Ulster SFC: Expect the unexpected as Donegal and Cavan meet in decider

Donegal's Patrick McBrearty and Cavan's Padraig Faulkner will be in action in Sunday's Ulster Final
Donegal or Cavan will be crowned Ulster champions on Sunday

Like most people, I have been captivated by this year's Ulster Championship.

I must say though, it has made life pretty difficult for us pundits.

All the late comebacks, the twists and the turns have rendered any and all attempts at making a prediction or even an educated guess utterly pointless.

So here's my one and only prediction for Sunday's final at Clones:

Something is going to happen that no-one from Cavan or Donegal could predict or pre-empt. It's just the sort of year it's been.

It's fair to say that most of people have Donegal down as favourites and I would agree with that.

They've shown that they have numerous strings to their bow and can adapt and thrive whatever the situation.

Against Fermanagh they had to show patience in the first half before their quality made the difference in the second.

Then, in the semi-final, they simply dominated one of the best teams in Ireland during an incredible first-half display in which they absolutely blitzed Tyrone.

The second 35 minutes of that encounter was equally impressive as they were able to see out the game with minimal fuss.

Jamie Brennan's early goal helped Donegal see off Tyrone in the provincial semi-finals
Donegal's attacking brilliance was on full display against Tyrone in the semi-final

For me, they are among the top four teams in the country.

Based on what they have shown in 2019, I would have them just behind Dublin and Kerry.

Last year, Declan Bonner's side flexed their muscles when they got to Clones, racking up scores of 2-22 in the semi-final against Down and 2-18 as they blew Fermanagh away in the final.

St Tiernach's Park could scarcely suit Donegal's style of play any better.

They are so quick, so fit and can turn defence into attack in the blink of an eye that they thrive on big pitches with plenty of room to run.

Clones ticks this box, and the some. It is huge and allows Donegal's players to run from anywhere on the field.

Cavan must play their own game

I'd go as far to say that Donegal's skills across the board are such that they have the potential to intimidate their opponents before a ball is kicked, but Cavan won't be focusing on what Donegal can do to them.

If they are to win, then Mickey Graham's men must have the courage to continue to do exactly what has taken them this far.

In every game, Cavan's ability to win the ball back in the right areas and kick it from defence into the half-forward line has served them well.

Nowadays teams are dropping so many players back behind the ball that they often lose their half-forward line.

Invariably what happens is they win it back in their own half but then have no-one to play it up to except the full-forwards who are 70 yards away.

Dara McVeety has had an outstanding summer for Cavan
Dara McVeety starred with four points as Cavan overcame Armagh in a replay

Cavan have held their nerve and utilized the likes of Dara McVeety, Cian Mackey and Oisin Kiernan, finding them from defence with early balls where play can either be held up or moved into the full-forwards.

Their strength is their balance between defence and attack, they must continue to keep it that way.

They are a clever side and will of course be trying to work out how to nullify Donegal's threats, but I believe that about 90% of Cavan's pre-match focus will be on maximising their own strengths.

It is remarkable that they haven't been to an Ulster final for 18 years, a fact that will not be lost on their squad.

They need no reminder that opportunities like this do not come around too often.

Cavan will aim to upset favourites Donegal in Sunday's Ulster Final
All signs points towards an attacking final in Clones

With so much at stake, finals can often be cagey affairs but I just don't see how this one could play out in that way.

Both of these sides subscribe to the 'attack first' approach which surely points towards a really exciting game of football.

I mean, just look at the defences of both sides.

Donegal tend to operate with Stephen McMenamin and Neil McGee sitting as their markers, with the rest of their defence actively encouraged to get forward and support the attack.

Similarly Cavan with Killian Clarke, Conor Rehill and Conor Moynagh are always looking to venture into opposition territory.

On the basis of what we have seen so far this season, it should be a final worthy of the occasion.

Monaghan and Armagh's all-Ulster showdown

I doubt there would have been many smiles in either Monaghan or Armagh when the two were drawn against each other in the second round of qualifiers.

After three titanic tussles in the Championship, Armagh would definitely have wanted someone from another province and I think Monaghan probably feel the same.

Psychologically those games will have taken a lot out of Armagh. To have spent so much energy already and still only find yourself in the second round will be a bitter pill to swallow.

Monaghan's defenders also match-up quite nicely with the potent attacking trio of Jamie Clarke, Stefan Campbell and Rian O'Neill, which is why I am backing the Farneymen to win this one.

If you take those three out of the game, I don't think Armagh have enough other contributors to get past Monaghan.

Jamie Clarke
Armagh will need to regroup after three hard-fought Ulster SFC ties

There will be a special atmosphere in Newry when Mayo come to town on Saturday evening.

Yes, I suppose you could argue that I have something of a soft spot for Down, but I genuinely believe they've got a real chance.

The game doesn't throw-in until 19:00 BST, which is far more awkward than you might think for Mayo.

Whereas Down's players will probably be able to relax at home until mid-afternoon, the visitors will have had to either travel up the night before or come up on the day.

The evening kick-off makes it a really awkward time for away teams, I have been in away games in the AFL and the GAA where you are travelling large distances and it is very hard to get your day in when you're not at home.

I was chatting to a few of the Down players when they were training in Newcastle on Saturday and the mood in the camp looked to be very good after their win over Tipperary.

You can expect a very fiery first 20 minutes from Down so it will be interesting to see how Mayo react to that.

Clearly Mayo are favourites, but i think Down really could cause a massive upset.

But like I said, at this stage of the summer, I know better than to predict anything!

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