TAILTEANN CUP SEMI-FINAL
Cavan v Sligo
Sunday, Croke Park, 1.45pm
By Niall Gartland
SOMETIMES in conversations about the prospect of a reunified Ireland, you’ll come across the term ‘historic destiny’
Unionists typically scorn the notion – the idea that a United Ireland is essentially inevitable due to demographic change and what not – and you could almost apply the term to Cavan and the Tailteann Cup competition.
In a poll conducted on Gaelic Life’s Twitter account this week, a massive 92 percent of respondents fancy Cavan to overcome Sligo in this weekend’s semi-final contest.
Indeed, from the very outset, the consensus seems to be that this is Cavan’s competition to lose. So far they’ve lived up to their billing, but nothing in this life is guaranteed and they’ll still need to show up and get the job done against a decent Sligo side, who narrowly missed out on a promotion berth in Division Four earlier in the year.
The reason why Cavan are raging hot favourites is quite simple; they’ve played four championship games this season and they’ve been rock solid in every outing.
They trounced Antrim on their first day out, gave Donegal plenty to think about on their second, and did a thorough job of dispensing of Ulster opponents Down and Fermanagh in their Tailteann Cup games to date (presumably they’ll be thrilled by the prospect of playing a non-Ulster opponent for a change).
This is Cavan’s first game at Croker since their All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin in that god forsaken year that was 2020. Played in an empty amphitheatre, Mickey Graham’s side were on that occasion firm underdogs and lost out by 1-24 0-12.
It had actually been a decent enough showing and 10 of the starting 15 lined out against Fermanagh a fortnight ago. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a weakened outfit – Paddy Lynch in particular has made a name for himself as an all-action full-forward this year and elsewhere they look strong and stable.
Young Niall Carolan, who captained the U-20 team this year, also made his starting debut against Fermanagh and fared very well.
When these two teams met during the league in early February, Cavan claimed a 1-13 to 0-10 victory on the road.
Chillingly for Sligo, Cavan were missing a number of important players including Thomas Galligan, Conor Brady, Martin Reilly and Ciaran Brady.
Killian Clarke and Gerry Smith came on in the closing minutes when the game was already wrapped up, and Cavan have been a different animal in the championship months, which has generally been the case during the Mickey Graham era. Moreover, former team captain Conor Moynagh has been making decent progress on the road back to fitness and could be in contention to play some park.
It all bodes well for Cavan’s chances, but the Tailteann Cup has been embraced across the board and Tony McEntee’s Sligo would relish a place in the final against either Westmeath or Offaly.
The mood is good in the county after a historic Connacht final victory at u-20 level against Galway two months back, and while supporters have been rather critical of the senior team’s performances in recent months, there were no complaints after their Tailteann Cup quarter-final victory over Leitrim.
It was an epic match that culminated in a penalty shoot-out. Sligo kept their heads and advanced to the last four, and on the whole it was a deserved victory with a number of players playing extremely well. Alan Reilly lorded the skies while Keelan Cawley forced a number of turnovers, but on the flipside none of their half-forward line scored from play and they racked up a significant number of wides.
Fitness shouldn’t be an issue – their first-round Tailteann Cup clash against London went to extra-time as well – and their full-back line has been very impressive.
They also have pace in the team. Most of all, they’re playing with a real spirit and will go into this weekend’s game believing that they have the tools to stage what would be one of the biggest upsets of the season.
However, realistically, Cavan should secure their place in the final without much fuss if they bring their ‘A’ game to proceedings. Both of these teams played in Division Four this season, but that was an indictment on Cavan’s league form over recent seasons and doesn’t reflect the talent that they have at their disposal.
After an indifferent 2021, they’ve got their act together and silverware is in sight. Expect them to book a place in the first ever Tailteann Cup final on July 9.