Another game, another defeat for Donegal and with no chance of qualification from Section C, the McKenna Cup campaign will come an end with the upcoming midweek fixture with Derry. It was a similar story last year of course, Donegal only winning one of their three games and it didn’t do us any harm for the rest of the year.
Cavan will take a lot from their performance today and indeed they should, having played with great enthusiasm and passion throughout and were well worth the victory.
They got two points in their opening two attacks and left the visitors chasing the game from early on. Chase they did though and eventually got in front when Stephen Griffin finished well to the net after good work from Mac Cumhaills debutant Martin Reilly. Griffin got more into the game today than he did last week, hitting 1-2 from play along with two frees. Hopefully there’s more to come the Nauls man; there’s been plenty of potential there for a number of years but it’s never quite happened for him on a consistent basis. Griffin and second half substitute Dermot Molloy will be among those vying for Michael Murphy’s jersey in the coming weeks with the maestro due to miss the start of the league in order to undergo groin surgery.
Donegal played without an orthodox midfielder throughout - Conor Classon and Christy Toye taking the spots in the middle at the beginning despite Neil Gallagher being named in the original line up. Conor McManus was later introduced as a substitute and performed a lot better than he did in Letterkenny last week. He’s a robust, old fashioned centre fielder - likes to throw himself about and brings more of a presence to that area than we’re used to, the afore mentioned Gallagher apart.
Daniel McLoughlin registered two wonderful points as he showed well throughout from his position at centre forward. The St Michaels sharp shooter put in some encouraging displays this time last year too and he’s another who its hoped can get to the next level for the county this year.
Hard work from the half forwards and half backs, in particular Tommy McKinley and Gary ‘Copper’ McFadden, meant that Donegal coped at midfield; they weren’t far from breaking even around the middle third and went in one point ahead at the break.
It was a very different story in the second half though….Donegal only managed 1-1, the goal coming late on from Patrick McBrearty, who again looked very dangerous on his introduction after a similar cameo last week.
For the second successive week we finished with fourteen men, McKinley this time the recipient of a second yellow. Up until then though the Naomh Colmcille man had a fine game at wing back, his distribution in particular catching the eye. Stationed at centre back for U21 All Ireland run two years ago, he’s well able to pick a pass and his immediate thought on receiving the ball is to look to see where his forwards are moving - very much a ‘head up’ type of player.
Cavan will certainly be an interesting team to watch throughout the league; if their young guns can continue performing like this they’ll win plenty of admirers. After looking lost in the championship last year, they now appear to be playing to more of a system where everyone knows their role and what is expected of them.
On the day of last year’s Ulster joust they looked bereft of ideas, clueless as to how to break down Donegal and their young team lacked the guile required at this level. Today their youngsters were a lot more composed on the ball and attacked with meance - Eugene Keating and Raymond Galligan in the full forward were especially impressive. The same can be said of their midfield pairing of Gearoid McKiernan and David Givney who never stopped attacking, constantly causing problems for the Donegal rearguard.
Possibly the removal of Seanie Johnston from the panel has worked in their favour as they now have more structure to their attack rather than feeling obligied to get the ball to him were he playing. Also, they have a talented free taker in Galligan, a huge plus for any side.
It wasn’t just Cavan’s juveniles who impressed though with some of Donegal’s newcomers doing their future prospects no harm at all. Reilly at wing forward got through plenty of work while net minder Michael Mullin looked very comfortable and was unlucky that none of his defenders followed up his penalty save - instead Niall McDermott reacted quickest and put the home side in the driving seat. Cavan finished much the stronger after that and a three point margin of victory at the end didn’t do their display justice.
Donegal learnt a lot more about Cavan today than the other way around. Val Andrews already knows the challenge facing his team when they enter the Championship arena and while today will have given his side a lot of confidence, things will be a lot different come May. What is certain though is that we will face a much sterner test that what awaited us on last year’s trip to Breffni.
We know that Jim isn’t one for showing his hand and its unlikely he’ll be too bothered at defeat today considering he’ll bring his side back in May for the Ulster Championship opener.
It could be much the same on Wednesday - should Donegal get past Cavan in Ulster, Derry will lie in wait in a quarter final and Jim wont be giving too much away in a dead rubber game McKenna Cup in January. He'll be already turning his attention to February 4th and Pairc Esler in Newry.