Sunday 20 January 2019

Can the Garden give Cavan men the Blues?

We don’t mind what the weather is on Saturday evening, so long as the result is something similar as 2009 when Wicklow, with Tony Hannon and Ciaran Hyland in the starting 15, dispatched the Breffni men by 1-12 to 0-8
We don’t mind what the weather is on Saturday evening, so long as the result is something similar as 2009 when Wicklow, with Tony Hannon and Ciaran Hyland in the starting 15, dispatched the Breffni men by 1-12 to 0-8

Preview - Kieron Kenny

Possibly the most important prerequisite last Monday morning week was for Wicklow to be drawn out first in their tie in the 2018 qualifiers. Home advantage is massive in these games, with that achieved and a line already drawn through such names as Meath, Tyrone and Kildare, only Mayo were left of the real genuine contenders.

Seconds later, Cavan were announced as the opposition and memories of a famous qualifier win in 2009 immediately came flooding back along with real optimism that another championship win is possible. On a very wet July night in 2009, the Breffni men followed the same route out of the qualifiers as their neighbours Fermanagh had done and that Down were soon to take.

Wicklow had a 1-12 to 0-8 win that night in a packed Aughrim in what was to prove our longest ever championship summer. Can Saturday be the start of another such campaign?

Forward a year later, if the win in Aughrim in 2009 was good, the defeat in Breffni Park in 2010 to this day is still one that puzzles many Wicklow fans.

Winning by seven points at the break and with Cavan down to 14 men it all looked so good. It looked even better when they went down to 13 during the second half, but then they sprung Seanie Johnston from the bench and the Cavan Gaels man kicked six points to turn it in to a 2-8 to 0-15 loss. That's the beauty of the qualifiers, anything can happen.

Cavan are the sleeping giant in Ulster, 37 Senior titles to their name tells us the tradition is certainly there, last win in 1997 and last final appearance in 2001 tells us we have nothing to fear in the present.

Four Ulster under-21 titles on the trot from 2011-14 tells us they have plenty of talent available to them.

Cavan people have been patiently waiting for success and will expect this crop to deliver at some stage.

They departed Ulster this year after a 2-20 to 1-15 loss to Donegal in Ballybofey on the same day that Wicklow were enjoying our championship win over Offaly. How have they reacted to that defeat? Many were forecasting a Cavan win over Donegal with the O'Donnell county in a transition period under Declan Bonnar. Four weeks between a loss and your next game can be confidence sapping.

Leaving aside the free shot we had at Dublin, this bunch of Wicklow players should fell that Cavan are very beatable. The Cavan manager Mattie McGleenan doesn't seem to favour the defensive side of the game and a look through their list of results in his tenure will tell you that no system other than the simple man on man. Take their league final against Roscommon in April that finished in a 4-16 to 4-12 loss as an example. Have Wicklow got the forwards now that could exploit such openings when they arise?

The other side of the coin is that Cavan are too running up big scores so have we the backs capable of winning their man on man combat and closing down the likes of Seanie Johnston, Cian Mackey, Caoimhin O'Reilly, Dara McVeety who is available after injury and Adrian Cole.

They also have Irish international rules player Killian Clarke in their ranks alongside Gearoid McKiernan who is one of the top players in the country. The last time Cavan played in Aughrim James Stafford and Thomas Walsh dominated the midfield exchanges, McKiernan and Clarke will be a real test for Staff and Rory Finn on Saturday. There is also the possibility that McKiernan could go to full-forward where he would be a real menace with his size and ability. He kicked 0-7 in the defeat to Donegal from the edge of the square.

Cavan don't do away days very well lately, they did have a win in Tullamore over Offaly last summer (1-17 to 0-16) but can be got at. It is five years since they had a win away from Breffni in the Ulster championship, Fermanagh beaten in Brewster Park in 2013, they made it all the way to the All-Ireland quarter-final later in 2013 before Kerry got the better of them. They may not fancy this too much and this is where the Wicklow crowd needs to prey on their fragility.

Has the Dublin game had any negative effect on the Wicklow players?

I seriously doubt it. What did anybody expect going in to that game really? The performance was good on the day and 1-11 a decent tally at the end of it. The speed and accuracy that Dublin brought to the game will have been the perfect preparation for any test that lay ahead. Plenty of the Wicklow players had good outings and they kept at it right to the end showing once again a really good fitness level. There was a genuine feeling after the game that they had done all they could with very few dissenting voices or comments about.

Will Jamie Snell be fit enough for a start? His man marking ability would be a real help to curb some of the Cavan forwards. Ciaran Hyland had a fine game against the Dubs while Ross O'Brien and Eoin Murtagh affected plenty of interceptions and tackles themselves on the day. John Crowe, Dean Healy and Saoirse Kearon bring massive energy to the half-back line with Healy in particular really taking it to the Dubs the last day and he seemed to relish the challenge they bring.

All the forwards will need to make the most of their chances and shot selection by all the players is something that was poor at times against Dublin. Surely the intimacy and familiarity of Joule Park will improve this.

The bench has made a difference in the two games to date and with Saturday expected to be the opposite to the conditions of 2009 fresh legs could swing it.

John Evans will know this is a winnable game and so will the players. They have nothing to fear from Cavan and with a large home crowd they could pull off another qualifier win over the Breffni men. Throw in 6pm on Saturday in Joule Park.

Wicklow People