Cavan off to a winning start for 2023
Paul Fitzpatrick at Portglenone
There’s off-Broadway and then there’s off-off-Broadway and then there was this, a lower-than-low key season-opener at Kelly Park, home grounds of the Roger Casements club in Portglenone, a stone’s throw from the Derry border.
Mickey Graham probably would have used this game to try out some new players regardless but with “seven or eight” regular starters injured, the Cavan manager’s hand was forced – and while the opposition was highly experimental, he will have been quite happy with what his side produced here.
The all-round performance was not overly important and the result even less so but what will have pleased Graham and his management team, as well as the few dozen diehards who made the long trip north, was that Cavan certainly gave the impression of a bunch who are up for the challenge in 2023.
The experienced players – Padraig Faulkner, Killian Clarke, Gerry Smith, Ciaran Brady, Martin Reilly and the returning Dara McVeety et al – bossed the game and their body language and appetite for graft did not betray any lack of appetite. On the other side of the coin, the newcomers – there were four outright debutants and a number of other panellists from previous years got an extended run – were eager to impress, and most of them did. What more can you ask from a McKenna Cup opener, in freezing deepest January?
Cavan played against a gale in the first half and led by 2-5 to 0-6 at the midway point. In the second half, their tempo dropped but in truth, the seven-point margin flattered the hosts, whose goalkeeper Michael Byrne made at least four impressive saves.
Ciaran Brady, who was at his rabble-rousing best, won a free which Oisin Brady, who picked up the official Man of the Match award, converted for the opening score. This was cancelled out by a Dominic McEnhill free but Cavan hit the front again on nine minutes and wouldn’t be headed again.
The goal came as a result of something something we have seen many times – the canny Martin Reilly loitering at the back post, ready to flick one in or grab a break. This time, Ryan O’Neill – whose ball-winning was excellent – gathered a pass and found Smith, whose shot hit the post; Reilly was in the right place to tidy up, tucking to the bottom corner.
Already, Antrim – who kicked 18 wides – were beginning to miss chances and they were lucky not to be further behind, Byrne saving smartly from Reilly and then from Oisin Brady, who rattled the crossbar in the meantime with such power that the ball rebounded 20 metres.
A Brady free made it 1-2 to 0-1 on 20 minutes. Paddy McBride curled over a super score for Antrim but Brady, showing eye-catching deceleration to lose his man, pointed from play and then added a tricky free.
Antrim then enjoyed their best spell when towering full-forward Pat Shivers pointed, Ruairi McCann nailed a 45 and McEnhill a free to leave two in it but Cavan pulled clear again with their second major.
A spectacular catch, on his knees, from McVeety – for our money, the best player on the pitch – started a move, O’Neill contested and broke the ball down and Brandon Boylan latched on to it and finished soccer-style for a well-taken debut goal.
Killian Clarke floated over a long-range point which was cancelled out by Shivers to leave five in it at the break. Antrim came out pressing high on Cavan but got no real joy from it and another terrific point from Clarke made it double scores on the resumption.
A 50-metre free from goalkeeper Liam Brady extended Cavan’s advantage before they spurned a glorious goal chance, Byrne saving from O’Neill when the Kildallan man really should have centred to Reilly.
O’Neill (who was fouled for three of Brady’s frees and involved in both goals) made amends when winning possession, and a free, for Brady to convert after another incisive run from McVeety as the game ticked into the final quarter. Byrne saved again from Reilly – the veteran could easily have had a hat-trick – and Evan Finnegan was narrowly off target after going for the top corner.
O’Neill was again fouled, with Brady doing the needful, as both teams ran their benches. For Cavan, Conor Brady shone immediately, with the rest of the subs all showing fairly well in the closing minutes.
Conor Brady linked with cousin Oisin for Cavan’s last point, finished by the top corner, and Ryan Murray had the final say as the visitors won pulling up.
Armagh, on Wednesday night, will be an entirely different proposition, as Graham stated afterwards, but with this useful work-out under their belts, Cavan should not be too far away, which, to be fair, is about as much certainty as can be mustered on the eighth day of January.
So far, though, so good.
Cavan: Liam Brady (0-1f), John Cooke, Padraig Faulkner, Evan Finnegan, Ciaran Brady, Dara McVeety, Tiarnan Madden, Killian Clarke (0-2), Enda Maguire, Gerard Smith, Brandon Boylan (1-0), Oisin Kiernan, Martin Reilly (1-0), Ryan O’Neill, Oisin Brady (0-7, 5f)
Subs: Cian Madden, Ryan Donohoe, Conor Brady, Tristan Noack Hoffman, Conor Rehill, Conor Moynagh, Caoimhan McGovern
Antrim: Michael Byrne, Patrick McBride (0-1), Cathal Hynds, Padraig Mervyn, Dermot McAleese, Joseph Finnegan, Eoghan McCabe, Ruairi McCann, Oisin Lenehan, Marc Jordan, Seamus McGarry, Conor Stewart, Pat Shivers, Kevin Small, Dominic McEnhill
Subs: Ronan Boyle, Ryan Murray, Seamus McGarry, Colum Duffin, Odhran Eastwood, Sean O’Neill, Conall McGirr
Ref: Kevin Faloon