Posted by Christy O'Connor
Friday 27 May 2016
From our GAA Experts to football fans all over Ireland, this week's Win, Lose or Draw predictions are starting to take shape.
At half-time in their league match against Meath in late February, Cavan’s Division 2 campaign looked headed for the rocks. They trailed by seven points. They had only scored 0-5. In their opening two league defeats against Tyrone and Derry, Cavan had only averaged ten points. In the dressing room, different players spoke. Hard truths were spelled out. They had been a young team for too long. Now was the time to stand up and prove they could cut it at senior level. Another defeat could signal relegation to Division 3. “And if that happens,” roared one player, “it’s a long road to Division 1.” Cavan exploded in the second half, outscoring Meath by 1-15 to 0-4. A week later, they slammed 3-18 past Armagh and won by 17 points. It was the first time in four years Cavan had scored more than two goals in a league or championship game. The dam had finally burst. Cavan ended the campaign as the highest scoring team in the top three divisions.
There were signs of a more expansive game evolving during the Dr McKenna Cup. Cavan created six scoring chances alone in the final five minutes of their draw against Derry in Round 2 of the league but didn’t take any of them. They needed to be more clinical but Cavan had clearly assembled a team whose natural instincts, and overall preference, was to be more attack-minded.
The first impulse of many of their younger defenders is to go forward. For years, Cavan were loaded with defenders whose game fitted the general template of caution and safety at all costs. The team was so defensively hardwired for so long that Cavan often played without a half-forward line. They would still set up with two inside forwards but not having a link player often made them redundant.
Cavan have a greater presence in their half-forward line now but they are also committing greater numbers to the attack, especially the counter-attack. Six different defenders contributed 0-13 during the league campaign which secured them promotion to Division One. The shackles are off now. After going over 600 minutes without scoring a goal in league football between 2014 and 2015, Cavan bagged eight goals this spring. Twenty-two different players got on the score-sheet.
Armagh meanwhile, have been on a completely different journey. Since winning last year’s Division 3 league final, Armagh have won just three out of ten league and championship matches. They’re back in Division 3. They shipped some heavy scores during the spring but their lack of firepower contributed to the inferior score difference which ultimately got them relegated. Armagh had the third-worst scoring return of the 16 teams in Divisions 1 and 2.
Stefan Campbell accounted for 40% of Armagh’s scores during the league, with 2-33, 1-16 from play. The next highest shooter from play was Micheal McKenna with 1-11. Colm Watters contributed 0-7. Gavan McParland hit 0-5 from play. Of Armagh’s 15 scorers during the league, six of those hit just 0-1 each. Three more bagged just 0-2 each.
Campbell is a good forward. So is McKenna, who is crucial to Armagh as a link-man, but the team have still never filled the scoring deficit left by Jamie Clarke. In that context, and given the hiding they got from Cavan in March, Kieran McGeeney is likely to go out all out defensive on Sunday and hope his players can win a low-scoring dogfight.
Cavan though, should have enough of a scoring spread to rip the stitching off Armagh’s blanket defence. Cavan play a similar counter-attacking style to Tyrone, even if they don’t have the same quality players to carry it out, but they still had ten scorers from play against Tyrone in the Division 2 league final. And that was with Gearoid McKiernan, Cavan’s top scorer from play during the spring with 1-26, being well held, and Seanie Johnson (who landed 3-16 in the league) barely touching the ball that day.
Armagh will still have no fear of Cavan. They never have in the modern era. They were missing six players when the sides met in March. They will have even more motivation because that heavy defeat to Cavan effectively sent Armagh down. Yet Cavan have still been operating on a higher level all season. If they keep their heads, Cavan will win.
Here's who our GAA experts are predicting will win this weekends games;
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Cavan to win: 68%
Armagh to win: 28%
Limerick to win: 29%
Clare to win: 68%
Waterford to win: 13%
Tipperary to win: 85%
London to win: 1%
Mayo to win: 99%
That's the way the mood is going for this weekend's games - now it's time to make your predictions for the chance to win two All-Ireland Final tickets.
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