Saturday 18 November 2017

Ulster SFC preview: Plenty of challenges for Cavan

County by County guide

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte
Derry’s Mark Lynch

2014 looks like being a big challenge for Cavan to repeat last year's heroics.

Antrim

All-Ireland titles: None

Ulster titles: 10 (1951 last one)

Manager: Liam Bradley (1st year)

Captain: Niall McKeever

Last year: Monaghan 0-11, Antrim 0-6 (Ulster quarter-final); Louth 1-17, Antrim 1-11 (round one qualifier).

2014 NFL: 6th Div 4, W2, L5.

Last big championship achievement: 2009 Ulster finalists.

Key man: Niall McKeever has taken some time to adjust since returning from three years in the AFL but the benefit of that experience may tell later in the summer to Antrim's advantage.

Who could make a name for himself? Ronan McGrady's 3-4 in the drawn Ulster U-21 quarter-final against Armagh underlined his potential. Sent off early in the subsequent replay, he didn't feature in all Antrim's league games but is a player the management believe can develop further this season.

Prospects: Antrim may well have their eye on picking off a couple of qualifier wins, as a trip to Fermanagh in their opening round may just be beyond them. The Saffrons have been hit with internal issues with the departure of three players after the league campaign, including CJ McGourty, but they are still better placed, personnel-wise, than last year.

Betting: Ulster 66/1, All-Ireland 1000/1.

First game: Away to Fermanagh in Brewster Park on Sunday, June 1.

Armagh

All-Ireland titles: 1 (2002)

Ulster titles: 14 (2008)

Manager: Paul Grimley (2nd year)

Captain: Jamie Clarke

Last year: Cavan 1-15, Armagh 1-11 (Ulster preliminary round); Armagh 2-21, Wicklow 0-2; Armagh 8-13, Leitrim 0-10; Galway 1-11, Armagh 0-9 (round three qualifier)

2014 NFL: 7th Div 2 (relegated on head-to-head with Galway) W2, D1, L4.

Last big championship achievement: 2008 - Ulster champions.

Key man: Jamie Clarke delights and frustrates in equal measure but Armagh can't deny the matchwinner in their company.

Who could make a name for himself? Stefan Campbell showed glimpses of ability in last year's qualifiers and was one of their more prolific forwards during a disappointing league.

Prospects: Can Armagh establish what their best team is? And if they can do that, can they get that team out on a field fully fit? No squad has been as badly hit by injuries, and a period of mass transition has brought great uncertainty. Capable of beating Cavan at home but after that will have to seek solace from the qualifiers. A place in the last 12 is a reasonable target. They have the capacity to improve over the summer.

Betting: Ulster 12/1, All-Ireland 100/1

First game: Home to Cavan in the Athletic Grounds on June 8.

Cavan

All-Ireland titles: 5 (1952)

Ulster titles: 39 (1997)

Manager: Terry Hyland (4th year, 3rd as manager outright)

Captain: Alan Clarke

Last year: Cavan 1-15, Armagh 1-11; Cavan 0-13, Fermanagh 0-11; Monaghan 1-10, Cavan 0-12 (Ulster semi-final); Cavan 1-14, Fermanagh 0-10; Cavan 1-22, Derry 0-20; Cavan 1-17, London 1-8; Kerry 0-15, Cavan 0-9 (All-Ireland quarter-final).

2014 NFL: 1st Div 3. W7, L0.

Last big championship achievement: Reached 2013 All-Ireland quarter-final.

Key man: Cian Mackey was transformed last season, and his penetrating runs and link play have become a key component to Cavan's game plan.

Who could make a name for himself? Michael Argue has delivered some towering displays at midfield for the U-21 team and his cameo in the recent Division 3 league final suggests he can develop into Cavan's anchor over the next few seasons.

Prospects: With the swell of winning U-21 teams behind them, time should be on their side, but how many of those players will really make a difference to what is already there? Doubts as to whether Cavan can expand their game sufficiently to take the next step are surfacing. Their quarter-final in Armagh is a potential ambush waiting to happen. After last year's progress, 2014 may be a little more challenging.

Betting: Ulster 12/1, All-Ireland 100/1.

First game: Away to Armagh in the Athletic Grounds, Sunday, June 8.

Derry

All-Ireland titles: 1 (1993)

Ulster titles: 7 (1998)

Manager: Brian McIver (2nd year)

Captain: Mark Lynch

Last year: Down 2-17, Derry 1-15 (Ulster quarter-final); Derry 0-15, Sligo 0-8; Derry 0-13, Down 1-5; Cavan 1-22, Derry 0-20 (round three qualifier).

2014 NFL: Beaten Div 1 finalists, 2nd Div 1, W4, D1, L2.

Last big championship achievement: Reached 2004 All-Ireland semi-final.

Key man: Mark Lynch was devastating throughout the league until the malaise of the first half of the league final against Dublin.

Who could make a name for himself? Ciaran McFaul has made steady progress this year and can develop into one of their main playmakers.

Prospects: Win at home to Donegal and the season can open up for them. An Ulster final they are capable of winning awaits them.

Betting: Ulster 7/2, All-Ireland 33/1.

First game: Home to Donegal in Celtic Park, Sunday, May 25.

Donegal

All-Ireland titles: 2 (2012)

Ulster titles: 7 (2012)

Manager: Jim McGuinness (4th year)

Captain: Michael Murphy

Last year: Donegal 2-10, Tyrone 0-10; Donegal 0-12, Down 0-9; Monaghan 0-13, Donegal 0-7 (Ulster final); Donegal 0-14, Laois 0-8; Mayo 4-17, Donegal 1-10.

2014 NFL: Beaten Div 2 finalists, 1st Div 2, W5, D1, L1.

Last big championship achievement: All-Ireland champions 2012.

Key man: Donegal need something close to the Karl Lacey of 2011 and 2012 if they are to regain the aura they had in those years. Now based in Limerick and coming off a raft of injuries last year, a return to form has been challenging.

Who could make a name for himself? Successive league selections suggest that they'll be picking from virtually the same group of players that they have drawn from over the last few seasons. But Darach O'Connor is a young forward who can potentially give them something different.

Prospects: The league ended poorly and has raised doubts about Donegal's ability to cope at the very top any more. But their preparations were always being geared towards Celtic Park and Jim McGuinness has shown an expertise in recent seasons at long-term planning. The draw makes an Ulster final place wholly attainable but beyond that a patent lack of squad depth – all the more so since Mark McHugh's departure – may become more relevant.

Betting: Ulster 3/1, All-Ireland 20/1.

First game: Away to Derry in Celtic Park, Sunday, May 25.

Down

All-Ireland titles 5 (1994)

Ulster titles: 12 (1994)

Manager: James McCartan (5th year)

Captain: Mark Poland

Last year: Down 2-17, Derry 1-15; Donegal 0-12, Down 0-9 (Ulster semi-final); Derry 0-13, Down 1-5 (second-round qualifier).

2014 NFL: 4th Div 2, W3, D1, L3.

Last big championship achievement: Reached 2010 All-Ireland final.

Key man: Mark Poland is a centre-forward in the classic mould, a playmaker, a conscientious passer of the ball with so many neat touches.

Who could make a name for himself? Not much new material coming through in Down but Ryan Johnston has the pace to bring some of the penetration that they continually lack as an attacking force.

Prospects: Down's league was highly frustrating. They thrived at home but bombed badly in their last three games on the road. After beating Donegal they lost to Meath and Laois. There has been little to enthuse about them and an early exit from the province seems inevitable. They've just lost too many key players in recent years to be a sustainable championship force.

Betting: Ulster 22/1, All-Ireland 66/1.

First game: Away to Tyrone, Healy Park, Sunday, May 18.

Fermanagh

All-Ireland titles: none.

Ulster titles: none

Manager: Peter McGrath (1st year)

Captain: Eoin Donnelly

Last year: Cavan 0-13, Fermanagh 0-11 (Ulster quarter-final); Fermanagh 3-10, Westmeath 1-15; Cavan 1-14, Fermanagh 0-10 (second round qualifier).

2014 NFL: 3rd Div 3, W3, D1, L3.

Last big championship achievement: Reached 2008 Ulster final.

Key man: In the absence of Sean and Seamus Quigley, responsibility in attack has fallen elsewhere and Ryan Jones appears to be one who can thrive on that at centre-forward.

Who could make a name for himself? Che Cullen. Bedded down as Fermanagh's full back for the last three league games and has acquitted himself well in Peter McGrath's defence.

Prospects: Despite the upheaval of the Quigley brothers removing themselves from the squad in the middle of the league, Fermanagh still finished best of the rest behind Cavan and Roscommon in Division 3. That's far superior form to an Antrim side that lost away to Carlow and has been hit with their own departures. Can reach an Ulster semi-final, but not much more in them than that.

Betting: Ulster 35/1, All-Ireland 500/1.

First game: Home to Antrim, Brewster Park, Sunday, June 1.

Monaghan

All-Ireland titles: none

Ulster titles: 14 (2013)

Manager: Malachy O'Rourke (2nd season)

Captain: Conor McManus

Last year: Monaghan 0-11, Antrim 0-6; Monaghan 1-10, Cavan 0-12; Monaghan 0-13, Donegal 0-7 (Ulster final); Tyrone 0-14, Monaghan 0-12 (All-Ireland quarter-final)

2014 NFL: Div 2 champions, 2nd Div 2, W5, D1, L1.

Last big championship achievement: Won 2013 Ulster title.

Key man: The drive and impetus that Darren Hughes gives Monaghan with those surging runs around midfield add another dimension to their play.

Who could make a name for himself? Fintan Kelly may be ready to follow in the progressive footsteps of corner-back colleague Colin Walshe, judging by his most recent displays.

Prospects: No reason why they can't defend their Ulster title but their path is more difficult than last year and their record against Tyrone is poor. That said, they are brimming with confidence and comfortable with the system they play.

Betting: Ulster 7/2, All-Ireland 20/1.

First game: Home to Tyrone or Down in Clones, Sunday, June 15.

Tyrone

All-Ireland titles: 3 (2008)

Ulster titles: 13 (2010)

Manager: Mickey Harte (12th season)

Captain: Sean Cavanagh.

Last year: Donegal 2-10, Tyrone 0-10 (Ulster quarter-final); Tyrone 1-27, Offaly 0-8; Tyrone 0-12, Roscommon 1-7; Tyrone 1-11, Kildare 0-12, Tyrone 0-17, Meath 2-9; Tyrone 0-14, Monaghan 0-12; Mayo 1-16, Tyrone 0-13 (All-Ireland semi-final)

2014 NFL: 5th Div 1, W3, D2, L2.

Last big championship achievement: Won 2010 Ulster title.

Key man: For all the inspiration Sean Cavanagh provides, Mattie Donnelly remains their most influential player, whether as a half-back, half-forward or full-forward. He offers Harte such a range of options.

Who could make a name for himself? Kyle Coney. It's six years since he set the All-Ireland minor championship alight and served notice of his potential but, injuries apart, adaption to senior football has been slow. In the league game against Cork, there were signs he could finally be ready to take the next step.

Prospects: The expected impetus from reaching an All-Ireland semi-final against Mayo last summer did not materialise in the early part of the season. The shift away from deployment of a sweeper hasn't produced much dividend either. Tyrone still have a lot of strands but no real clear structure yet and will need to win four tough games to win Ulster. That may be beyond them.

Betting: Ulster 3/1, All-Ireland 12/1

First game: Home to Down, Healy Park, Sunday, May 18.

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