Cavan's Killian Clarke pictured with the Tailteann Cup.
Cavan's Killian Clarke pictured with the Tailteann Cup.

Clarke hoping for Tailteann Cup adventure

By Paul Keane

There are several reasons why Cavan have been installed as the early favourites to lift the inaugural Tailteann Cup.

There is the fact that just 18 months ago they were crowned Ulster champions for starters, that the previous year they were a Division 1 team, not to mention the marquee talents they have dotted around the field.

Perhaps what influenced the tipsters and pundits most was Cavan's Ulster semi-final performance against Donegal earlier this month. When Gearoid McKiernan split the posts in Clones for a Cavan point in the 57th minute, he tied up the game. Two sloppy late goals ultimately did for Cavan and redirected them to today's Tailteann Cup opener with Down while Donegal advanced to tomorrow's Ulster final.

You put it to experienced defender Killian Clarke that it must have been a killer to do so much well in that game against Donegal and then concede those two late goals.

"I know, I know," he agrees, "two shots that dropped short and for both to end up in the back of the net is disappointing. We've only ourselves to blame. Even me personally on the second goal, it fell straight into Patrick McBrearty's lap and he took his chance.

"But look, if you reel it back two years, Conor Madden had a similar chance (in the 2020 Ulster final), a high ball into the square, Shaun Patton punched it out and Conor stuck it in the bottom corner. So swings and roundabouts."

If Cavan can take that glass half full mentality into the Tailteann Cup, then there's no reason why they can't deliver on that favourites tag. Equally, if they're feeling a little sorry for themselves, it could be a short campaign.

"It's a continuous battle that we've had all year - our targets, or our goals, are against ourselves," said Clarke. "Our main competitors are ourselves. We've our own targets that we set for each individual game, regardless of who we're playing. We'll still be looking to achieve those. So it doesn't make a lot of difference to us who we play."

For the record, it's Down they'll meet today at Kingspan Breffni. There was just a point between them when they last played in the Championship, in 2020, Cavan just about edging it.

Killian Clarke remains a key performer for Cavan.
Killian Clarke remains a key performer for Cavan.

Aside from home advantage this time, Cavan have vital momentum too given that relatively strong performance against Donegal, their promotion from Division 4 and the fact that Down are still without a win in 2022. After a heavy defeat to Monaghan in the Ulster championship, Down also lost a number of established players from their group.

"It feels like an Ulster championship game, we won't be taking them for granted," said Clarke, the former International Rules player.

"If you were taking on Down in the quarter-final of an Ulster championship, you definitely wouldn't be pulling any punches with them. It'll be an interesting one.

"Obviously there were a few departures with Down in recent weeks so you're probably getting a mixed bag, there's probably a few of the U-20s drafted in. You could be dealing with a completely different animal to what you saw throughout the year.

"It could probably go one of two ways; it could galvanise them or they could down tools."

Pushed on whether a Tailteann Cup title success would mean as much as lifting the Anglo Celt Cup back in 2020, Clarke shook his head. In time, that could change as the competition gets up and running and grows in prestige.

"We're here on merit, as in we had two bad years in the league," said Clarke of Cavan's involvement. "We found ourselves in Division 4 then. We won Division 4 this year to hopefully start making our way back up the leagues. I think it'll be a good competition."

Clarke found the season in Division 4 useful from the perspective of blooding new players in a less pressurised environment. The Tailteann Cup may offer similar opportunities.

"Paddy Lynch has been excellent all year," said Clarke of the attacker who made his Championship debut against Antrim in Ulster. "He's been chipping in with a few points, taking a bit of the scoring burden away from Gearoid.

"In latter years, Gearoid McKiernan has been carrying a lot of that scoring threat for us. They're spreading it around a wee bit more with the likes of James Smith inside and Paddy, even Cian Madden coming in at half-forward and the likes of Cian Reilly coming in at corner-back and a few of the U-20s have been in training with us as well. We'll see how that works out for us in the next couple of weeks."