Brave Cavan get their reward


This was a courageous performance from Cavan and they got their reward, writes DAMIEN DONOHOE.

Clones it turns out is a great place for Cavan to take on Monaghan. Not enough Cavan supporters got down to the game and having watched it back, the TV didn’t do the match the justice it deserved because it was a brilliant experience. There’s nothing like a Cavan v Monaghan derby in my opinion and for entertainment, Sunday’s game was right up there with the best that I can remember.

Trying to figure out just how we won the game one word keeps coming into my head over and over again: bravery. We were brave every single time we got the ball and had a real desire to go at the goals, which was the winning of the game.

Of the 3-12 we finished with, seven of those scores came from frees and each of them for fouls on Cavan players bravely going at their man with intent. The breakdown of the player fouled for those seven frees is Padraig Faulkner and Niall Carolan each with two and Oisin Brady, Ciaran Brady and Cormac O’Reilly with one each.

Four of those seven came in the first half when we were playing into a very strong wind. A lot of teams would think about just keeping the ball in that situation but while Cavan did hold the ball at the very start of the game for a period and at the very end of the half, they always offered a threat and wanted to get a score.

With 32 minutes on the clock, Monaghan had a three-point advantage and we won the ball back just inside our own 45-metre line. For the next two minutes and 47 seconds, the ball stayed in Cavan hands, going from sideline to sideline. That might sound like it was a possession retention exercise but when you break down what happened, the reality is different.

In those 167 seconds, we brought the ball inside the Monaghan 45-metre line on four different occasions. On two of those four occasions, we brought it to the 20-metre line and for a total of 57 seconds, the ball was inside the  Monaghan 45. The end result was Padraig Faulkner making something out of nothing by driving towards the Monaghan goal to win a free which the marvellous Paddy Lynch converted.

On the other side of the line, it was strange to see Monaghan play with a sweeper for the first half when they had such a strong wind at their backs. Maybe it was a sign of how much they respected and feared Paddy Lynch but in the period mentioned above, it felt like a very cautious approach coming up to half-time.

Contrast that with times in the second half when Gary Mohan positioned himself on the Cavan square. Instead of Killian Brady standing in beside him, Gary O’Rourke stood beside him to allow the Gunner to block up the centre which created a sweeper without leaving an outfield player free for Monaghan. Brave.

While I enjoy stats as a useful tool when trying to identify areas you can improve on as a team, Sunday’s game shows that they can give a false impression of a game. Monaghan had more possession of the ball, 39 to 35, had more attacks (got inside our 45-metre line), 34 to 29, and had more shots, 27 to 24. They had a kick out retention rate of 95% compared to our 68%.

All of those would indicate that Monaghan were better but they weren’t. We were much the better side and the two stats that prove it are for me the most important ones - the scoreboard, obviously, and the turnover count. We turned Monaghan over 20 times compared to the 11 times they turned us over. We were braver defensively and better in the tackle.

In the second half, we pushed up on the Monaghan kick-out and while Rory Beggan still completed nine from 10 restarts, we put pressure on the ball-winner with some persistent tackling by our forwards. The one Monaghan kick-out we won all day we made count and it was no accident.

After Ciaran Brady won a free 25 metres from the Monaghan goal, the plan was set. Before Lynch kicked the ball over the bar, we were touch-tight and goal side of every Monaghan player. As a result, Beggan had no short options and he made the mistake of kicking to a contest where we had Conor Brady. The break was won and the attack was on, with Faulkner identifying his opportunity and maximising the chance.

It has been my opinion for some time now that we are better when the game gets a little chaotic and we throw the shackles off. With 67 minutes on the clock, Michael Hamill bundled the ball to the back of the Cavan net, levelling the match. From that point there was 14 minutes until the final whistle was blown. Monaghan’s most creative player, Beggan, pushed that into a two-point advantage with a pass to Joel Wilson for an attacking mark and then sending the ball over the bar from the top of the D himself. The chaos had begun and we had to react - and the reaction was top-drawer stuff.

Out of five shots, we scored 2-2, while Monaghan hit two points from four shots. We won all four of our kick-outs and pinched the only turnover in that period through Ciaran Brady, which led to the icing on the cake, the goal which Lynch bravely put away.

Staying with bravery, Oisin Brady deserves credit for his Beckham-style effort at goal in the second half which would have broken the social media sites had he hit the net.  Raymond Galligan showed bravery by naming his team and not making one single change to it, which was mentioned to me by a number of Cavan supporters after the game.

Something I had to look back on to make sure I was correct was a very unusual sight in modern football. We lined out with all players playing in the position that matched the number on their back. There may have been luck involved in that, but I’d prefer to go with the idea that the management team had their homework done on Monaghan and knew just how they’d line out.

Which leads to the match-ups. How many times have Cavan played Monaghan in the last decade where we have gone man-for-man on Conor McManus and Jack McCarron without a sweeper or two to double up? I don’t recall it if we did but that’s just what happened on Sunday and the battles were won by the boys in blue.

Once again, Killian Brady was immense as he kept Monaghan’s top scorer quiet throughout. McCarron had scored 2-22 in the league but only managed a point from play (which the Gunner wasn’t on him for) and a free before being taken off. Of the 20 turnovers we won, the Mullahoran man accounted for three of them, resulting in two points.

Brían O’Connell was faced with a battle that very few have ever come out on top in when he was told to pick up the iconic McManus. While the Clontibret man got away from him once and slotted over a brilliant point, O’Connell won the remainder of the battles and even got a point to his name to go with his two turnovers won.

Niall Carolan was the other match-up that worked perfectly as he put the clampers on 2023 All-Star Conor McCarthy. Carolan managed to put McCarthy on the back foot more often than the reverse and came away with his reputation enhanced.

I want to go through the team player by player because the vast majority of them had 7 or 8 out of 10 games but I’m running out of space so I’ll just say Gerard Smith had a monster game. After Sunday, we can now see a crop of younger players coming through that might just keep the hopes of success alive in the coming years.

Well done to the brave men from Cavan.