It was bound to happen. Just as all good things must come to an end, so too must the bad ones and so it was that Brendan Fitzpatrick on March 28 ended a barren goal streak in the league for Cavan that stretched back to last spring.
In all, almost 700 minutes of football had been played before they found the net for the first time in the NFL since their win over Longford last year. The goal in that game came from a penalty. Fitzpatrick bridged a gap of close to 800 minutes to their last from play in the league.
Naturally, statistics likes “goals scored” pale in comparison to the almighty “W”. Terry Hyland made the same point during the league as he brushed off the lack of goals. However, he can’t ignore a trend that has developed for his team in the province.
Wasn’t it Armagh who stunted their comeback on the back of Caolan Rafferty’s second-half goal last year? And it surely was Chris McGuinness’s goal that proved the difference for Monaghan in 2013. On each occasion, Cavan failed to raise the green flag and were duly knocked out of the Ulster championship.
Monaghan wouldn’t be regarded as true goal-getters themselves: our study earlier this year demonstrated they were 11th best at finding the net across the top two divisions.
However, Cavan were placed worst among the 16 counties with a return of 0.59 goals per game.
That remains the same now.
The “black death” style they have incorporated under Terry Hyland has been held responsible as to why Cavan have become so goal-shy. Obviously, the fewer players that are close to the opponents’ set of posts the more chance that there won’t be three-pointers.
However, not since Larry Reilly have Cavan had a forward with a penchant for putting the ball below the bar. Earlier this year, one of their top marksmen, Eugene Keating left the panel, citing his determination to clear injuries. After losing Alan Clarke and David Givney, it was a major body blow. But Keating wasn’t renowned as a significant goalscorer. He registered one last season.
Their primary finisher Martin Dunne last scored a goal for Cavan from play across league and championship since they beat Fermanagh in the 2013 qualifiers. As much as Seanie Johnson was a leading light for several years, he wasn’t known for finding the net much either. Johnson never scored a goal come championship time, a fact that was raised when he switched to Kildare, who themselves were void of a regular goal-getter.
Go back to 2009, and then-manager Tommy Carr was highlighting their issue in front of goal. After they went more than 400 minutes without scoring a goal, he said: “I think any team has serious intentions to get goals. We have discussed this and maybe we’re just missing that slickness in front of goal.”
Reilly was in his final year as an inter-county footballer at that stage and past his electric best. It’s no surprise that in such a goal-drought time as is now in Cavan, his magic touch is remembered all the more fondly. It was his goal that set the tone for Cavan in beating Donegal in the 2005 qualifier.
Brother Peter was a dab hand at hitting the net too, the pair of them often combining for one another. The Belturbet Reilly, Jason, often came up with a goal as well.
Even if they are thwarted by their own tactics, the present class of Cavan forwards don’t possess the cutting edge as their peers in Division 2 where on their own, Down’s Donal O’Hare (four), Laois’s Donie Kingston (three) and Roscommon’s Diarmuid Murtagh (two) all scored more goals than Cavan across the campaign.
Earlier this week, Cavan’s 1978 All Star Ollie Brady said they will have to score two goals to beat Monaghan. But when one has proven a difficulty in so many games of late how likely is a brace?
In the build-up to tomorrow’s provincial quarter-final, Hyland spoke of another connotation associated with Cavan. “We are not hiding behind the ‘young’ tag anymore and we have to forget that. We are maturing to an age where, in the next two or three years, we need to be doing something major.” A goal or, gulp, two would go some way to starting the process.
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