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Cavan need to park 'neutral' calls and focus on task of Dubs


FLYING FORWARD: Dublin’s Con O’Callaghan fires off a handpass against Meath on Saturday. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

FLYING FORWARD: Dublin’s Con O’Callaghan fires off a handpass against Meath on Saturday. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

FLYING FORWARD: Dublin’s Con O’Callaghan fires off a handpass against Meath on Saturday. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

I was honoured to be part of the Bloody Sunday commemoration in Croke Park on Saturday night.

It was a genuine privilege and like a lot of people, I probably didn't appreciate the scale of that event in GAA and Irish history until the stories were told.

Myself and Declan Browne were asked by the GAA to represent Dublin and Tipperary, the teams who played that day in 1920 and if it was a special day for me, I can only imagine how Declan felt 24 hours later.

Beforehand, we were housed the restaurant in the Cusack Stand. Micheál Martin was there too.

We chatted about the following day, all oblivious to the fact that it would be one of the most memorable Sundays in modern GAA history.

Neither were giving much away but I got the sense from Declan he was hopeful, rather than expectant.

It's funny. I struggled with Cork for a long time.

When we were turning the tanker around in 2010 and 2011, they were the best team in the country. By far the most consistent.

They beat us in the All-Ireland semi-final in '10 and the League final in '11 and the defining characteristic about that team was their consistency; you always knew what you were going to get from them.

They had a prototype player; strong, athletic, big. And a method of game plan that made them hard to play against.

Now, you're never really sure what you're going to get with Cork. Not since 2012 anyway.

I gave Tipp a strong chance. When everyone is around, they have most of the things you need to make a good team.

Few counties have as good a pairing as Michael Quinlivan and Conor Sweeney in their inside line.

And look, between convincing Sydney Swans to allow Colin O'Riordan play, with Seán Powter missing and Luke Connolly going off, maybe it was just destined to be Tipperary's day.

On Saturday night, I'd wondered how a player might react to being told they were getting dropped for a fella who had played any of the previous games and was just parachuted in.

But Declan told me he'd been training with the team for the past five or six weeks and you could see he didn't miss a beat on the pitch.

Big plays can define those sort of matches.

Take Quinlivan's point from under the stand. When that sort of score goes over, it's impossible not to believe it's your day.

It was the same sort of belief Cavan demonstrated all through the Ulster final.

You can do all the predictions in the world, judge the match-ups and gauge the tactical nous of the competing managers.

But when a group are collectively infused with the sort of belief Cavan exuded, it sometimes defies analysis.

All of your players look quicker because they move with purpose. All of your players seem stronger, because they're powered with the ferocity of belief.

They didn't kick too many points from Quinlivan's range but the turnovers they forced in the first half had the exact same effect.

It casts the match in a whole different light. The atmosphere, even from watching on television showing an empty stadium, changes.

If you're Donegal, it's difficult to blame anybody or anything in particular.

They were big favourites and rightly so. But it's a two-horse race starting at four o'clock on a chilly November evening.

That's a big leveller.

And just like Cork, when it started to slip away, they never looked capable of changing the course of the game. Cavan's will was simply too strong. Their collective belief was amazing.

Which brings us neatly on where they should play the All-Ireland semi-final.

Cavan are looking for a neutral venue. I can understand that and I'm sure there's back-channelling going on and pressure being applied to see if they can get it moved from Croke Park.

If I was Mickey Graham or the players now, I'd be inclined to park that. Because those sort of agendas, these side-issues, can command too much attention at a time when every second counts towards getting things right for the biggest day you've had in 23 years.

I'm sure Cavan want to give themselves the best possible chance but equally, there must be players in the squad dying to play in Croke Park as Ulster champions.

To go out and tear into Dublin the same way they did Donegal. To be brave and back themselves.

Because Dublin were awesome on Saturday night. The improvement from the Laois game was everywhere, right from Stephen Cluxton's kick-outs to Dublin's finishing up front.

You could see how quickly Dublin retreated to snuff out a couple of early Meath threats and you could even hear in the stadium the level of communication going on between the players.

The Dublin players kept barking at each other, kept organising, kept cajoling as the Meath voices faded.

Their movement too, was almost dizzying.

For the first goal, Niall Scully was the key man.

Con caught the kick-out and had Fenton making a run but Scully was left totally free.

When he got the ball, there was an overload of Dublin players and it meant the Meath backs were frantically retreating but completely pulled out of shape.

He gave it to Fenton, who found Dean, who was composure personified with the finish.

For the second goal, Seán Bugler's pace was the key.

But in every defensive drill Meath have done this year, they'll have worked on clogging that central channel. All three of Dublin's goals on Saturday night came from them attacking that space.

Cormac Costello came on to try and make a difference and get himself into the team and you could tell he was trying to force things.

When he coughed up possession, his frustration boiled over and he got sent off. That's the sign of a guy furiously trying to climb the internal ladder.

For Cavan, it helps now that the country is in this weird state of suspended animation.

In a county like Cavan, the celebrations for last Sunday could easily have dragged on too long. Even if the players got back to work quickly afterwards, the noise is almost impossible to ignore.

And the excitement and anticipation to a game of the magnitude of this coming All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin could very quickly become suffocating for players, were they free to go about their business as normal.

Staying in a bubble.

Limiting close contacts.

Keeping to yourself.

Good advice in a pandemic. Good advice in the build-up to an All-Ireland semi-final.