Cavan regain that winning feeling ahead of Championship opener

Two second-half bursts of scoring, in the third quarter and then in the closing minutes, elevated the Breffni to Division 3 title success, a year after claiming the Division 4 title
Cavan regain that winning feeling ahead of Championship opener

BACK-TO-BACK: Cavan players celebrate after their side's victory in the Allianz Football League Division 3 final at Croke Park in Dublin. Pic: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Cavan 0-16 Fermanagh 1-7

Mickey Graham reckons Cavan are well set for Championship duty after turning the corner on a mini-slump by lifting silverware at Croke Park.

Two second-half bursts of scoring, in the third quarter and then in the closing minutes, elevated the Breffni to Division 3 title success, a year after claiming the Division 4 title.

Having gone from Division 1 to Division 4 in consecutive seasons between 2019 and 2021, Cavan are upwardly mobile again and will hit their Ulster SFC opener against Armagh or Antrim on April 22 in a positive mood.

They'd lost their final two games of the group campaign, to Antrim and Fermanagh, and required the Croke Park win to wrestle back vital pre-Championship momentum.

"Coming off the back of two defeats in our last two games, people were probably questioning the position we'd found ourselves in after the first five games," said Graham. "They were maybe wondering had we lost our edge so it was a good response from the lads.

"We would have been a bit disappointed with the first-half, more disappointed in our own performance. We felt we were playing within ourselves. We made a lot of handling errors and probably gave the ball away too cheaply but I thought in the second-half we started to work harder, forced a lot of turnovers and the substitutes that came in gave fresh impetus for us rushing forward."

Trailing by 0-5 to 1-3 after a forgettable first-half played in slippery conditions, Cavan opened up with six of the next seven points. Goalkeeper Raymond Galligan slotted three of those scores from placed balls and finished as the top scorer with four points.

Fermanagh got the margin back to a point at one stage before the 2022 Tailteann Cup finalists took off again with five points in a row to close out the game.

Having rested key players like Gearoid McKiernan, Dara McVeety, Paddy Lynch and Gerard Smith during the previous two games, all of those players returned this time as Cavan clearly placed a premium on winning the title. Jason McLoughlin was a standout performer with a terrific man marking job on Ultan Kelm who had scored 1-3 against Cavan the previous weekend.

"We probably learned a bit more from that game than Fermanagh learned," suggested Graham. "And if you don't take the learnings from the week before you have to take a good look at yourself."

Cavan have three weeks until they begin their Championship campaign though both the Division 4 finalists - Wicklow and Sligo - are back out next weekend.

"It is very unfair to play a league final this weekend and then play in the Championship next weekend," said Graham. "If you want respect for the league final, give teams two weeks to prepare for the Championship at least."

Fermanagh manager Kieran Donnelly had an alternative take, saying he was happy to have a relatively short turnaround to their Ulster SFC clash with Derry on Saturday week.

"The beauty of it now is that you are back on the horse nearly straight away," said Donnelly who lamented their lack of penetration 'inside the Cavan '45' in the second-half in particular.

Scorers for Cavan: R Galligan (0-4, 2 frees, 2 '45s); P Lynch (0-3, 2 frees); G McKiernan (1 free), O Brady (0-2); R O'Neill, J Smith, D McVeety, C Smith, C Madden (0-1).

Scorers for Fermanagh : D McGurn (1-0); R Lyons (0-3, 2 frees); S McNally (1 free), A Breen, R Jones, S Quigley (0-1).

CAVAN: R Galligan; N Carolan, P Faulkner, C Brady; D McVeety, K Clarke, C Madden; J McKenna, J Smith; G Smith, G McKiernan, J McCabe; O Brady, P Lynch, R O'Neill.

Subs: C Brady for McKenna (19); J McLoughlin for Carolan (h/t); C Smith for O'Neill (46); C Madden for McKiernan (63); T Madden for McCabe (66).

FERMANAGH: S McNally; L Cullen, C Cullen, L Flanagan; J Cassidy, S McGullion, C McManus; R Jones, B Horan; J Largo Ellis, R Lyons, R McCaffrey; U Kelm, D McGurn, A Breen.

Subs: S Quigley for Breen (43); D McCusker for McManus (43); C McShea for Largo Ellis (52); G Jones for McGurn (59); C McGee for Horan (73).

Referee: A Nolan (Wicklow).

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