Well, whatever that looked like in the flesh I have to admit that, from the sofa, it didn’t make for comfortable viewing. Back on home soil after that chastening defeat to Dublin some sort of redemption should have been forthcoming. Instead what unfolded – for me on the TV – was another alarmingly inept performance, one that gave a game Cavan side a shot at their first win in this campaign. It was an opportunity the visitors grabbed with glee, consigning us to our third defeat of the year and reawakening the spectre of relegation for us.
After a cautious start to today’s contest, with both sides probing for openings, we got off the mark first with six minutes on the clock. Kevin McLoughlin made ground and offloaded to Tom Parsons who punched through the cover before landing a nice score. Straight from the kick-out we intercepted and Andy Moran landed our second of the day.
Eleven minutes had passed before McKiernan opened their account from a free. In reply, Fergal Boland, fed by Paddy Durcan, guided the ball over from out on the right. From the same part of the field Danny Kirby – from a pop pass by Andy – belted it over to push us three clear.
A second McKiernan free for them, following an incident that saw Colm Boyle pick up a yellow, was responded to by Andy’s second point from play. McVeety notched their first from play after this, with Kevin McLoughlin answering this one via a free out on the right for us.
Conor O’Shea then thumped over a glorious long-range score but McVeety responded in kind for them. Two more high-quality points – the first from Danny Kirby with the outside of the boot from way out on the right, the second from the left by Conor O’Shea after some patient build-up play – stretched our lead to five points.
We’d done enough, you’d have thought, at that stage to ensure we’d go in at the break with a comfortable lead. It wasn’t to be, though, as McKiernan blasted over a super long-range point and then, on the stroke of half-time, followed this up with a goal.
From our point of view, the goal was a bad one to concede. McVeety ghosted unmarked into the danger zone, a long ball in found him and he offloaded to McKiernan who, with defenders flapping all over the place, kept his cool and shot to the net.
I have to admit I was already fearful at half-time. Our confidence nowadays is a very brittle commodity and that goal looked like it could have done serious psychological damage to us. Still, we had a full half to play in front of another large home crowd so this one was still very winnable.
Danny Kirby’s third point of the day was, then, the perfect start for us on the resumption. It was a start we failed to build on, though, as instead Cavan hit us for four points without reply to push two clear.
The scores all followed a similar pattern, starting with an increasingly pedestrian attacking effort by us, followed by a rapid downfield counter by them. When we attacked, they had fifteen behind the ball and we looked completely clueless about how to force an opening through the blanket. When they countered, though, it was old fashioned one-on-one stuff and they cut through our backline with embarrassing ease.
Andy, off his left as he came round on the loop, finally stopped the rot with a nice score. Donal Vaughan then passed up a great chance to level the match, shooting a bad wide from a good position on the left wing.
Another counter-attack from them yielded another score. Red lights were flashing all over the place for us now but still, maddeningly, there was no response from our sideline, despite an all too obvious need to freshen things up.
We briefly came to life, Danny Kirby kicking his fourth point of the day. Then Lee Keegan landed two sumptuous long-range scores to edge us one clear with just under twenty minutes to play.
At last we began to ring the changes. Our misfiring forward-line was screaming for alteration – where Conor Loftus hardly touched the ball all day, with Cillian strangely anonymous too – but instead it was Stephen Coen who came on for Donal Vaughan, just before Lee’s second rocket went over.
They levelled once more but then sub Shane Nally – who’d only just replaced Fergal Boland – knocked over one from out on the left to reclaim the lead. That should have been the signal for us to push on. Instead, we lost our way completely in the closing minutes, Cavan growing in confidence all the while as they realised we were there for the taking.
McKiernan – who was superb throughout for them today – landed a long-range free that David Clarke could only touch over his bar. Two wides followed for us, a really bad one in front of the posts by Tom Parsons and a long-range one from Lee Keegan, as Conor Loftus was finally called ashore, Evan Regan replacing him.
Cavan looked to have got the game’s deciding score when McVeety shot to the net but the goal was ruled out for a square ball. The Cavan centre-forward got the game’s next score, though, with our defence at sixes and sevens, as the visitors hit the front with time running out.
From there to the end was little short of embarrassing from our point of view. Our upfield forays showed no urgency or invention, Cillian O’Connor – who ended the day scoreless – missed two frees, they nicked another one and then ran the clock down with an increasingly confident display of keep-ball. They kept that two-point lead till the end and fully deserved their win. Fair play to them.
For us, though, the storm clouds are darkening. Very few of the lads looked up for the fight today and a number of players appeared to be out on our feet with most of the second half still to play. We were completely without purpose going forward and were cut open far too easily at the back. We looked, in short, like a team going nowhere.
It wasn’t just out on the field that we looked clueless either. It was patently obvious at half-time that changes were required but instead we waited, and then waited some more. Then, when we finally acted, the most obvious targets to come off were still left on the field.
It’s very hard to take anything positive from this display but, shocking as it was, you’d have to concede that today wasn’t hugely out of line with how we’ve been playing all year. A decent second half against Kerry and a solid performance against a very poor Roscommon is all we’ve to cling to so far amid the wreckage of desperately poor showings in the three other matches.
Today’s collapse, though, is, to my mind, the most worrying of the lot. After what Dublin did to us two weeks ago, we had every reason to expect that Cavan would be at the receiving end of a backlash this afternoon. Instead what we got was another malfunctioning performance from a team that increasingly appears to have lost its way.
With tough matches to come against Tyrone and Donegal in the final two League rounds, our Division One status is once more on the line. On today’s form, you’d have to say we’ll be doing well to get anything from these two games but we’ve stood up plenty of times before when hard questions have been asked. Those questions will be posed once more – with increasing clamour – following today’s dejecting defeat. What kind of answers we’re able to provide this time round remains to be seen.
Mayo: David Clarke; Brendan Harrison, Keith Higgins, Paddy Durcan; Colm Boyle, Lee Keegan (0-2), Donal Vaughan; Tom Parsons (0-1), Danny Kirby (0-4); Fergal Boland (0-1), Cillian O’Connor, Conor O’Shea (0-2); Kevin McLoughlin (0-1, free), Andy Moran (0-3), Conor Loftus. Subs: Stephen Coen for Vaughan, Shane Nally (0-1) for Boland, Evan Regan for Loftus, Neil Douglas for O’Shea, Jason Gibbons for Parsons.
Cavan’s Gearoid McKiernan was, without question, Man of the Match today but who were our best performers? Take your pick in the MOTM poll:
Who was our MOTM against Cavan?
- Danny Kirby (67%, 421 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (7%, 41 Votes)
- Fergal Boland (4%, 25 Votes)
- Andy Moran (3%, 21 Votes)
- Conor O'Shea (3%, 20 Votes)
- David Clarke (3%, 18 Votes)
- Jason Gibbons (3%, 17 Votes)
- Conor Loftus (1%, 9 Votes)
- Tom Parsons (1%, 9 Votes)
- Keith Higgins (1%, 8 Votes)
- Cillian O'Connor (1%, 7 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (1%, 6 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (1%, 6 Votes)
- Neil Douglas (1%, 6 Votes)
- Brendan Harrison (1%, 4 Votes)
- Colm Boyle (0%, 3 Votes)
- Shane Nally (0%, 3 Votes)
- Evan Regan (0%, 3 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (0%, 1 Votes)
- Donal Vaughan (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 628