan Nugent to level the game. Cork went for the winner after that and created the best of the chances but Stephen Sherlock’s effort missed the target - but the desire and intent to win was there from the start.

Four points was the largest gap between the sides at any stage in the game and both sides held a four-point lead in the game at different times. When four behind in a dead rubber game, what motivates a team to keep battling? The rewards can be personal as each individual fights for a place on the team the next day out or it can be pride in the jersey or just that deep hatred of losing.

After the Cork game on Saturday, Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney said in an interview with Off The Ball “because things (the run -n between league and championship) are that tight, you can’t afford to take your foot off the gas”. Unfortunately it’s clear we in Cavan have most definitely taken our foot off the gas - and maybe even hit the brakes.

We have to hold ourselves to a certain standard when we put on a Cavan jersey and Saturday night dropped well below that standard. The writing was on the wall for the type of performance that followed after 90 seconds. Fermanagh won the ball and held possession without a hand being laid on them until a push in the back resulted in a scoreable free.

Fermanagh’s intent and desire was clear from the resulting kick-out as contact was made with Oisin Kiernan as he tried to control the ball close to the sideline, resulting in a line ball for Fermanagh. A couple of minutes later, after a Fermanagh kick-out, Declan McCusker fumbled the ball between the Cavan 45 and 20-metre lines and had to take two attempts to pick it up off the ground. He had time to make these mistakes and recover the ball before a Cavan player got near him.

Before that, Cavan had forced a turnover when Ciaran Brady and Dara McVeety won back the ball and worked a good attack which went narrowly wide. That gave the impression that some on the team were willing to work, while others appeared to treat the game like a dead rubber.

People are saying it meant nothing to Cavan but it meant a lot to supporters and, in time, we’ll see just how much it may have meant for this team’s development. If we win two or three games between now and the end of the season, then there won’t be a word about this one.

Unfortunately, in the short term it has also led to negative discourse and predictable speculation about how things are going in the camp. When performances are poor, small things are magnified, people put two and two together and make up their own answer when they’re trying to figure out a performance like Saturday’s. In the first half we were way off the mark and the stats prove it but luckily, we weren’t up against a team with the finishing power of Armagh again. Fermanagh created 15 scoring chances in the first half and came away with 1-6.

In the same 38 minutes, we created 13 chances and took four and what made it worse was it took until the 30th minute for us to register a score from open play.

Overall in the game, both sides’ conversion rate improved in the second half as we hit 1-9 from 14 shots while Fermanagh landed 1-8 from 13 attempts.

Another worry was our inability to deal with Garvan Jones. Killian Clarke had been moved to full-back to pick him up but after having a really good league at midfield, he looked lost in the role. Jones had three points from open play and provided the crucial pass for Cassidy’s goal. In the second half, Brían O’Connell picked him up which looked like the right move as O’Connell has been one of the best defenders Cavan have had in the league. Yet Jones added 1-3 from play to his tally and this may have dealt a blow to the confidence of two of our most important players.

On a positive note, we won 20 from 27 of our kick-outs but the real plus was how we used it in the second half to create scoring chances. We also tried to force Ross Bogue out long with his kick-outs by pushing four and sometimes five into our full-forward line which worked in getting him to go long but we didn’t commit enough bodies to the middle third when the kick went there.

The final positive to take from the game was we got a goal when we needed one to give the hope of a comeback some life - and it was a good goal. Ciaran Brady had no desire to go sideways with the ball and his and Cormac O’Reilly’s quick hands in the scoring zone allowed Paddy Lynch just enough time to brilliantly finish to the net.

It hurts to lose games and it should always hurt. If it doesn’t, you have a ceiling on how far you can go in my opinion and that’s probably what is most disappointing about Saturday night. There should have been a reaction to the humiliating defeat against Armagh but we didn’t see it.

There may have been other factors at play that we as supporters are unaware of, but we can only react on the information we have at hand.

So now all focus turns to Monaghan in the Ulster championship and there’s no doubt if we are at our best we have nothing to fear so let’s hope for a reaction that gets the supporters excited in Clones.