Diver fires Breffni warning
By Frank Craig
Damien Diver has warned Donegal to take the challenge of Cavan very seriously in Sunday’s Ulster SFC final.
Declan Bonner’s men are big favourites to hold onto their provincial crown. But former Tir Chonaill star Diver believes Cavan might finally be beginning to fulfil their undoubted potential.
Cavan won four Ulster Under 21 titles in a row between 2011 and ’14. But bridging that gap at senior level has proven difficult.
Mickey Graham though has taken the side back to their first senior provincial decider since 2001.
In his first season at the helm, the ex Mullinalaghta boss has breathed new life into the side and the brand of football they are playing has reignited interest in Cavan’s fortunes along their own terraces.
Diver labels them “dangerous opposition”. And he insists that Cavan are a genuine threat to Donegal’s Championship aspirations.
He said: “Cavan are stirring, without a doubt. “They have absolutely nothing to lose. That’s a great position to go into an Ulster final. They’ve a crowd of young and energetic players that can go out and go hell for leather.
“If they can bring that sort of intensity to it, and they’ll have a huge backing, then that’s a serious threat to Donegal. But I’m sure Declan and the lads, particularity the more experienced ones, will guard against all of that.
“We just have to make sure no form of complacency creeps in.”
Cavan overcame both Monaghan and Armagh, after a replay, to reach the weekend’s showpiece. Diver watched both games and he did see chinks in that blue armour.
“Cavan can be opened up,” he added. “They were exposed against Armagh but Armagh just didn’t have the players to capitalise on that.
“We have the players going forward to hurt them. But again, it’s all about going into the game with the right mindset.
“We’ve better defenders than Armagh and I think we can do well again coming from deep. But it’s all about the attitude Donegal take into the weekend.”
Diver admits it’s hard to fathom why Cavan haven’t been able to transfer their underage success to the next level. One usually follows the other – it has in so many other counties. Still, Sunday represents a huge chance for Cavan to change all of that.
“Four Under 21 titles is serious going by anyone’s standards,” he continued. “If you look at any other county really there usually is a trend. Donegal won the All-Ireland title in 1992 from that Under 21 side from ’83.
“Donegal would have been replenished in 2012 from that Under 21 side from 2010. Armagh’s success came from a strong minor side back in ’91. Tyrone had their fair share of underage joy right the way up with Mickey Harte. Cavan are probably wondering why it hasn’t yet happened for them.
“With what Cavan have taken through at Under 21 they should be competing at senior level.”
Diver is the local Centra owner and store manager back in his native Ardara. Talking to reps and visitors to his shop, he’s been told that the excitement in Cavan is huge.
That’s momentum the players will no doubt feed off ahead of Sunday.
“It has no doubt captured the imagination in Cavan. The swell of interest I’m told is massive. It’s a big deal any time. We’re in our eighth final in nine years and we’re all still massively excited.
“Imagine what it will be like up there now in the lead in. I remember ’97 with Martin McHugh in charge, they brought a serious excitement to that summer. They ran us ragged that day. We’d no answer for them.
“Of course they went on to win it. Listen, it’s a final and we have to show them the utmost of respect. This is a dangerous game for us.”
It’s no surprise that Diver reserves special mention for the likes of Eoghan Ban Gallagher and Ryan McHugh and the way they applied themselves last time out against Tyrone.
Diver himself loved to break from deep and he was full of praise for the way Donegal, and that pair in particular, punched holes against Tyrone.
He said: “If you look at the goal, Eoghan Ban took off past Paddy McGrath. And Paddy is no slouch. He bypassed everyone. The poor Tyrone lad was trying to hold onto him but he just couldn’t.
“Ryan McHugh was also breaking like that. Up top, there is that serious pace with both Paddy McBrearty and Jamie Brennan. Pace is a serious thing at that level.”
As well as those fliers, Diver believes older heads like Neil McGee, Paddy McGrath and Frank McGlynn remain vital to Donegal’s cause.
“Those lads deserve so much credit. To be sticking with that energy, because there must be a serious energy in training, it says a lot about the character of those men. But they are in phenomenal shape themselves.
“Frank and Paddy are still there, along with Neil. They still want to be there. And the young lads are spurring them on. They’ll love that – the challenge of keeping up with all those young lads.”
The manner in which Donegal disposed of Tyrone was seriously impressive. Diver says it’s obvious when a side are enjoying their football and Donegal fall into that category.
“If it’s too regimental it’ll break down. It has to be enjoyable and it certainly looks like that side are enjoying their football.
“It’s exciting. And there was plenty to be excited about in how Donegal beat Tyrone. But again, we need to err on the side of caution now.
“The dynamic changes and we’re the ones going into an Ulster final as favourites. We’ve the target on our backs. We have the experience I feel to deal with that. We just need to go out now and show it on the pitch.”