Cavan travel to Clones this afternoon to take on neighbours and staunch rivals Monaghan in a league clash that has become about more than just a rivalry this weekend.
With the two sides joint bottom of the division and only points difference separating them, it could transpire that both Ulster counties end up relegated from Division 1.
Cavan defender, Conor Moynagh, admits that this weekend’s game has taken on a new meaning in the last number of weeks given how tight the division currently is.
“We knew we needed to win a couple of games anyway in order to have a hope of staying up, we’ve won one and now with Monaghan being down there with us this is essentially a relegation playoff,” Moynagh told Pundit Arena.
“It really has taken on a new meaning, it’s not just Monaghan against Cavan anymore. Cavan against Monaghan alone can be enough, but the fact that we have them in the first round of the Championship adds to that.
“Now the fact that it’s seventh versus eighth adds to that again, so everything’s adding up to this being a teaser of a game and I’m sure that’ll be enjoyable for neutrals and hopefully the Cavan fans, maybe not the Monaghan fans,” laughs Moynagh.
It’s difficult to tell where exactly this Cavan team is at.
The last three seasons have seen them promoted from Division 2 twice with a relegation sandwiched in between and while that record may seem like they aren’t Division 1 worthy, Moynagh feels that they are on the cusp of performing consistently at that level.
“We’re knocking on the door of it the last couple of years, getting promoted, then relegated, then promoted again it shows that we’re very nearly up on that level, it’s just those couple of mistakes that you don’t get away with in Division 1 that we have to learn from,” says Moynagh.
“The last time we were in Division 1 we finished the league quite strongly with a win against Mayo and a draw against Kerry, we drew with Monaghan that year as well, but it’s just by the time we’d learned from our mistakes it was a little bit too late and we’d gone back down.
“You want to get up to Division 1 and maintain that status, in fairness, like Monaghan did a number of years ago, they got up and they’ve maintained that and now they are a stalwart Division 1 team and hopefully we can become one too.”
While Moynagh is yet to experience success with Cavan at senior level, he has an abundance of honours from his underage career having collected four Ulster championships (1x minor 3x U21) with the Breffni County.
The county has faced criticism in recent years over their perceived failure to back up the four-in-a-row Ulster U21 titles with success in the senior ranks.
However, Moynagh is adamant that the best is yet to come from this group and while they may have doubted themselves in recent years, they now understand that there has been significant progress made in that same spell.
“Even ourselves, we kind of looked at it going ‘why has this not happened yet?’ We got impatient because we managed to come through and get those U21 championships and then pushed on to become starters on the senior team, but I guess it took a couple of years for those guys to become the core of the senior team.
“I mean, Niall Murray’s playing excellent football, he’s from one of those U21 teams, after that you’ve got Ciaran Brady, Dara McVeety, Killian Clarke, like these are all lads that were on those teams as well; Jack Brady, Jason McLoughlin.
“A lot of the lads you see on the senior team now, they were a part of that and are now the core of the team and have the experience of being there for a couple of years.
“You see the experience of Dara McVeety or the maturity of Killian Clarke and the two lads are only 25-years-old. So when you look at it like that, yeah, we didn’t kick on immediately, but we’ve come from Division 3 all the way up to Division 1 in that same spell since 2012.
“Hopefully now under Mickey we can go to another level again and start to push for Ulster championships and maintaining our Division 1 status.”
The Mickey that Moynagh refers to is obviously Cavan’s new manager, Mickey Graham, the man who won the nation’s hearts when guiding Longford club, Mullinalaghta, to a Leinster club title in November.
Moynagh and Graham go back a long way. The Drumgoon defender was called into the Cavan minor squad by Graham at just 15 years of age at a time when he was more focused on a career in soccer (Moyangh won an Irish U15 cap) and now ten years later, they’ve linked up again.
Graham’s success with the tiny Longford club was no fluke, it was the culmination of three year’s work and Moynagh is adamant that the same process is happening at Cavan, Graham hasn’t returned to his home county for a ‘one and done’.
“Mickey was obviously a great player for Cavan first of all and then he was my minor manager,” Moynagh said.
“I owe Mickey a lot for putting faith in me back then and bringing me through because I’d essentially parked Gaelic for a while. So, for him to come back in, it’s just great.
“He’s a sweetheart in Mullinalaghta, he built a really good relationship with them lads and built that up over three years to get them to where they are at now. I think his intention at the start was to build for the ultimate goal which was the Leinster championship and he’s doing that with Cavan as well.
“He’s got a sense of direction, he’s got the management team, he’s got the whole professionalism set-up which has gone to a new level in Cavan under Mickey.
“Mickey’s not in on a one and done kind of thing, you can see that with the fresh blood and the youth he’s brought into the panel this year. I’m not even one of the young lads anymore, he knows he’s building for next year and the year after that, but if we can maintain that Division 1 status then that will just add to the experience the lads can get and push them on.”
While Cavan’s approach may be a long-term one, Moynagh knows that it all starts with weekend’s clash against their fiercest rivals in a game that is about more than just local bragging rights. It’s about survival.