Raymond Galligan’s Cavan motoring well and can target the Armagh-Donegal axis

Two league wins on the road have put last year’s Division Three champions in a promising position ahead of their trip to Louth

In Division Two of the football league, big beasts roam the land. Or the sidelines, at least.

There can’t have been too many seasons in which the second flight of the league included five managers who had won All-Irelands as players.

Every week throws up mouth-watering clashes – Colm O’Rourke against Ger Brennan last Sunday, Kieran McGeeney against Jim McGuinness this weekend.

Slightly overlooked in the middle of it all is Raymond Galligan, in his first year with Cavan. Whereas all those playing accolades for the other managers are in the dim and distant past – some dimmer and more distant than others – Galligan has won both an All Star and a provincial title this decade. Not only did he play in last year’s league, he ended it as man of the match and captain as Cavan won Division Three.


So when it comes to boots on the ground, nobody knows the arena more intimately.

It probably shouldn’t come as such a surprise then that Cavan have made a promising start to life in Division Two. Three games in, they sit in third spot behind Donegal and Armagh, the two sides most highly-fancied to win promotion to Division One.

If they win against Louth on Sunday, Galligan’s side will be able to spend the rest of the campaign looking up at the top of the table rather than worrying about what’s below.

To be able to say that any year in February is good going. To be able to do it in Division Two after successive promotions would be impressive. Especially when it’s this Division Two, containing four of the teams that made the preliminary quarter-finals of the 2023 All-Ireland championship while Cavan were in the Tailteann Cup. Galligan’s side have already beaten two of them, only losing by a point to the other, Donegal.

Both of those wins have come on the road, against Cork and Kildare. Granted, you’re talking about two counties who are propping up the rest of the league and have been dealing with some pretty public issues in these early weeks.

But Cavan don’t need to apologise for taking advantage, particularly as they had plenty of potential for woes of their own.

For one, long-time stalwart Gearóid McKiernan is no longer on the scene, having stepped off the panel over the winter. For another, Galligan himself has had to be replaced, having missed virtually no minutes in league or championship since reconstituting himself as a goalkeeper in 2015. Between the pair of them, they had just short of 250 appearances for Cavan across the past decade.

But Cavan have endured. They are one of only four teams in the country yet to concede a goal in the league. True, they are also one of only three who have yet to raise a green flag of their own. Not a lot of goalmouth action so far, if you’ve been following Cavan.

You wouldn’t exactly say that Galligan has been liberal with a new broom either. Other than Liam Brady in goal and Oisín Kiernan from Denn at corner-back, he hasn’t introduced many new faces.

Cavan have one of the most experienced teams in Division Two, with the likes of Ciarán Brady, Pádraig Faulkner, Killian Clarke, Dara McVeety and Killian Brady all in their eighth or ninth season as intercounty first-team players.

But the real standout performer so far has been full-forward Paddy Lynch. In just his third season for Cavan, Lynch leads the division in scoring with 0-22 to his name and has become the one player they can’t do without.

As Paul Fitzpatrick, Irish Times columnist and sports editor of the Anglo Celt points out, Lynch has kicked 17 out of 18 frees in the campaign so far. Even McKeirnan, for all his heroics in general play, rarely had that level of consistency from placed balls.

For Galligan, the priority is to avoid relegation. After that, it’s finishing in mid-table so that Cavan can compete in the Sam Maguire in the summer.

“I personally feel it’s going to take minimum seven points, maybe eight, to get that so we’re halfway there,” he said after beating Cork last week.

Returning from Ardee with a good result this weekend would allow them to start aiming even higher and to set about upsetting the big two above them.

Everyone expects Donegal and Armagh to go up. Cavan will feel they can have something to say about that before the league is done.

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Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times