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Cavan ready to overwrite last week's disappointment and end Westmeath 'hurt'

Captain Sinead Greene is hoping to lead her side to Division league 2 glory on second asking on Sunday.

BACK IN JANUARY, if you suggested that Cavan would be gunning for Division 2 glory just four months later, you’d be laughed at by most.

Sinead Greene Sinead Greene. Source: Tom Beary/INPHO

Their manager at the time, Conor Barry, had stepped away from the fold just two weeks before the league campaign was set to kick off and the side were left in limbo.

Well, that was the case from the outside looking in.

Inside the camp though, things weren’t quite as unsettled as they appeared at first glance.

Aidan McCabe — who had coached under Barry during his tenure — took the reins and slotted into the managerial role, while goalkeeping coach Simon Fay also remained involved in the set-up and became McCabe’s right-hand man.

The ship was steadied in other ways, with some welcome returns to the panel. The experienced Ailish Cornyn slotted back in at full-back following a stint travelling, while key forwards Claragh O’Reilly, Grainne Smith and pacy corner back Mona Sheridan also reconvened with the squad.

Other promising talents then made the transition to senior level — 2014 Ulster Young Player of the Year Geraldine Smith to name but one.

When asked whether she saw her side in the decider come May, captain Sinead Greene never doubted it.

“To be honest, yeah [I saw it happening],” she begins. “We’ve had the same bunch of girls, we know the talent is there and it’s always been there in Cavan. It’s just a matter of getting it out of us.

“The fact that Aidan [McCabe] and Simon [Fay] stayed on definitely made a big difference. If they didn’t, we might not be in a final now.

“They knew the girls, knew how we played, our strengths and weaknesses, which meant it could flow on nicely. If we had a new management team in, it could have been a very different story.

They had quite a slow start to the campaign, and were beaten by fellow finalists Westmeath on home turf in their first encounter this year.

“There have been big changes and improvements since then,” Greene continues. “The 29 January is a long time ago at this stage!”

They soon found their rhythm again with decisive wins over Sligo, Laois and Waterford and sealed their semi-final spot in good spirits. McCabe’s charges then had an impressive win over last year’s All-Ireland intermediate finalists Clare as they booked their place in the decider.

Of course, the first edition of the Division 2 Lidl Ladies National Football League final was played last Sunday in Parnell Park.

Cavan looked to be well in control for much of the fixture, but the last ten minutes saw Westmeath strike back and level matters. Double goal-scorer Ciara Blundell rattled the net, before Maud Annie Foley tied the game with three minutes on the clock.

Disappointment aired over Cavan fans, but there was also a slight sense of relief. They easily could have been beaten in the end, as Stephen Maxwell’s Westmeath rallied in momentum.

Lidl Ladies Football National League Division 1 & 2 Finals Captains Day Cork were crowned Division 1 champions for the fifth time in-a-row last week. Source: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

“Obviously when you’re ahead for the majority of the game, not to come away with a win is disappointing to some extent.

“Looking back, we had ample opportunities to win it. Not scoring in the last quarter was the difference in the end, they got 1-1 while we didn’t register a score.

“Some of the misses and fumbles were uncharacteristic of us and we would be expecting them not to happen again. I don’t think we let it slip though, we feel that we have the ability to go all the way this week.”

Ultimately, Westmeath will feel that they may have gotten out of jail on first asking.

The first-half saw them register just two points on top of Blundell’s opening goal while Cavan were thriving, but still just three points ahead.

The Breffni also missed chances at the start of the second half, which should have really put their opposition to the sword.

“They’re a fantastic team and we knew that going into the game, they finished top of the Division 2 table for a reason.

“I’m sure they might be disappointed by their performance, but so are we with aspects of our own. When you don’t win a game there is always an element of disappointment.

“I’m sure they can improve this week but so can we. The heat last Sunday played a massive factor for both sides so I’d say things could be quite different this time around. We won’t focus too much on their game, we will concentrate on perfecting ours.”

The two sides are no strangers to each other, and last Sunday threw up shades of the 2011 All-Ireland intermediate championship.

Cavan and Westmeath met in the final in Croke Park, and it was forced to a replay. On the second encounter, the Lake County ran out one point winners.

Templeport defender Greene was involved with the set-up at the time.

“2011 was my first year in on the senior panel so I was new to it all. It’s heartbreaking losing an All-Ireland final replay. It’s something that’s hard to get over.

“We thankfully made up for it in 2013 [they beat Tipperary to the title] but it was a tough, tough day out losing. There’s definitely seven or eight girls still involved and they have a lot of hurt still. We’ll want to put that to rest now.”

Not only is there a league title on the line in Birr on Sunday [throw-in 4pm], promotion to the top-flight is also up for grabs.

Cavan were beaten by Monaghan in last year’s Ulster senior final, and were knocked out of the 2016 championship by ladies football kingpins, and last week’s Division 1 league champions, Cork.

Sinead Greene with Fiona Coyle Greene scored a point from half-back last week. Source: Tom Beary/INPHO

Greene believes that her side have to be playing top-level league football in order to compete to their optimum level in the latter stages of the year.

“Promotion would be brilliant,” the 24-year-old Science and Biology teacher in Ballybay Community College, Monaghan continues.

“We’re senior championship the last four years, so really to progress in championship, you want to be playing Division 1 league football.

“Getting those tough games in under your belt in January, February, March, would be great preparation.”

With no injury concerns, and recovery from last week having gone well with everyone ‘fit and ready to go,’ Greene is relishing leading her side and confident it will be to victory on this occasion.

She’s also urging the same level of support to make their way to Offaly this time around.

“We’re definitely feeling confident. We played some great football last week in patches and we know the ability that is in the squad. It’s just a matter of pushing on and sustaining it for 60 plus minutes this Sunday.

“Support is a massive factor, the more people that are there shouting and pushing us on the better.

“Last week people could see the high level and high standard of football played and so should want to come and watch the game. It’s a big factor that could be a deal breaker in the end.”

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