CAVAN boss Mickey Graham said the dressing room was like a “morgue” in the wake of their drawn encounter against Armagh, but former county captain Mark McKeever anticipates another full throttle performance in Sunday’s eagerly anticipated replay.
Cavan and Armagh played themselves to a standstill, prompting Graham’s post-match comments that “Lads are on their hands and knees and can barely get up to go to the shower. The main thing for next week is that they have the time to freshen up.”
McKeever knows all about commitment to the Cavan cause – he gave 13 years of service before retiring from intercounty duty in 2015 – and he doesn’t think that they may have missed the boat on a first Ulster final appearance in 18 years.
“I think this week will all be about recovery. Those boys are young and very fit so I think they’ll be grand.
“I doubt they’ll do much physical training this week and they seem to have the knack of being at full pelt on the day of the match.
“The only concern really is the couple of knocks they picked up, but there’s good depth in the panel at the moment with the likes of Stephen Murray coming on and making a big impact.”
McKeever had words of praise for the evergreen Cian Mackey, who hit three equalising points in a superb cameo performance against Armagh.
There was a lot of pressure on his shoulders considering that Gearoid McKiernan was having a rare off day in front of the posts, but Mackey showed nerves of steel even though he missed a chance in fading light to hit the winner deep into extra-time.
“Cian was definitely the right man to take those shots and Cavan worked the ball well into him. Gearoid didn’t play to his usual high standard so we needed Cian to come on and do a job for us.
“There’s no better man to do that because he’ll take the right option 99 percent of time and has the ability to score from distance as well.”
McKeever broke onto the Cavan team around the time that Graham’s intercounty career was coming to an end, and he says that he has nothing but admiration for the man.
He was left with plenty to ponder after the drawn encounter – a few key players underperformed, including Martin Reilly who was nullified by Aidan Forker, while they’ll need to do better on the likes of Jarlath Og Burns, who had a field day and has seemingly been ruled fit after being taken off with a head injury on the first day out.
McKeever: “I played with Mickey Graham, he’s a great Cavan man and would love for us to go well. He was a massive supporter even when he was in Longford.
“He seems to be very good with making young players feel confident and, there’s no harm for Cavan to have someone like that coming in. Players maybe got too used to things but Mickey has given things a shot in the arm.”
McKeever, who is a Gowna clubman, is also hopeful that his club colleagues Conor Madden, Conor Brady and Oisin Pierson will have more influential displays in the replay. He thinks their time will come.
“I think they didn’t really get into the game much but that can happen. Armagh brought a massive intensity and it might have been the first time they’ve faced it.
“They didn’t get on the ball that match – the ground they covered was unbelievable in both games in Ulster so far.
“I think it’ll come good for them with the amount of tackling and tracking they do. It was great to see Oisin getting his debut as well, hopefully he’ll get on a bit of ball because he’s a great man to get a score fro you.”
To conclude, McKeever gives Cavan every chance of booking their place in the Ulster final.
“Yeah I suppose I do, I thought they played very well in the first-half and could’ve been a point or two up, Armagh had a goal chance early on and Cavan came back into it. We could’ve gone on to win the game by a couple of points but I thought their goal came at the right time for Armagh. It was a bit of a sucker–punch but I think if Cavan hadn’t conceded it we could’ve gone to win it by a few points.”