ULSTER SFC SEMI-FINAL
MONAGHAN v CAVAN
(Clones, Tonight 7.0, live RTE2/BBC2 NI)
FROM the outset, this was flagged as the weaker side of the Ulster draw – and thus a glorious chance for one relative underdog to gatecrash the big boys' provincial final party. The 'big boy' in question has already identified himself as Donegal, while the standard of games in this co-called weaker half has done little to alter preconceptions about a likely three-in-a-row for Jim McGuinness's side.
Still, such dismissive conjecture won't be high on the agenda of either Malachy O'Rourke or Terry Hyland this evening. There's a job to be done in Clones; and a derby to be won too.
Don't be surprised if this neighbourly spat turns into a crowded battle of attrition – this is Ulster, after all – and Cavan's rediscovered intensity this summer means they're an entirely more difficult team to break down.
Meanwhile, with Eugene Keating and especially Martin Dunne providing the cutting edge up front, they have rediscovered the art of winning – cue back-to-back victories in Ulster for the first time since 2001. Their championship form graph against Armagh and, to a lesser extent, Fermanagh has also been better than Monaghan's against Antrim – the misfiring Farney men hit more wides (17) than points (11) in a five-point victory that plunged the depths of dourness.
O'Rourke has already stressed that they will not beat Cavan unless their performance goes up "considerably". But we think it will.
Monaghan still have plenty of big-game experience, some gilt-edged forwards and, if they can rediscover the form that saw them outscore Meath in a Division Three final shootout, we think they'll have enough for Cavan. Just about.
ODDS: Monaghan 8/11, Draw 15/2, Cavan 6/4