National League Division Two
Cavan v Laois
Sunday, O’Moore Park, 2pm
DEMOTION to the tier-two championship is a pretty unedifying prospect, and it’s partially why Cavan boss Mickey Graham thinks Division Two is shaping up to be so competitive this year.
The Breffni County grabbed a much-needed victory over Westmeath at the weekend. Not only was it a massive morale boost after their opening-day horror show against Armagh, but every single point will be crucial this season in avoiding the unwanted repercussions of relegation to Division Three.
The two teams which face the drop will play in the inaugural tier-two championship later in the year – unless and only unless they manage to reach their provincial final – but Cavan will do their chances of staying up no harm whatsoever if they pick up two points on the road against Laois this weekend.
“Even before a ball was kicked everyone knew it was going to be a real battle in Division Two, and I still think there’ll be a lot of twists and turns before the league finishes.
“Every game is tough and with the new tiered championships there’s extra pressure on teams. You can’t just use the league to plan for the championship any more. It’s almost championship football in itself.
“If you ask teams even in Division Four, they’d tell you they want to be in the race for Sam Maguire. That’s why you play football and why you compete.
“I think that’s why teams in Division Three are so determined this year to get out of it, and the teams in Division Two don’t want to lose the opportunity of playing at the top grade in the championship.”
Graham was the first to admit that Cavan were insipid in their first league outing against Armagh. Things weren’t going much better against Westmeath either, but they came from six points down in the 50th minute to win a topsy-turvy game. They outscored their opponents by 1-9 to 0-2 to claim the victory and in doing so reminded their supporters that they still have something about them despite losing high-profile players like Cian Mackey, Dara McVeety, Conor Moynagh and Killian Clarke over the winter.
“After what happened against Armagh, it was important that we at the very least produced a performance against Westmeath and in the first-half we didn’t perform at all. It was riddled with unforced passing errors and at half-time we were a bit frustrated with that.
“We talked about sorting ourselves out – it was all about having a go at Westmeath in the second-half and the lads proved to be up to the challenge.”
A turning-point was the decision to bring on Stephen Murray and Thomas Galligan at half-time. They led their second-half revival but the team as a whole improved tenfold when the fat was in the fire.
“You’re always looking for lads to make an impact when you bring on substitutes and the two lads definitely made an impact when they came on. They were hungry to get on the ball and keen to make things happen. They led the charge and the rest of the lads followed suit. The team upped their worth ethic and cut out the mistakes and handling errors.”
They have a tough match this weekend, though, against table-toppers Laois who won with plenty to spare against Armagh. For the second week in-a-row the Leinster men have home advantage and Graham is conscious of that.
“You’re only as good as your last game. The week before wasn’t so good for us so we just have to take it one game at a time. O’Moore Park is a very tough place to go to and they seem to have a bit of momentum now so they’ll be really confident. They’ve hit the ground running so it’ll be a really tough game for us.”
Graham, who led the team to an Ulster final place in his first season in charge, says it’s almost like starting afresh with so many key players out of the picture at the moment, but he also says that plenty of players haven’t left the flock.
“Last year we were trying to do things differently and put your stamp on it, then to lose players and bring in new ones.
“You’re almost starting all over again but there is a good core of players who were there last year.. We’re getting the new lads game-time and time to develop. It’s never going to be easy for them to come straight into it especially when you have five or six new lads, it does take time.”