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17 May 2007 Edition

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The Matt Treacy Column

Minor surprises mark start of championship

The championship began with two minor surprises. Down held Cavan to a draw at Breffni Park and Longford took up where they left off last Summer by beating Westmeath.
The Breffni Park match was a curiously naïve encounter in which both teams showed little of the cynicism that has too often crept into the game over recent years. This was helped in no small way by referee Derek Fahy who early let it be known that anyone auditioning for the role of the Dying Swan would not find a sympathetic audience. More of that I say.
Not in fairness that either Cavan or Down were interested in that sort of messing. Both teams set out with a directness and an intent that was based clearly on maximising their own potential rather than attempting to restrict the others. Certainly an improvement on the last time I saw Cavan playing in Ulster when their game plan seemed to owe more to gridiron than gaelic football.
We saw glimpses of the new style in their defeat by Roscommon in the league semi final and they were clearly more at home, literally, in the Breffni Park sun, than under the unfamiliar and unwelcoming lights of Croke Park.
Down had had an appalling league run but have benefited from an intensive preparation for the championship under the shrewd eye of one Ross Carr. Losing six and drawing one of their seven league games would hardly be thought of as an enriching experience but they are clearly potentially far better than most of us thought.
The only downside, and this also applies to Cavan, is that there seemed to be a definite fitness deficit for a period in the second half. Possibly an indication of the difference between Division Two and the levels of performance required in the championship. Something that is only acquired on the field. So it will be interesting to see which of them recovers best by next Saturday.
The best aspect of the match, from a neutral perspective, was the number of goals scored – three in the first and two in the second half including one from Jonathan Crowe which saved the day for Cavan as time was slipping away. Down goalkeeper Mickey McVeigh held his head in his hands at the end and will no doubt wake often in a cold sweat as he recalls the ball jumping out of his arms but arguably the fact that Crowe had been allowed have a close in shot at all was the real cause.
In any event Down were saved when Ronan Murtagh cancelled out a Dermot McCabe free that seemed to have won a game that only minutes earlier seemed to have gone from Cavan.
Some pundits have claimed that the number and nature of the goals underline that neither of these teams will go much further and that neither would survive in the ‘pool of death’ that is the other side of the Ulster draw with the hardy boys of Tyrone, Armagh, Donegal and Fermanagh.
That might be the case although Fermanagh showed briefly last year and in 2004 that an Ulster team that concentrates more on its own game, and forgets about trying to turn matches into Wigan versus Hull Kingston Rovers, can reap the benefits. Having said that, there are stronger and more experienced defences than Cavan and Down and they would be scundered at conceding some of the goals that we witnessed last Sunday. Still, we look forward to whoever prevails in the replay bringing the same ethos into the latter stages and putting it up to the rest.
In Longford, Westmeath gave a convincing impression of Dublin when surrendering an eight point half-time advantage. It is very difficult to know why a team that scores 1 - 10 in the first half can only score three points in the remainder of the match.

Brian Kavanagh, who was outstanding for Longford last year, showed the necessary ruthlessness to score their two goals early in the second half. That knocked the stuffing out of Westmeath although it was only on the hour that Longford went into the lead for the first time.
They now face Laois in the quarter final and that game looks like it will be in Pearse Park, a not inconsiderable advantage for the home side and not a journey that Laois will be looking forward to. For Longford, 2007 promises to be a better year than 2006 and it will be interesting to see how they cope with the very real possibility that they might go a bit further in Leinster before essaying the qualifiers.
Apart from the replay between Down and Cavan, this weekend also sees Louth take on Wicklow and Meath play Kildare, both games at Croke Park. Wicklow’s early year promise under Micko seems to have evaporated but it will be interesting to see how they get on. Louth to win though. More difficult to call the other match. Meath, just about, even just for the fact that they would probably relish meeting the Dubs more.
Tyrone take on Fermanagh at Clones. Very difficult to see Fermanagh recovering sufficiently from a disappointing league to pose any real danger to their dear neighbours and friends. Mickey Harte is still coping with injuries and suspensions and must sometimes wish that the county championship could be run off sometime in November. Even so, Tyrone are better placed than they were this time last year and should be able to conserve their resources somewhat better for a longer run.
The biggest match of the week is the effective Connacht final between Galway and Mayo at Pearse Stadium. In common with other provincial rivalries this one does not always go to form but we suspect that Mayo will not want to be charting the hazardous waters of the qualifiers as they attempt to recoup some of the form and some of the shattered confidence from last Summer.

An Phoblacht Magazine


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