Sunday 24 March 2019

Cavan seeking liberation from rare Roscommon strangehold

Mickey Graham. Photo: Sportsfile
Mickey Graham. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

When Cavan went to Dr Hyde Park for their final Division 1 league game of the 2017 campaign, they needed to beat their hosts to give themselves a chance of preserving top-flight status.

As it transpired, Mayo's comeback against Donegal in MacHale Park at the same time bumped them up to eight points and out of Cavan's reach in a relegation battle.

But that wasn't the point. Cavan made the short journey west knowing they had to win. Having drawn with Kerry at home the previous week, coming so soon after beating Mayo in Castlebar and drawing with Monaghan in Castleblayney, it had already been a fruitful campaign, a win over the only winless team in the division surely wasn't beyond them.

For Roscommon, it had been a thoroughly miserable spring, culminating in an 18-point thrashing at Dublin's hands eight days earlier.

But this was Cavan and Cavan, in their eyes, has never been a problem. They duly won their only game, 1-13 to 1-10, repelling their visitors' bright start to the second half and condemning them to join them in Division 2 without an ear bent towards events in Castlebar.

It was Cavan's fourth successive game without a win against Roscommon, a run that has since extended to six with Division 2 and Division 2 final defeats in 2018.

Overall, the counties have met 12 times this decade between league and championship and only twice have Cavan come out on the right side. For one of those games, their 2014 Division 3 meeting, they were both already qualified when Roscommon ran their squad but made amends with a 1-17 to 0-18 win in their Croke Park final.

There is no logic to it. On the face it, their playing pool and profile is broadly similar. They've both won four U-21 provincial titles and while Roscommon have advanced to two finals, both soundly lost to Dublin, to Cavan's one (lost to Galway), the difference has been minimal.

That they have met so often is unusual in itself but it reflects how they have been almost in step with each other since the leagues were redrawn after 2007.

Only twice, when Roscommon dipped to Division 4 for 2011 and then went up to Division 1 for 2016, have they been apart. In 10 other years they've been locked together in the same division, Division 1 in 2017 and 2019, Division 2 in 2008, 2015 and 2018 and Division 3 in 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014.

They've been relegated together (to Division 3 in 2008 and Division 2 in 2017) and they've been promoted together (Division 2 in 2014 and Division 1 in 2018) resulting in two Croke Park league finals which, inevitably, Roscommon have won.

Last year's Division 2 final was going well for Cavan when they blitzed Roscommon with two early goals but they subsequently lost their way and another opportunity to lay a most unusual bogey. Even their two championship meetings, both in Kingspan Breffni Park, have gone the way of Roscommon all too easily, back-to-back meetings in 2014 and 2015 yielding 11- and seven-point wins.

They meet again with the pressure for victory as apparent as ever. Cavan have performed reasonably well under Mickey Graham in their opening three games but their lack of cutting edge has left them without a goal or a win against Galway, Kerry and Mayo.

Without the injured Gearóid McKiernan, they are compromised and failure to win would leave them with little hope of survival as games against Tyrone and Monaghan (away) and Dublin at home await them.

Roscommon have bucked all the predictions about their fate with a win over Monaghan and draw with Tyrone giving them real hope of maintaining their status.

Irish Independent

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