Preview: Ulster SFC – Cavan & Donegal do battle in the first round of Ulster
In what is probably the most competitive provincial championship, the action gets under way in Ulster this Sunday when Cavan travel to Ballybofey to take on Donegal.
Having fallen down to division 2 in the league last year, Cavan wasted no time in making a return to the top flight securing promotion with five wins, one draw and one defeat.
Despite losing the league final to Roscommon, the Breffni men will go into the Ulster championship brimming with confidence.
Cavan, under Mattie McGleenan have evolved into a solid outfit with a little more experience among the ranks now, they are likely to take a scalp or two this summer.
What to expect
While Cavan have had an impressive league, McGleenan will have to ensure that a display similar to the league final where they conceded 4-16 is not repeated on Sunday.
Facing Donegal in Ballybofey is no easy task for any team but for McGleenan it is a tie for his side to relish as they must be at their best to have a chance of progression.
“I am under no illusions about the challenge we have as a football team,” he said to the Irish News.
“Donegal has serious Championship pedigree but it is a great game for us, because mentally there is no room for complacency, there is no room for slippage,” he added.
Recent success at under-21 level has brought plenty of reason for optimism around Cavan but it is now time for them to deliver on this potential.
“They’re doing everything they can to get better, we’re doing all we can to make them better, and we’re going to have a great summer,” said McGleenan.
Donegal haven’t lost a championship game at MacCumhaill Park in Ballybofey since 2010 and while this may not change this weekend, Cavan will still have a lot to say in this year’s championship.
Key Player: Gearóid McKiernan
One to watch: Killian Clarke
Donegal’s final day relegation brought an end to what was a very mixed division 1 league campaign during which they lost five of the seven games.
Under the stewardship of Declan Bonner this year, the Donegal men are continuing to evolve from the supremely rigid defensive system that we became accustomed to in recent years.
Despite relegation from the top tier, Bonner’s men showed enough to suggest that they will have a major say in Ulster.
What to expect
New boss Bonner is quick to highlight the fine margians that exist in division 1 football with only a late Kevin McLoughlin point on the final day condemning them to the drop.
“We were basically a point away from a very good league campaign in our eyes.” “But it wasn’t to be, and we have to focus now on the championship,” said the former All-Ireland winner.
With Donegal now employing Michael Murphy around the middle of the field, the in-form Patrick McBrearty will now be the focus of the attack and key to the progress of the 2012 All-Ireland winners.
Donegal have beaten Cavan in their last four encounters in Ulster and with a similar outcome likely on Sunday, it could be the start of a good run for Bonner’s men in the province.
Key Player: Paddy McBrearty
One to watch: Eoghan Ban Gallagher
Ulster Senior Football Championship Fixtures
Donegal v Cavan, Sunday May 13 4.00pm, Ballybofey
Fermanagh v Armagh, Saturday May 19 7.00pm, Brewster Park
Tyrone v Monaghan, Sunday May 20th 4.00pm, Healy Park, Omagh
Down v Antrim, Saturday May 26th 7.00pm, Páirc Esler, Newry
Derry v Donegal/Cavan, Sunday May 27th 4.00pm
Fermanagh/Armagh v Tyrone/Monaghan, Sunday June 3 2.00pm
Down/Antrim v Derry/Donegal/ Cavan, Sunday June 10 4.00pm
Semi-final winner v semi-final winner, Sunday June 24th 2.00pm
Senior columnist for GAA Wrap.