Cavan v Tyrone
Saturday, Clones, 5pm
By Barry O’Donnell
TYRONE captain Matthew Donnelly is wary that his side will be up against a Cavan outfit who have had ‘two weeks to lick their wounds’ after their Ulster Final humiliation.
The Breffni Blues were no match for Donegal in the recent provincial decider, late consolation goals merely masking the overall gulf in class between the two teams on the day at Clones.
The mood within Mickey Graham’s camp probably wasn’t helped by drawing Tyrone in this weekend’s Round 4 Qualifier, back at St Tiernach’s Park.
However with the Promised Land of ‘Super Eight’ football now just 70 minutes away for the victors this Saturday, Donnelly asserts that Cavan’s ultimate objective this season remains still within their grasp, even if they failed to secure the Anglo-Celt Cup.
“It’s a bit like ourselves, despite that loss they’ll still be targeting the Super 8s. Prior to their provincial final they were targeting the Super 8s anyway. Now they have had two weeks to lick their wounds.
“It’s county football, a professional set-up, so they will have that buried and will have moved on. They still have a massive chance to get into the ‘Super Eights’, that is how they will be viewing it. We knew whoever we got in Monday’s draw they would be coming at us hammer and tongs this weekend.”
Tyrone’s own credentials as a bone fide contender for the All-Ireland were being roundly questioned after the limp nature of their own reversal to Donegal in the Ulster Championship semi-final. They got the show back on the road with a low key victory over Longford in the first of the Qualifiers, but picked it up again significantly last Saturday in dismissing Kildare at Newbridge by ten points.
Donnelly was one of the stand-out performers for the visitors, chipping in with three points as the Red Hands amassed an impressive scoring tally of 2-22 overall, with 2-17 coming from open play. The skipper was naturally pleased to have overcome a potentially tricky hurdle in impressive fashion.
“You are always satisfied after a win. In the Qualifier route in the Championship all that matters is the result because it is straight knockout. That is what we went to Newbridge to get so we had to be happy.
“You’ve seen the scalps they have took there in the past, as recently as last year against Mayo. They do create a very volatile atmosphere. We know the quality Kildare have, they are always capable of taking anyone out so we were extremely focused coming down the road.
“We knew what we were up against and we knew what to expect. It was really about being focused and calm in the big moments. We had a bit of a cushion in the end when they went down to fourteen men. That took a bit of pressure off us as well. So were just happy to be coming out of it with a victory.”
The path to the Super 8s has opened up now for all eight teams competing the final round of back-door clashes this weekend. Tyrone will be pitched into Group A alongside Roscommon, Dublin and the winners of the Cork vs Laois tie should they get the better of the Breffnis.
As enticing a prospect as that is, Donnelly was refusing to look beyond this weekend’s encounter.
“The eight teams left who were looking to get into the quarter-finals they all expect to be in the Super 8s so you were going to get a tricky one no matter what.
It’s going to be very similar, it’s a quick turnaround. I suppose that is the novelty of the back door.
“You only find out your opponent on Monday morning so you have to prepare as best you can. You get the previous game digested and reviewed early in the week and then quickly turn your focus to the next opposition. It requires a lot of detail and a lot of focus.”
Much of the focus in the aftermath of the Kildare match, centred on the more defensive tactical template adopted by the visitors, with the likes of Donnelly and Peter Harte drifting deeper to fortify the back unit, and then utilising their counter-attack running game when in possession. It’s a style which has served Tyrone well in the past but not in the two key Championship clashes with Dublin.
Mattie though stressed that at the minute it’s a case of horses for courses, and didn’t rule out a return to a more attacking role, alongside Cathal McShane, in upcoming matches.
“That’s the role I was given but it can alter week by week. It really depends on the opposition. We just felt we needed to tighten it up around the middle given we were down a few, the likes of Hampsey, Tiernan, Richie. They are big players around the middle sector so I suppose just to give us a bit of solidity Micky’s placed me there and I’m happy to do a job.”