Graham rues Cavan failings as Monaghan eye survival
Monaghan 0-14 Cavan 1-8
Even Mickey Graham's eternally cheery visage has to have a break from the business of optimism. Life in Allianz Football League Division 1 can get to you sometimes.
For the second time in three years, Cavan are going down as quickly as they came up, a lesson for other would-be 'top flighters' of similar profile. Getting there is by far the easier part of the deal.
"They're always tough days in Division 1, it's a tough place to be. When you cough up possession too easy you get punished and we've learned that the hard way," sighed Graham as he came off St Tiernach's Park after an early Saturday afternoon throw in that drew a fraction of the crowd these neighbours would ordinarily attract with more suitable scheduling and better weather.
They'll get a chance to do it all over again in just under nine weeks' time when they meet in the Ulster Championship, and maybe that's why this defeat for Cavan will carry a little more sting than just relegation.
Mathematically, they can still stay up. But it's the longest of long shots, requiring victory over Dublin, defeat for Monaghan, a five-point swing in their direction between those two games and then a draw between Roscommon and Kerry to put the bottom three teams all on four points. In other words, forget about it.
"It looks as good as gone now at this stage," acknowledged Graham.
The killing thing is that, like Mattie McGleenan's campaign two years ago, it hasn't been a wipe-out.
"We've actually had as much possession as or even more than a lot of teams in our games. It's just that final ball inside or shot selection at times has let us down and then we're getting punished on the counterattack," he said.
It was the perfect synopsis of their day. They got off to a perfect start through Cian Mackey's goal inside a minute but thereafter really struggled to find an attacking rhythm.
Their dearth of a prolific inside forward or two continues to hurt badly; every score has to be worked harder.
In contrast, Monaghan have Conor McManus. And as long as they have him they'll always feel they have a chance of being something more than ordinary.
Once again it wasn't how much he did but how he did it that stood apart, his two points in the second half giving oxygen to an at times spluttering home effort.
Jack McCarron delivered some inspiring scores too and Conor McCarthy showed some sublime touches as Monaghan broke free from the nervy, error-ridden cycle of play in the opening half, at the end of which it was 1-3 to 0-6.
Some of Cavan's more creative players, Martin Reilly and Dara McVeety, didn't sustain good starts and it fell to Gearoid McKiernan, off the bench and into action for the first time since dislocating his knee in a club match in October to lift them briefly, his point off a kick-out and link with Ciaran Brady closing the gap to three again, 0-11 to 1-5 in the 58th minute.
But that three-point gap was out to five with McCarron's second point from play before he picked up a second yellow card late on.
There was frustration too for Monaghan manager Malachy O'Rourke who was sent to the stand for berating referee Brendan Cawley.
"When you are desperate for points like that those decisions are very important. It gets frustrating but I suppose I should know better at my age," O'Rourke conceded.
A sixth successive year in Division One beckons if Roscommon lose to Kerry but it's in Monaghan's own hands to go to Mayo next week and earn their survival. No one knows the challenge of that better than Monaghan and the rewards it brings. Cavan have a different appreciation of it too that is becoming all too familiar.
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