The life of an inter-county senior manager doesn’t allow time to stop and smell the roses. Mickey Graham immediately switched his attention to Omagh once the final whistle sounded on Sunday in Kingspan Breffni. The supporters, on the other hand, had the luxury of being able to afford the time to revel in the victory.
Graham’s charges took the Roscommon monkey and firmly kicked it out of sight and in the process they gave Cavan fans something to cheer about. The general consensus in the build-up to the game was that Cavan were going in the right direction but without a win the argument could have been made to the contrary.
With four games played we have enough data to run some comparisons. The last time Cavan were in Division 1 (2017) they conceded an average of over 15 points per game. So far in 2019 that has been reduced to 14.5.
The improvement that most diehard Blues will be happiest with is on the attacking end where they averaged 12 points per game in 2017. They have increased that by 2.25 points per game so far, scoring an average of 14.25 per game.
To give an idea of where that ranks, Dublin’s scoring average in the last three Allianz leagues have been 16.4 (2016), 18 (2017) and 18 (2018). On the defensive end they let an average of 12.4 (2016), 12 (2017) and 14 (2018) past them so Cavan still have room to improve.
The Breffni men's win on Sunday was built on a foundation of hard work. From the throw-in, the boys in blue dictated the pace of the game. They got on top of Roscommon at every chance, physically rushing them and pushing them towards well laid traps.
The experienced players stepped up for Cavan with Conor Moynagh, Killian Clarke, Martin Reilly and Niall Murray turning in top-class performances. While much has been made of the new faces to this year’s panel, the more experienced lads have been here before and know what it takes at this level and showed that on Sunday.
Next Saturday evening Cavan have to put it all on the line again against another side who have had the Indian sign over them in recent times. Incredibly, Cavan can boast of only two senior victories over Tyrone this century, the McKenna Cup final in 2000 and the first round of the same competition two years ago, a game which marked Mattie McGleenan's maiden fixture as manager.
From Ulster semi-final to league finals and group gamse and of course those McKenna cup finals, the Red Hand has firmly kept Cavan at arm’s length. Yet after the performance against Roscommon, the task doesn’t seem just as daunting.
Tyrone collected two much-needed points with a win over Monaghan at the weekend where Peter Harte landed 1-6. The talented left footer was the catalyst for the victory as he ran riot in the absence of Monaghan's Fintan Kelly, who usually shackles him well for the Farney.
The encouraging thing about Harte’s influence is, Cavan have a man who like Kelly has had Harte’s measure. Martin Reilly has been able to marshal the Errigal Ciaran clubman exceptionally well in the past but given Reilly’s contribution in the forward line against Roscommon, it may not be the right call to give him that specific role.
Cavan’s top scorer this year, Conor Madden, after a dip in form in Mayo bounced back with a two-goal masterclass. Having scored 2-13 this year, he has become the man to stop for opposition think tanks and Mickey Harte will more than likely send Padraig Hampsey out to curtail the Gowna player.
The Cavan forwards are going to come up against a very different defence this weekend as Mickey Harte sets up his zonal style defensive system. Where Cavan have made hay against teams so far that have brought numbers back, by using the width of the field and making runs to draw the sweeper out of position, this may be more difficult against Tyrone.
Each Tyrone player that comes back is designated a zone and instructed not to leave that zone while facing the Cavan goal. Moving them from their zone isn’t easy without the ball. They will tag you while in that area but once you move into the next zone they pass you off to the next man over.
The interesting thing last Saturday night was that while Monaghan went almost 30 minutes at one stage in the game without a score they still hit eight points from open play.
Cavan created about 37 scoring chances against Roscommon and if they can improve on the conversion rate they will be close to the 18 scores needed to win.
A win in Omagh would give another boost to Cavan’s chances of survival but for Cavan to win they need to bring the game to Tyrone in the same way they did to Roscommon. Peter Harte needs to be stopped and a plan must be formed for when Morgan comes out from goals to get involved in the play. Cavan got the aggression right against Roscommon and if they can do the same in Omagh they won’t be too far away.
This is a huge game; let's hope there is a similarly huge response from the visiting team.