Thursday 22 February 2018

We must lift game for league – Clarke

Cavan skipper out to build on McKenna Cup run with Fermanagh scalp

Cavan captain Alan Clarke
Cavan captain Alan Clarke
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

CAVAN football's 'feel-good factor' is back after a bright start to the season in the Dr McKenna Cup, but the Allianz League Division 3 campaign presents a new challenge.

That's the view of captain Alan Clarke as Cavan prepare to welcome old rivals Fermanagh to Kingspan Breffni Park tomorrow night.

The only drawback so far was the postponement of the Dr McKenna Cup final against Tyrone last week end due to a waterlogged pitch at Brewster Park in Enniskillen.

"It would have been lovely to get that finished up with and move on and give the league our full focus," said Clarke (right). "But under the circumstances with the weather, you wouldn't have had a great game of football last weekend.

"We definitely value the McKenna Cup because you get a chance to play teams from different divisions, so it's a good spread of opposition, and gives you a good indication of where you stand.

"Going into the start of the league, we would love to have played against Tyrone to see where we are in relation to them – but we are happy enough with the way that the Dr McKenna Cup went for us." Cavan and Tyrone will contest the McKenna Cup final on February 19 when both teams will have played two rounds of league action.

For now, Clarke and his Breffni team-mates have only one focus: getting two points against Fermanagh tomorrow night.

Last year the counties met in the Ulster championship, the All-Ireland qualifiers and the league, and Cavan won the two championship matches, while Fermanagh got a win in their Division 3 clash.

New Fermanagh boss Pete McGrath has suggested that Cavan have the makings of the best team in their section this season, but Clarke is having none of that.

"I take that with a pinch of salt. Monaghan and Meath were the strongest teams in the division last year. We felt we could beat them going into those matches, but they proved they were the best teams over the course of the league, and both of them were promoted.

"In Division 3, any team will feel they can beat anyone else, and they'll all feel they have a chance to get promotion.

"We're not worried about what anyone else says. It's about trying to get ourselves right and we'll worry about that," he said.

The mood in the Cavan camp is definitely upbeat after their run to the All-Ireland quarter-finals in which they lost to Kerry, followed by good performances this month in the McKenna Cup.

"We're probably coming from a better place this year than we were last year," suggested Clarke.

"Going into the McKenna Cup, we felt we had the players capable of doing well in it.

"We knew the way we wanted to play and it kind of carried over from the good run last year when we got to the All-Ireland quarter-final. The team has changed quite a bit because there were a number of players that didn't get starting last year and they're pushing on this year.

RESONANCE

"Training is good and everyone is putting in a big effort. It's enjoyable but it's hard work, believe me. There's a lot of hours put into it during the week."

Any match against Fermanagh has a certain resonance for the Cavan skipper, as he made his championship debut against them in 2010, and knows that Pete McGrath's side would love to embarrass the Breffni team on their own turf.

"We know that Fermanagh are not going to lie down against Cavan. In any of the games we played last year, especially the first game up in Brewster Park in the Ulster championship, we never felt we were out of danger until we actually won the game," said Clarke.

Manager Terry Hyland is targeting promotion to Division 2, but the first task is to overcome Fermanagh.

Cavan will hope to learn a lesson from last year's opening match against Antrim.

"We probably didn't play as well as we could and lost to Antrim. That was a setback to our hopes for promotion last year. The home games are important, but we know that we have to up our performance level this year, especially in the away games," said Clarke.

Irish Independent

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