Tailteann glory won't match Ulster joy for Cavan

"If you asked me would I rather win an Ulster championship or win a Tailteann Cup, it's a fairly straight answer for me."
Tailteann glory won't match Ulster joy for Cavan

In attendance at the launch of the 2022 Táilteann Cup, at Croke Park in Dublin, are back row, from left, Kevin Maguire of Westmeath, Evan O’Carroll of Laois, Darragh Foley of Carlow, Niall Murphy of Sligo, Teddy Doyle of Tipperary, Killian Clarke of Cavan, Mark Diffley of Leitrim, Dean Heal of Wicklow, Conor Stewart of Antrim. Front row, from left, Mickey Quinn of Longford, Martin O’Connor of Wexford, Conor Murray of Waterford, Uachtarán Chumann Lúthchleas Gael Larry McCarthy, Declan McCusker of Fermanagh, Johnny Moloney of Offaly and Barry O’Hagan of Down. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

They're tournament favourites, and considerably so, but Killian Clarke isn't too sure if Cavan would celebrate a Tailteann Cup win like it's 2020.

It's still only 18 months since Cavan were crowned Ulster champions by beating Donegal, a genuine All-Ireland contender, whom they pushed hard again in this season's provincial semi-finals.

Yet, somehow, here Cavan are, lined up on the front row of the grid for a competition that has been created for weaker counties. An All-Ireland in name but certainly not a bucket list target for Mickey Graham's men.

"If you asked me would I rather win an Ulster championship or win a Tailteann Cup, it's a fairly straight answer for me," said Clarke, a provincial final hero in 2020.

Still, Cavan didn't end up here by accident. Between 2019 and 2021 they played 18 National League games and lost 13, resulting in three consecutive relegations. Somehow, in the middle of all that, they won the Ulster title and played Dublin in an All-Ireland semi-final but the league table doesn't lie.

The low point of it all? Leaking three goals and losing a Division 3 relegation play-off to Wicklow last year.

"Cavan, since I've been involved with them, this last year 10 years, a lot of our stats show that we do a lot of things very well but probably the scoring side of things lets us down a lot of the time, scoring accuracy moreso," said Clarke.

"That day was very poor against Wicklow, they scored three goals in that game. That's something you wouldn't have associated with Cavan throughout the years, conceding goals like that. We were definitely caught on the hop that day and we needed to learn and to move on."

Derry have presented a template of sorts for Cavan to follow on their road back. Like Cavan, Derry also went from Division 1 to Division 4 in double quick time before eventually stopping the rot and turning things around. The two counties actually met last year in Division 3, Derry on the way back up, Cavan on the slide down. Tomorrow, Derry will contest the Ulster final.

"Yeah, it's true," nodded Clarke of the comparison and the suggestion that Cavan have similar long-term ambitions. "One thing you would say about Division 4, you can work on a few bits and pieces and there's maybe not as much pressure on you as you might associate with a Division 1 game. You can't be blooding new players if a game is in the melting pot in Division 1. With some of the games we've had in Division 4, we were able to run a few more subs in and get a few more minutes under the belt."

Down operated two divisions above Cavan this term but they'll both meet in Division 3 in 2023, neatly summing up how their respective campaigns went. James McCartan has lost a number of experienced performers too from his already underperforming panel since the 0-23 to 2-7 loss to Monaghan, including former Aussie Rules man Caolan Mooney. Throw in home advantage for Cavan and you can see why they're 1/10 favourites today.

"It'll be an interesting one, obviously there were a few departures in Down so you're probably getting a mixed bag, there's probably a few of the U-20s drafted in," said Clarke. "You could be dealing with a completely different animal to what you seen throughout the year. It could go one of two ways; it could galvanise them or they could down tools."

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