Ca­van won’t fear might of Kerry

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - GAELICGAMES CHAMPIONSHIP 2017 - PAUL FITZPATRICK

In­equal­ity is a buzz­word in se­nior foot­ball at present but the mi­nor ranks are as egal­i­tar­ian as ever. Among the Un­der-18s, any­one can be king for a day. To prove the point, 12 dif­fer­ent coun­ties have won All-Ire­land mi­nor ti­tles this cen­tury, with 15 mak­ing fi­nals. At se­nior, those num­bers are seven and eight.

The gap, then, be­tween the haves and have-nots is clearly not as wide among the kids, a fact which may in­stil Ul­ster run­ners-up Ca­van with a mea­sure of con­fi­dence when they face hot favourites Kerry, gun­ning for their fourth All-Ire­land in suc­ces­sion, in to­mor­row’s semi-fi­nal.

The King­dom are un­beaten in 22 matches, hav­ing beaten Cork by 2-17 to 1-10 and slaugh­tered a de­cent Clare side – who sub­se­quently ran Dublin to seven points – by 2-21 to 0-3, hav­ing ear­lier beaten them by 16 points.

Last time out, they were 1-22 to 2-9 win­ners over Louth in the quar­ter-fi­nal. Their go-to man is David Clif­ford, who has bagged 3-27 in those four matches, 2-17 of that com­ing from play, with a 45 against Clare and a side­line kick against the Rebels thrown in for good mea­sure.

Un­like Kerry, Ca­van have gone into each match as un­der­dogs; like the Mun­ster gi­ants, though, they have no short­age of fire­power.

Against an ath­letic, well-fan­cied Mon­aghan, they con­ceded eight points in suc­ces­sion in the sec­ond quar­ter yet turned it around to win by 3-14 to 1-15.

Next time out against Down, Ca­van were two goals down and won pulling up by 0-15 to 2-7.

Derry were com­fort­able seven-point win­ners in the Ul­ster fi­nal but Ca­van still posted a healthy 2-12. And against Gal­way, who had coasted to a Con­nacht ti­tle, Ca­van looked fin­ished when they trailed by 0-10 to 0-6 af­ter 45 min­utes but they turned it around to win by a goal, with cen­tre-for­ward Cian Mad­den and trig­ger man Oisín Pier­son – a lefty who has bagged 1-18 to date – the stars.

The con­trast could not be starker. To­mor­row will mark Ca­van’s first MFC semi-fi­nal since 1974 while this Kerry crop are fast es­tab­lish­ing them­selves as the great­est mi­nor side of them all. Nine of the Kerry squad have played in Cro­ker be­fore; Ca­van made the trip last Mon­day evening to ac­quaint them­selves with the sta­dium for the first time.

And yet there is an un­usual air of un­cer­tainty around the King­dom, es­pe­cially since their un­der-17s – un­der the same man­age­ment – slipped to an un­ex­pected re­ver­sal against Roscom­mon in last week’s semi-fi­nal. Much will come down to the mid­field battle, where Ca­van are strong with Smith and Ul­ster un­der-18 rugby player Ro­nan Pat­ter­son while Kerry also have a pow­er­ful pair­ing in Diar­muid O’Con­nor and Barry Ma­hony.

Ex­pe­ri­ence of the big day and the pres­ence of the pre­co­cious Clif­ford should tip the scales for Kerry.

David Clif­ford: has bagged 3-27 in four matches, with 2-17 com­ing from play

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