Ulster U-20 Football Championship quarter-final
Monaghan v Cavan
Friday, Inniskeen, 8.15pm
By Niall Gartland
DESPITE the fierce rivalry between the two counties, Cavan u-20 boss Damien Donohoe admits it’s difficult not to admire their Ulster Championship quarter-final opponents Monaghan.
The Farney County are small in population but big in ambition and have a particularly strong u-20 team as they won the Ulster Minor Championship three years back.
They also reached last year’s u-20 showdown where they lost narrowly to down, and the contrast couldn’t be more stark with the Breffni County, who haven’t won a game at this level since 2019.
Damien Donohoe, in his second season in charge, knows it’ll be a big ask to get the better of their opponents this Friday evening. Monaghan won Ulster with this team at minor level and I imagine they’re favourites to win the Ulster Championship.
“They have a lot of experience, and a lot of the team who lost last year’s Ulster final are still available.
“Monaghan have done phenomenal work at underage level and they’re always there or thereabouts. They’re a small county like ourselves, they maximises their resources to perfection and that’s the example we’re trying to follow.”
Cavan won four Ulster U-21 titles in a row between 2011 and 2014, but they’ve struggled to make any sort of impact in the meantime. Donohoe says they’re trying hard to arrest their slide in fortunes.
“We were doing brilliant work with development squads in the four or five years building up to that success.
“Nicholas Walsh had set up a really organised system but we took our eye off the ball and reduced the number of sessions we were doing with development squads.
“Maybe some people thought we were doing too much but there was a change in approach anyway, and at the end of the day it led to a down-turn.
“There was a review done and a pathway led out to improve things and hopefully we start to see a good return on that.”
On the coaching set-up is former Cavan star Mark McKeever, who is still going strong with his club Gowna, and brings his considerable expertise to proceedings.
“Mark’s still doing all the coaching, he’s very much focused on skill work, he watches all the videos to make sure all the technical parts are right and he’s phenomenal at that.
“What I love about Mark is that he played county football for 14 or 15 years and you want lads to want that for themselves. He’s a great example and the lads really respect him and that’s a big thing.”
Cavan had a mixed pre-season, setting aside a poor defeat to Westmeath to get the better of Armagh, but on the whole preparations are much better than last year’s Covid-impacted season.
“We’ve essentially been together since December, we’ve had a lot of time to get work done in comparison with last year. Last year we felt we were squeezing everything into a short period of time. We felt like things were going well but we got a flat performance against a Down team that turned out to be particularly good, winning the Ulster Championship.”
READ MORE – Hear from the Monaghan camp via former senior star Dermot Malone. Click here…