Wednesday 13 December 2017

Hyland insists Johnston recall the right decision for Cavan football

Cavan's Seanie Johnston
Cavan's Seanie Johnston
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

This weekend the Armagh manager will face the Cavan player he formerly managed in Kildare. Or, in other words, Kieran McGeeney faces a Breffni side that will likely include Seanie Johnston.

The saga has come full circle now. Johnston is back with Cavan and his performance last weekend in the come-from-behind win against Meath suggested he's edging back towards his best. And it's another layer of intrigue to a league encounter that has plenty of draw even without any of the Johnston sub-plot.

With both sides on one win from three outings, whoever wins in Kingspan Breffni Park tomorrow night can start to look towards promotion rather than over their shoulder. They are also two sides with plenty of recent history given the row that marred the parade before the 2014 Ulster Championship clash while when they met in the McKenna Cup five players saw red in a tempestuous clash in Crossmaglen that warmed a cold January day.

To add further heat to the situation, this is a game that is a dress rehearsal for the summer showdown later this year

"There'll be no shadow boxing," Cavan manager Terry Hyland offers, when asked if the teams might be tempted to hold something in reserve for the championship clash.

"There are two points on offer here and the trouble with Division 2, it's that sort of league with everyone taking points off each other."

Cavan were within a whisker of promotion to the top flight last year but Hyland doesn't believe it's as simple as Cavan gunning for Division 1 in order to make progress in the championship.

"History says that's where you have to be to win things. And the top four or five teams in Division 1 haven't changed much in the last while if you look at it.

"But you come back to things like population base and resources. You can bridge that gap short term when you get a bunch of players who will keep you there.

"But in order to stay up you're playing your best team and then maybe young fellas can't get into the team and they might get fed up waiting on their chance and, all of a sudden, the conveyor belt stops."

For now, the only focus is on picking up another two points against his old adversary McGeeney. Hyland was manager when Johnston made his championship debut for Kildare in Cavan. It had been an ugly, and at times, farcical affair with Johnston lining out in the Kildare hurling championship to confirm his eligibility.

Fate wouldn't allow for a soft opening to his career in white as the Qualifier route sent them to Breffni. Kildare were much too good on the day and salt was rubbed in the wound when Johnston came off the bench to kick a late score in a 17-point win. After that game, Hyland's body language read of a man who was biting his lip, describing the build-up to the clash as a "circus". However, he didn't rule out a return to the Cavan colours for Johnston.

And that's exactly what transpired last week when Hyland sent out a team that included the Cavan Gaels club man. Johnston made the first start of his second coming against Meath, having last played for Cavan in 2011.

These days, Hyland is in diplomatic mood when asked about the saga.

"I think it was unfortunate for all concerned. And I think Seanie would say that himself."

There was deep hurt in Cavan football at the time but Hyland insists the decision to recall him came down to nothing more complicated than picking the best players available.

"You have to be pragmatic in life. You can't cut off you nose to spite your face and we've lost other fellas who have come back like David Givney and Eugene Keating too. You make the best of what you have."

Irish Independent

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