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Doing things by the book doesn't suit border boys Monaghan and Cavan who have suddenly transformed the Ulster tapestry

By John Campbell

Predictions that Donegal and Tyrone might reach the last 12 in the All-Ireland title race would certainly not have reaped any dividends from bookmakers.

But Cavan and Monaghan? Now that's a different story altogether.

At the outset of the Ulster Championship, Down, Derry and Armagh along with perhaps Fermanagh were perceived to be well ahead of the two border counties in terms of enjoying an extended Championship season.

Yet matters have turned out rather differently. While Donegal are still in the frame to retain their All-Ireland title and Tyrone, even though they encountered a hiccup against Roscommon and were given a second-half fright by Kildare on Saturday in the qualifiers, are on the cusp of a quarter-final place, Monaghan and Cavan have suddenly transformed the Ulster tapestry.

The Farney side pulled off one of the biggest shocks for some time in overcoming Donegal on Sunday (0-13 to 0-7) in a match that provided a number of unwanted 'firsts' for the reigning All-Ireland champions.

It was the first occasion on which they had lost a Championship match under McGuinness, the first time that none of their six starting forwards had scored from play and the first time they had been afforded the opportunity of winning three provincial titles on the trot.

For Monaghan, it was a match liberally garnished with positives. Victory not only thrust Malachy O'Rourke's side straight into the All-Ireland quarter-finals, but also underlined that his potent mix of youth and experience can scale even greater heights.

Vinny Corey, Owen Lennon, Dessie Mone, Tommy Freeman, Dick Clerkin, Stephen Gollogly and Paul Finlay have spent many years labouring at the coal face for their county without any real tangible reward to show for their efforts, but now at last they have Ulster medals to treasure.

Meanwhile, Cavan's arrival in the last 12, in which they will meet London on Saturday, is the end product of a sustained input in terms of finance and personnel in an under-21 sector that has reaped rich rewards for a county which has been consigned to the shadows since winning their last provincial crown in 1997.

In overcoming Derry in an absorbing contest at the weekend, Cavan relied on a generous input from players who had been groomed in the under-21 sphere.

Now manager Terry Hyland, having masterminded championship wins against Fermanagh (twice), Armagh and Derry is optimistic that a place in the last eight can be gained at London's expense on Saturday.

But while Cavan and Monaghan can continue to focus on football's biggest prize, the five Ulster sides which have made their exit from the All-Ireland race – Antrim, Armagh, Down, Derry and Fermanagh – have all been left to lick their wounds.

Armagh's defeat by Galway on Saturday was a surprise and now manager Paul Grimley is left with several issues to ponder.

Similarly Down boss James McCartan and his Derry counterpart Brian McIver have had their seasons clinically truncated, McCartan's side having collapsed in the second-half of their qualifier against McIver's men who in turn found Cavan too strong over the final furlong of extra-time last Saturday.

Fermanagh manager Peter Canavan is understood to be considering his future although the hope within the Erne country is that he will remain in his post.

Belfast Telegraph


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