Eugene McGee: Farney men's strength in depth the decisive factor
I felt I was dreaming in Breffni Park when the Monaghan-Cavan game commenced yesterday. In the dream I was not watching an Ulster Championship game.
Instead I saw a lovely free-flowing game with no rabbit punches, no mouthing at opponents, no whingeing on the sidelines, wonderful fast-running football, great tackling without fouling and the sort of refereeing I have not seen for years in Ulster - indeed everything totally different from the Donegal-Tyrone game a week earlier
And suddenly I must have woken up because it dawned on me that in fact this was a real game in front of my eyes. What a shock! Cavan took the game to their Division 1 opponents in magnificent style from start to finish but in the final quarter the experience of Monaghan in recent years proved decisive along with the arrival of three super substitutes.
And it was one of those late subs Colin Walshe who scored the last Monaghan point that proved to be the winner. This was a truly enjoyable game of football in this magnificent amphitheatre and the 18,000 crowd must have been amazed at what they saw, bearing in mind the reputation that Ulster football often gets outside the province. The sportsmanship was exemplary from two teams that are the oldest football rivals in Ulster.
Referee Padraig Hughes from Armagh was determined to promote sportsmanship by blowing every foul that occurred and the players accepted that and took their punishment with very little dissent.
Of course, this being modern-day football, there was a lot of packed defensive play from both teams but it was not of the obsessive handpassing variety that we have seen in other games. And when the game opened up in the second half we got several outstanding scores from play such as an old-style point from Michael Argue when he caught a high ball in the goalmouth, turned and shot over the bar to put Cavan ahead by 0-13 to 0-9 in the 47th minute.
But that was as good as it got for Cavan as Monaghan crashed their way through the next four points unanswered to draw level. In the tension-filled final 10 minutes Cavan tried everything to save the game but Monaghan, with their star performers really paying their way at this stage, held on in a desperate finish.
The availability of Stephen Gallogly, Dick Clerkin and Walshe to come on as subs was the decisive issue in this game as Cavan simply did not have players as cute as those to control the play in that critical last quarter.
But this was a tremendous and very significant game for Cavan as they mainly threw away their brand name as a defensive only team and played with wonderful passion and purpose that reminded me of many great Cavan teams of the past.
They had real men playing real football. If they keep moving in that positive vein, they could rattle a few cages before the year is out. Monaghan looked a bit rusty but survived and should reach the Ulster final in good shape for whoever awaits them. This was a good result for manager Malachy O'Rourke as he and the players survived a stiff test.
I have been studying the behaviour of goalkeepers when they come up to take long-distance frees and I am not impressed. Yesterday Monaghan 'keeper Rory Beggan hit two attempts wide and in the final few minutes the Cavan 'keeper, Raymond Galligan, kicked two such frees wide at the most critical stage. What's happened all the great place-kickers? Charlie Gallagher of Cavan, for example.
Refs must use black card to end 'sledging'
There was a great deal of controversy during the week about what the GAA seems to have accepted as 'sledging'. It is interesting that, to the best of my knowledge, the word has come into the lexicon from cricket, not a game that was favoured by the GAA before The Ban was done away with in 1971.
The word covers a multitude but the most significant comment came from Tyrone player Seán Cavanagh when he intimated that if this level of personal abuse continues there is a danger that players may suffer long-term and very serious mental damage.
As Seán outlined, young players of a fairly sensitive nature could well be driven to serious consequences. In other words, mild-mannered players could receive mental strain or more serious damage because of this nasty carry-on. There is now no doubt that some county mentors at all levels are being coached into encouraging some players to engage in this cowardly activity. With so much talk in recent times about player depression and even suicidal tendencies, this sledging is no longer a laughing matter.
The black card was brought in to punish players who engage in this trash talk. In the spirit of the GAA over the years, no team mentor or officer would ever have tolerated this behaviour but we live in different times. The GAA at central level should issue an ultimatum to all county chairmen ordering them to prevent their mentors from allowing this behaviour.
The GPA should also speak out and disown any player who misbehaves in this way. But the ultimate solution is for referees to issue black cards which would make the sledging disappear.