Thursday 26 April 2018

Eugene McGee: Tyrone caught on the hop as Cavan goal-fest secures second bite

Gearoid McKiernan Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Gearoid McKiernan Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Eugene McGee

Eugene McGee

Maybe it is a bit too soon to confirm the demise of the present football championship after all. In Clones yesterday, the scene of so much drama, intrigue and 'divilment' in former times, we got a good old-fashioned game of Ulster football with absolutely none of the unsavoury stuff that had become a sort of badge for the game in that province.

What Cavan and Tyrone served up was real old-style championship fare with some of the modern trends such as packed defences thrown in that delighted the crowd of nearly 20,000 in terrible wet and greasy underfoot conditions.

The players all deserve great credit for their performances in such weather and of course the dramatic ending to the game compensated for any weather discrepancies. The quality of the football showed that neither team is entitled to have All-Ireland ambitions this year but real quality was compensated for by all-out effort, dramatic scores, particularly the three goals that Cavan got all from the edge of the square and a nerve-wracking finale that ended with Tyrone player Darren McCurry kicking a last second '45 wide, thus leaving us with an eagerly-awaited replay in Clones, where else, on July 3.

It's usual for commentators to state that a draw in a big game was a fair result but that is not the case on this occasion. Tyrone were the better team for more parts of the game than Cavan but the latter survived by sheer graft and guts even on a day when some of their leading players failed to reach their usual high standard.

Their captain and talisman in all the recent games Gearoid McKiernan (pictured) and Seanie Johnston, who had been both scoring freely, were completely at sea this time but still Cavan dug in and survived which shows the sort of spirit that now thrives in Breffni land. Not many teams take on Tyrone at their own game and withstand everything that came at them and that will be the greatest satisfaction for Cavan fans as they await the replay.

Cavan got three goals at critical psychological moments - in the opening minutes, just before half-time and in the dying minutes of the game.

I have never seen three goals scored at such critical moments in a big game but, in fairness, they earned these scores.

The high ball into the Tyrone full-back line has been a problem in recent times but it really cost them dearly yesterday as all three goals were scored because of indecision from Tyrone and perseverance and courage by Cavan players.

The most worrying aspect of the first half for Cavan was that some of their pre-arranged plans did not work. They started regular full-back Killian Clarke at full-forward which was a gamble, particularly as regular corner-back Padraig Faulkner was not playing either.

But the first four balls that went into Clarke were beaten off by Tyrone and thereafter it was the sturdy David Givney who manned the Tyrone square, usually all on his own which was strange also.

Givney did finish two balls to the net and was a handful in the air but many of his breaks were wasted because of the absence close by of colleagues, particularly Johnston.

Cavan started very well when they were sending long foot-passes but then they began to delay their deliveries, no doubt because of closer attention by the Tyrone players, and when they stopped the long ball in that allowed Tyrone to revert to their usual packed defence for the rest of the game and Cavan went over 20 minutes before half-time without a score while Tyrone scored six points.

In fact, it could be said that Cavan were saved by the bell when Conor Moynagh scooped a loose ball in the square into the Tyrone net to leave them ahead at the break 2-3 to 0-8.

As is fitting and indeed essential for a great game there were many outstanding individual performances in this contest despite the terrible conditions.

Tyrone's Colm Cavanagh, Peter Harte, Mattie Donnelly and brilliant corner-forward Ronan O'Neill all impressed. Cavan had equally brilliant performances from Dara McVeety, goalkeeper Raymond Galligan, despite a few costly kick-out blunders just after half-time, David Givney, Cian Mackey and Tomas Corr.

We can expect Cavan to learn more in the replay from playing a more experienced and cuter team but the replay should be very interesting.

Cavan can still have a big say in this year's championship - as indeed can Tyrone.

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