Cavan resurgence showing value of buoyant youth policy
Published 23/04/2016 | 02:30
A Cavan man, Aogán Ó Fearghail, in situ as President of the GAA; promotion to Division 1 of the Allianz League confirmed for next year, and Ulster rivals Tyrone the opposition in the Division 2 final at Croke Park tomorrow.
What's not to like if you're a Cavan supporter? The excitement has been growing in intensity all week around the county.
Inside the camp, manager Terry Hyland and his players have done all they can to keep the hype from affecting preparations.
Cavan, under Hyland's guidance, got to Croke Park three years ago for the All-Ireland quarter-finals and ran into a Kerry team which never looking like losing the game.
This experience should help those who were part of the panel that day, but for the youthful cohort who have been assimilated into the set-up in the last couple of years, it's something new.
The arrival on the national stage inevitably throws up comparisons with the past decades when Cavan lorded it over Ulster.
They still hold the record for the most Ulster titles, with 37 compared to 16 for nearest challengers Monaghan.
The problem has been the barren years which came after the time of plenty pre and post-WW2, an era which petered out on the cusp of the '70s.
Four wins in the '60s - '62, '64, '67, '69 - brought the county's tally to 36.
Cavan had to wait 26 years for the next, and most recent, Ulster success in 1997.
They last sampled Division 1 football 15 years ago, so 2016 represents a rising tide in the county's fortunes.
Dermot McCabe, one of the finest players to grace the blue jersey, has seen at first hand the benefit of focused development work within Cavan at grassroots level over the last six years.
McCabe, a member of that 1997 Ulster championship side, and a former All-Star, was manager of the 2011 side that won the county's first Ulster minor title in 37 years.
He works as a development officer for the GAA in Cavan, and knows that the progress of the senior team is no accident.
Almost half of the senior side who played against Galway with promotion at stake were on that 2011 minor team, and went on to compete very successfully for the U-21s, who won four provincial titles in a row from 2011-14.
Putting it in context, before they won the 2011 U-21 Ulster championship, the previous success at that level was in 1996, when McCabe was on the team.
This week it's all about the seniors and their clash with Tyrone. As a reality check, you could hardly ask for more testing opposition at GAA headquarters, particularly for an Ulster team.
McCabe reckons that with promotion in the bag, the challenge now is to find a way to win on the big stage.
"It's definitely key to get promotion, and it's a few years since we beat Tyrone at senior level, so once you're there, you'd like to try and win that," he says.
"But promotion is definitely a huge plus, and there's good interest back in Cavan.
"There was a big crowd at the Laois game, and a bigger crowd at the Galway game.
"We'll have great crowds at the Division 1 games depending on who we get at home."
Mickey Harte's Tyrone got the better of Cavan in their League meeting at Healy Park on January 31, winning a hard-fought game played in windy and wet conditions by 0-10 to 0-8.
From that starting point, both teams wended their way through the League series and deserve their place in the Division 2 final.
McCabe believes that Cavan's must match Tyrone's renowned defensive cover, otherwise they could get caught out at the back.
"Tyrone, as results have shown, are the strongest team in Division 2," he says.
"I suppose where Cavan are a little more expansive, they probably have conceded a little more in the last couple of games than they normally would have, so we have needed 1-17 and 1-16 to beat Laois and Galway.
"That would be difficult to get against Tyrone with the way they play.
"You'd have to say that if Tyrone get 1-15 or 1-16 you'd do very well to win the game, so they'll (Cavan) probably have to be careful at that end of things to be sure they keep their scores as low as possible.
"You can't be leaving everything open at the back, and that's probably what Cavan have to be careful about."
In January, Hyland estimated he would be starting without 14 players off last year's panel, including Martin Dunne, who opted out for the year.
However, the young players who have come into the squad and the team have made up for any losses in personnel in fine style.
"Players rose to the challenge. Over the last months, Cavan have evolved into quite a big team. "There's a lot of tall men, a lot of physical men that's there now," says McCabe.
"They were given the opportunity because they had the experience of minor and U-21, and so far they've taken their opportunity with both hands."