Monaghan and Cavan draw in a scurvy dog of a game

Low-scoring game like watching identical twins slap each other in the face for an hour

Monaghan 0-7 Cavan 0-7

“A fabulous game,” declared Mattie McGleenan afterwards, managing to keep a straight face somehow. Maybe it was the satisfaction of securing Cavan’s first point in a tough league or maybe the icy cold had cut off his circulation and compromised his faculties. One way or the other, he was talking rot.

By any objective measurement, this was a scurvy dog of a game. Seven points apiece, three each from frees, four each from play. Ten wides apiece, three each against the wind, seven each with it. Neither goalkeeper with a save to make. It was like watching identical twins slap each other in the face for an hour but with none of the crowd-pleasing violence.

Everything you dislike about football was here in spades. If you put a heat map on the action, it would have burned a hole down the centre of the pitch between the 45s right to the earth’s core. Both teams dug a trench in a parabola outside the scoring zone and gummed up any opposition attacks that wandered into range. The 7,963 crowd left Castleblayney with ne’er a cockle warmed.


“We’re used to playing games like that but we didn’t do what we needed to today,” said Malachy O’Rourke. “Our penetration wasn’t good enough, our use of the ball wasn’t good enough, we weren’t getting enough pace in our moves. There were too many times when our last pass wasn’t right or we ran into tackles. There’s an awful lot of areas that we need to improve and in Division One, those get shown up very quickly.

“Seven points each on a bitterly cold day, there wasn’t much to get the supporters enthused. Cavan set up defensively and I suppose we did as well. There was a lot of misplaced passes, a lot of attacks ended up with not even a shot on goal. So there’s no point dressing it up, it wasn’t a great spectacle.”

Come the end of the league, it’s a fair bet that at least one of these teams will reflect that the point that relegated them was lost here. Cavan missed a world of chances in the first half alone – seven wides, six dropped short. You can get away with that down the leagues but you shouldn’t be able to at this level.

And yet, they nearly were. For although Monaghan appeared to have wrested control a couple of times after the break, twice pushing into a two-point lead, their last score came in the 48th minute. Including stoppage time, that meant they went the last 26 minutes without registering a point. If O’Rourke’s team can’t kill off a home game against a team with no Division One experience, there’s a limited future in the close encounters that will invariably follow.

Then again, maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised. These counties hold the record for championship draws with 13 tied games in 55 encounters (for context, Kerry and Cork are next, with 12 draws in 113 games). There was never going to be a gulf between them.

Still, it surely didn’t need to be such a grind. We waited 11 minutes for the first score, 23 for the first from the home side. By half-time, it had inched up as far as 0-3 to 0-3, Conor McManus with all of Monaghan’s points, Cavan’s coming from Seánie Johnston (free), Niall Clerkin and Ciarán Brady.

There was a slight improvement in affairs after the break, with Kieran Hughes, Conor McCarthy and Fintan Kelly all raiding for sweetly-taken points for Monaghan. And with the wind at their backs and the crowd getting into it, they looked like putting clear water between them and the visitors. But Johnston potted a couple of frees to keep Cavan afloat, enough for Conor Madden and Gearóid McKiernan to level it on the hour with a couple of quickfire points.

“You want effort, you want intensity from Cavan, you got it today,” said McGleenan. “The only thing we didn’t do right was we didn’t kick it over the bar. We had enough chances to probably win two games but we didn’t take them. That’s what we go to training for – we have that to fix. Otherwise, I’m absolutely delighted.

“There was a swirling wind down on the pitch. When you see Conor McManus missing the odd free, that will tell you what the wind is like. But listen, fabulous game, great crowd, two teams with absolute endeavour and effort. I was told coming into Division One that Cavan wouldn’t win a game. Well we have a point now and the next job is to turn that into a win.”

Monaghan: Rory Beggan; Fintan Kelly (0-1), Drew Wylie, Ryan Wylie; Kieran Duffy, Neil McAdam, Colin Walshe; Darren Hughes, Kieran Hughes (0-1); Karl O'Connell, Shane Carey, Gavin Doogan; Conor McCarthy (0-1), Thomas Kerr, Conor McManus (0-4, 0-3 frees). Subs: Dermot Malone for Kerr, half-time; Ryan McAnespie for O'Connell, half-time; Owen Duffy for Doogan, 62 mins; Barry McGinn for McCarthy, 62 mins; Jack McCarron for Carey (black card), 70 mins

Cavan: James Farrelly; Fergal Reilly, Pádraig Faulkner, Killian Brady; Martin Reilly, Conor Moynagh, Niall McKiernan; Killian Clarke, Tomás Corr; Ciarán Brady (0-1), Dara McVeety, Gerard Smith; Niall Clerkin (0-1), Gearóid McKiernan (0-1), Seánie Johnston (0-3, 0-3 frees). Subs: Conor Madden (0-1) for N McKiernan, 20 mins; Niall McDermott for Moynagh, 21 mins; Stephen Murray for Smith, 35 mins; Paul O'Connor for C Brady, 51 mins; Rory Dunne for Corr, 73 mins

Referee: David Coldrick (Meath)

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times