Sunday 4 December 2016

Breffni men have healthiest glow in qualifier sick-bay

Published 19/06/2015 | 02:30

Cavan manager Terry Hyland after the defeat to Monaghan SPORTSFILE
Cavan manager Terry Hyland after the defeat to Monaghan SPORTSFILE

There's a real touch of intensive care about the team contesting round 1A of the football qualifiers tomorrow.

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The condition of the walking wounded is alarming, with double-digit provincial defeats for all but three of the eight teams involved.

And with two of that trio there can't be much expectation that the season can stretch out in front of them for much longer. This is a qualifier sick-bay like no other in recent years, the scars of provincial hardship cutting deep into the occupants.

Longford are nursing some of the worst wounds, their 27-point defeat to Dublin prompting the now annual debate about Championship structures and an even greater discussion about how teams set themselves up tactically against the best.

Waterford were on the receiving end of the Championship's next biggest winning margin, a 22-point hammering from Tipperary.

It's five weeks since Carlow were hit for 3-16 in a 17-point defeat by Laois on the opening weekend of the Leinster Championship. The idea that they can bounce into a qualifier with any great enthusiasm, even for a match with Longford, is hard to fathom.

In just seven days Laois themselves have to dust themselves down from a crushing 13-point defeat to Kildare in their Leinster quarter-final replay, while Antrim don't have a lot of positive memories from their 10-point loss to Fermanagh in an Ulster quarter-final.

London lost by eight points to Roscommon in Ruislip; given that they have forced extra-time against Mayo and beaten Sligo there in the last five seasons, it can hardly be classed as an achievement.

Even Offaly's three-point defeat to Longford will have felt a lot worse than it was because of the ease with which they put the same opponents away in the Division 4 final three weeks earlier, and the fact that they were leading by seven points at one stage.

Offaly's record in qualifiers is arguably the worst, relative to the traditional strength of the county. In 11 of the 15 years of qualifier games, they have lost first time out. In the last three years alone they have gone out to Wicklow, Tyrone (1-27 to 0-8) and Tipperary.

In 2011 they did manage to build a significant head of steam with victories over Monaghan and tomorrow's opponents, Waterford.

It was the only the third year that they managed to put back-to-back qualifier wins together, having beaten London and Clare in the 2003 Championship and Clare and Waterford in 2010.

Longford and Laois have both won games but only Cavan, among 1A qualifier teams, can take a real bounce from how they went in their province.

Their one-point defeat to Monaghan in a match that they led by four points at one stage will still haunt them, given their presence on the 'softer' side of the Ulster draw.

A big challenge for Terry Hyland was to keep all his players at home after that and this they appear to have successfully managed.

The return of Killian Clarke, back in the fold after missing the Monaghan game and the second half of the League through injury, is a significant lift, offering them options in defence - where Clarke was an All-Star nomination in 2013 - or midfield, where he was shaping up to play before being hit by injury.

Of the eight counties who get the qualifiers under way, Cavan have the best recent qualifier form, reaching an All-Ireland quarter-final two years ago. Right now they look the best equipped to repeat that.

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