Ulster SFC: Ballybofey opener delivers more questions than answers

Cavan players attempt to halt the run of Donegal's Leo McLoone in the preliminary round game
Cavan players attempt to halt the run of Donegal's Leo McLoone in the preliminary round game

Sunday's Ulster Championship preliminary-round opener between Donegal and Cavan at Ballybofey probably delivered more questions than answers in relation to the respective abilities of both squads?

The number one issue to ponder was in relation to the standard of football in Division Two back in the Spring given that the Breffnimen secured promotion with Donegal going in the opposite direction after their relegation.

Cavan fans didn't exactly turn up in droves at MacCumhaill Park to cheer on their fellow countymen.

A crowd of 9,162 - the vast majority home fans - translated to a little more than half-full venue but those Breffni County supporters that did travel to Donegal were certainly expecting their men to be competitive.

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Cavan's season isn't over - McGleenan

Cavan barely raise a gallop

Dara McVeety, probably their best player in the league, could only be introduced for the final 18 minutes because of his hamstring injury but that couldn't be an excuse for the paucity of Cavan's display as they were effectively outclassed despite the final 2-20 to 1-15 scoreline.

Manager Mattie McGleenan appeared almost stunned by his team's failure to barely raise a gallop in what turned out to be the most muted of occasions.

"I think I'll take a day or two and then we'll start to analyse it," a visibly chastened McGleenan said immediately after the game.

The Tyrone man's initial top-of-the-head appraisal of the 70 odd minutes of action referred to his team's "missed chances" but his viewing of the match video will inform him that Donegal's finishing was actually more errant than the Breffnimen.

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Cavan gave us plenty to think about - Bonner

For Donegal boss Declan Bonner, it was a case of "job done" but once again several questions were left hanging in the Ballybofey air after an unexpectedly low-intensity opener.

For one, how efficient was Donegal's display given that they conceded 1-15 against a Cavan side that was decidedly second best on the day?

Granted, Bonner was entitled to be thrilled with the displays - highlighted by their long-range point-taking - of young half-forwards Ciaran Thompson and Michael Langan.

But will those two men get the same amount of space even against now Division Four Derry at Celtic Park on 27 May - let alone in a battle with either Tyrone or Monaghan in a potential Ulster Final? Doubt it.

Also, defenders Caolan Ward and Paul Brennan were able to bomb forward almost at will throughout Sunday's contest as Donegal's running game was left almost unhindered by the strangely subdued visitors.

The big plus from the occasion for Donegal was talisman Michael Murphy's return to top form after his return from injury severely affected his match sharpness during the Spring.

Patrick McBrearty congratulates Donegal goalscorer Cian Mulligan
Patrick McBrearty scored four second-half points after a subdued opening half

Murphy's place-kicking, apart from the mishit 45 which led to Ryan McHugh's goal, was assured while he also kicked three point from play, including one delightful towering effort as he finished with a 0-6 haul.

Bonner will also have been delighted by Cian Mulligan's late cameo which included a superb late goal as he showed an impressive turn of pace before delivering a precise finish.

Patrick McBrearty was a peripheral presence in the first half at Ballybofey as Langan and Thompson produced an exhibition of long-range scoring but the Kilcar man improved in the second half as his two successive efforts stopped Cavan's brief mini-revival in its tracks.

Where does Sunday's outcome leave both sides as the Ulster Championship hopefully gathers pace after its rather pedestrian start?

Well, Donegal still look good for an Ulster final spot - even though Derry may have something to say about that - with Down or Antrim next up for the winners of that provincial quarter-final.

Cavan manager Mattie McGleenan attempted to rally his troops for the qualifiers as he pointedly suggested that "our performance levels dropped off maybe five or 10% when he went into the backdoor last year".

On the evidence of Sunday's game, a similar deterioration in Cavan's form will lead to a short summer for the Breffni squad.