Cavan unearthing their survival instincts at a crucial time

Sunday Business Post journalist and author of 'Tactics not Passion' Emmet Ryan on Cavan's survival hopes

Cavan, Martin Reilly, GAA, Gaelic football, Allianz League, Mayo

Cavan’s Martin Reilly, Killian Brady and goalkeeper Raymond Galligan argue with referee Anthony Nolan ©INPHO/James Crombie

Heading into last weekend the situation was grim. A loss away to Mayo would have all but relegated Cavan.

Up until then it had been a rough, really rough, year in terms of results for the young side. The goal at the start of the year was survival and even that didn't look all that realistic.

Then Castlebar happened and everything blew up.

The game started pretty much as usual for the Breffni County. It took 11 minutes for them to get off the mark, through a Gearoid McKiernan point, but dotted all around that was Mayo putting together some businesslike scores to keep in front early. This has somewhat been a pattern for Cavan this year, glimpses of promise surrounded by an inability to slow the clear and direct path to victory for their opponents.

Gearoid McKiernan

Cavan essentially needed something big to rouse them, not just for this game, but for their season. Look at the situation this side was facing. It wants to be a force in Ulster, a team that can really trouble the likes of Donegal and Tyrone come the summer. Oh and Monaghan, you know they want to be at least on a par with Monaghan.

On the stroke of half-time, they got the break they needed. McKiernan found the back of the net and, despite having been largely controlled by Mayo in the first half, Cavan had a lead and looked ready to build on it.

In the end, Cavan should probably have won by a lot more than two points. The margin of victory could really be their only complaint and that's a problem they are delighted to have. Having gone into the weekend looking almost lost at sea, this is a side that controls its own destiny again.

While sitting in the relegation zone right now, Cavan can quickly turn things around back home in Breffni Park on Sunday. A home win over visiting Kerry would putting them back on level footing with Kerry, while Mayo would be under pressure to get something out of a tough trip to Tyrone.

The bottom half of the table has four teams at different points in their evolution right now. Roscommon, pointless going into the weekend, look like they might actually benefit from the drop. Right now they clearly aren't of top flight standard and need to get some good wins again to try and build for the future. Kerry are wondering if this is a rebuilding or title challenging year, or somehow both, while Mayo are desperate to get another shot at Sam in what they see as a big window of opportunity. Why do you think Enda hasn't resigned yet? He's waiting to see if Mayo can get back to Croker!

As for Cavan, the final two games of the league campaign are about finding out where they are. Finishing outside of the relegation spots would be a form of validation for the years of progress which seem to have gone without reward. Surviving would mean everything for the mental state of this team entering the championship. It will have earned the right to stay up in Division 1 with the big boys of the province. That will make Cavan believe it can be the big dog in Ulster. That's what survival in this campaign is about. On Sunday, they need to show the win in Castlebar wasn't just a case of the breaks going their way. This needs to be a team that earns those breaks.