Breffni back in big time after long exile
IT'S perhaps fitting that on the weekend Cavan football chooses to waken from its slumber, the antiquated notion of royalty is thrust in our face.
For Cavan are aristocrats. Armagh, Tyrone and Down would have to band together just to match their number of Ulster titles. Similarly Derry, Armagh and Tyrone would need to pool their resources to equal the number of times Sam Maguire has visited Cavan. The only problem is that all of this is ancient history.
It's so long ago that the majority of the 15,000-20,000 or so fans who will travel to Croke Park tomorrow for the All-Ireland U-21 final against Galway won't have been born.
Their last All-Ireland came in 1952. Five years earlier they won at the Polo Grounds -- but only a handful of those men are still around to tell the tale. The fall-away happened almost over night and no one saw it coming. A few years without success turned into a bad decade and then a lost generation.
In the 1990s the northern landscape changed dramatically when Ulster teams started putting their chests out. First Down in 1991 and '94, while Donegal and Derry won breakthrough All-Irelands in between. Armagh and Tyrone followed in the noughties with the Breffni only raising a gallop once in that period, when they won an Ulster title in '97.
By that stage Cavan were not only gone from the top table, they were fighting for the scraps.
They have tried. Hiring a company to find their next senior manager a few years back was an innovative step, but Tommy Carr's reign was unsuccessful and included a first championship defeat to Fermanagh at Breffni Park.
This time around they paired former manager Val Andrews with local man Terry Hyland to manage the senior side.
Hyland, who is also in charge of the U-21s, spoke this week of "building blocks" such as the county entering a reserve side in the Leinster JFC to help blood new players, while the U-21s offer more hope.
"We got to the Ulster (U-21) final last year. We had nine of the starting team and we had kept a large panel last year to help blood them. We're doing the same this year -- we have used 10 different subs -- so while we're progressing in the competition, we are trying to bring building blocks in for next year."
Cavan last reached an All-Ireland decider at this grade in 1996, when Kerry came out on top, but 12 months later, that prompted their senior provincial title in 28 years. They'll be hoping for a similar outcome this time and there have been some green shoots
Swanlinbar went all the way to the All-Ireland Junior Club championship final at Croke Park last March, while the seniors narrowly missed out on promotion to Division 2. It's a long road back to their former glories but tomorrow, they'll get at least of the big time again.
"We are delighted (the game is at Croke Park). It's every player's dream. We know supporters can come and they will have no problem with seats and tickets and issues getting in and out that might be there with provincial grounds.
"There is a big buzz in Cavan. We don't get to All-Ireland finals too often and I hope they enjoy it. We're hoping that it's not the last and that in a few years down the road, we'll be here again. That's what we are building towards."