Cavan poised for tough Déise test as All-Ireland championship heats up

Mona Sheridan’s side face Waterford, with a quarter-final spot against Dublin on the line.

Cavan defender Mona Sheridan.
Cavan defender Mona Sheridan.

CAVAN FACE A difficult task later today in the TG4 All-Ireland ladies senior football championship.

Aidan McCabe’s charges travel to Kildare to face in-form Waterford [Throw-in 2pm in Clane], with a quarter-final place against last year’s finalists Dublin on the line.

They’re fully aware of the height of the challenge that lies ahead, but difficult tasks are what they relish. It’s where they want to be. They want to be playing against the best.

Having won the All-Ireland intermediate title in 2013, Cavan soared to the top flight. Last year saw them reach the Ulster decider, but they were beaten by Monaghan.

This time last week, they were uncertain about their future in the senior grade. They were tied with Laois in the preliminary round, with the loser facing a relegation battle.

Cavan stepped up to the challenge and took matters into their own hands, running out ten-point winners in Ashbourne.

An early goal from Aishling Sheridan steadied the ship and set the tone, while Aisling Doonan and Claragh O’Reilly hit 1-11 between them to ensure the Breffni’s survival and a positive beginning to the All-Ireland series.

Munster v Ulster - MMI Ladies Football Interprovincial Final Sheridan with her father, Gerry -- former Cavan manager -- after this year's Inter-provincials. Source: Ramsey Cardy/SPORTSFILE

“Last week was a great start for us with that win,” Mona Sheridan tells The42. “We knew it was a must-win game. I suppose we moved the ball quicker and took our shots when we had the chance.

“We’re lucky that we have very good forwards and that any one of them is capable of scoring. Our outfield players know it’s important to keep the ball moving and get the ball into the forward line as best as possible.”

Sheridan, who plays her club football with Mullahoran and is one of three sisters involved in the county set-up, was one of a number of players to return to the panel early this year.

January brought a period of limbo for the squad. Their manager at the time, Conor Barry, stepped away from the fold just two weeks before their league campaign was set to kick off.

Matters were settled promptly though, with Aidan McCabe taking the reigns and stepping up from coach to manager, while goalkeeping coach Simon Fay became his right-hand man.

Sheridan, along with other players — O’Reilly, Ailish Cornyn and Grainne Smith to name but a few — reconvened with the squad, while other promising talents made the transition to senior level.

A successful league campaign saw the Ulster side into the Division two final, where it took two encounters to settle the battle with old foes Westmeath.

Ciara Blundell scores a goal despite the tackles of Mona Sheridan and Sheila Reilly Sheridan in action in the first edition on this year's Division 2 Lidl Ladies National League final. Source: Tom Beary/INPHO

On first asking, Cavan were unlucky not to win, dominating for the majority of the fixture. But second time around, the Lake County turned on the style and ran out convincing winners.

“It was disappointing to say the least, but we have taken a lot from it,” Sheridan continued. ”I suppose when you have your chance you need to take it there and then, like any game.”

Sheridan’s side exited the Ulster championship this year yet again following a defeat to Monaghan but again, it’s a game they’ve taken a lot from.

“We took our foot off the pedal slightly in the second half. Monaghan’s experience came through and they pushed on.”

Experience is something Cavan have been building at senior level. They have quite a small panel this year, but that said, there’s a welcome blend of youth and experience.

The underage set-up has been thriving in the Breffni over the last few years, and that’s beginning to pay dividends as those players progress to the senior ranks.

“It’s great to have such a mix of players,” Sheridan agrees. “Youth brings energy and then the mix with experience players helps balance that.

Mona Sheridan and Geraldine Sheridan celebrate Sheridan and her younger sister Geraldine celebrate at the final whistle following the 2013 All-Ireland intermediate final. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“The younger players have stepped up to the mark and are pushing the likes of myself and more experienced players on in both training and also for positions in games.”

It’s a quick turnaround from last weekend, but all focus turns to the Déise challenge this afternoon.

Having beaten them by a single point in a gutsy league encounter in March, Cavan will be looking to trump that feat in Clane.

The beaten Munster finalists meanwhile will be looking to bounce back from that defeat today, but the emerging side will also be hoping to back up championship wins over ladies football kingpins Cork, and Kerry.

“It’s a big step up,” captain Sinead Greene told Jerome Quinn after last weekend’s win.

“We know we played them in the league but we also know that league football is very different to championship football.

“It’s going to be a different Waterford side to the one we played a couple of months ago. But look, we’re a different Cavan team as well. We’ve pushed on, we’ve played in league semi-finals and finals, Ulster championship. So we have a good few games on our back.

“We know what they’ve done in Munster and it’s some achievement for them. But we’re looking forward to it and ready to push on against them.”

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With no major injury concerns on their radar, Sheridan echoes her captain’s words.

“Ourselves and Waterford are no strangers to each other. It was a very tough contest in the league, and this weekend is going to be no different.

Cavan v Westmeath - Lidl Ladies Football National League Div 2 Final Cavan were beaten by Westmeath in the replay of the Division 2 league final in May. Source: David Maher/SPORTSFILE

“They’re coming off a very good campaign. They have some very good and experienced players, similar to ourselves.

“We’re well aware Waterford have a lot of strengths and we’ll account for those but we’ll also be focused on where we feel we can maximize our own strengths.”

It’s all or nothing. Lose and you’re out. But win, and earn a quarter-final spot against Dublin.

The Cavan players have said it time and time again — that’s where they want to be. At the top, competing against the best teams in the country.

Sheridan won’t get too carried away yet though. There’s a job to be done first.

“To be honest we’re not looking further than the next game which is something we’ve done all year.

“Everything is very positive, and we’re looking forward to the challenge ahead.”

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