Sunday 26 March 2017

No Experience required

cavan management are looking to the future with their new blood preparing to cast off shadows of the past

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Nothing has coloured Cavan football's recent history more than the parting shots of the last two managers and the recurring theme of their words.

In a feature published in the Irish Independent last January, which sourced the views of departed managers in 2010, the always forthright Tommy Carr was asked what his 'best achievement' was during his time in charge of the Breffni County.

Unequivocally, Carr turned to that weekend at the end of last June when Cavan beat Wicklow with just 13 men in their first-round qualifier at Kingspan Breffni Park, completing a comeback from seven points down in the process.

And then Carr criticised the attitude of some of the Cavan players.

For him, "biting the bullet with a few uncommitted players who were hanging on to the panel just for the sake of being there" was of almost equal importance to any on-field achievement.

The message from Carr was simple: too many Cavan footballers were happy to have the status of being an inter-county player attached to them, but not the workload that accompanied it.

However, Carr had built up a sufficiently strong relationship with enough players for them to bat for him when county board officials came knocking on his door at the end of the 2009 season advising him that they felt it best that he vacated his position.

damning

Donal Keogan's review of his own two years at the helm, 2007 and '08, was even more damning of the attitude of the players.

When Keogan, a local businessman with a keen interest in Cavan football and with the game in the county at heart, lifted his anchor after two seasons in charge, he was far more scathing and implicit than his successor.

He told of being "fed up" with the players' attitude.

"They just didn't want success badly enough and that's why we're out of the championship," he reflected.

"A lot of the players wanted the trappings of an inter-county footballer, but they weren't prepared to put the effort in and work.

"A lot of the Cavan players, though not all of them, have serious attitude problems. The ability in the squad is unquestionable, but they don't want it enough. It doesn't hurt them enough when they lose.

"After we beat Antrim in the Ulster Championship, about 90pc of our fellas exchanged shirts.

"What does that say about the Cavan jersey? They didn't have enough pride in it."

He talked of some fellas who "know it all" and wondered aloud why they couldn't match the ambition of Fermanagh and Monaghan, two neighbouring counties of similar profile who had reached the previous two Ulster finals.

"I talked to Marty McElkennon, whom I replaced as Cavan manager, and he told me about the team, but I thought I could do a better job because I was a Cavan man," Keoghan explained. "I'm bitterly disappointed with the way it went."

They were damning assessments of Cavan football on both counts.

The insider and the outsider had both, it seemed, come across the same vein of personality in the average Cavan player. Not every footballer was implicated, it must be noted, but enough to elicit such reflections from their last two managers.

The results in Ulster since their last appearance in a provincial final in 2001 don't help the cause in arguing against the perception that Keogan, and Carr to a lesser extent, had conveyed.

In nine seasons they have managed victories against Down (2004), Antrim ('05 and '08) and Fermanagh ('09) with draws against Down ('04), Antrim ('05) and Tyrone ('05).

Out of 17 games in Ulster from '02 to 2010, their percentage success rate was 35pc. Only Antrim, with three wins and a draw out of 13 games, have an inferior record in the province.

Val Andrews and Terry Hyland may not have had the words of their predecessors in mind when they set about redrawing the blueprint upon their appointment last autumn.

But the sweeping changes that they have made, both to their squad and to their first championship team to face Donegal in Kingspan Breffni Park tomorrow, point to a need for reform.

No squad in the country had undergone such an extensive makeover as Cavan in the last 12 months, and no other team can point to eight championship debutants starting. For a variety of reasons, just 13 of Carr's 32-man squad for the 2010 championship remain.

Eight players Carr introduced for the first time last year have moved on, while more established players -- like Nicholas Walsh, Martin and Fintan Reilly, Ciaran Galligan and Philip Brady, who all started championship games in 2010 -- are no longer involved.

The attrition rate among the establishment is also reflected in the first 15. No place for Dermot Sheridan in the full-back line, no place for Mark McKeever, with goalkeeper James Reilly and Seanie Johnston the longest serving players.

No place for Gareth 'Nesty' Smith, the Dublin-based St Oliver Plunkett's Eoghan Ruadh star who qualified under the parentage rule, or Cian Mackey, another regular feature of their attack over the last few summers.

Ronan Flanagan is also out injured, so the experience levels have taken a further pummelling. Essentially Cavan's first team of the 2011 championship is a statement about the future.

Illusion

With 10 of the U-21 panel -- Gearoid McKiernan, Alan O'Mara, Niall Murray, Michael Brady, Niall McDermott, Fergal Flanagan, Oisin Minagh, Damien Barkey, Barry Reilly and Niall McKiernan -- that reached an All-Ireland final in April included in their panel, no one is under any illusions about where the real investment of faith now lies.

It's considered a bold and brave selection and one that will surely be insulated from any overbearing criticism if things go wrong against a Donegal team that is a lot more seasoned.

Only Johnston (26), Reilly (30) and Micheal Lyng (26) have any bank of experience to fall back on, while Ray Cullivan, John McCutcheon, Eugene Keating and David Givney have limited championship exposure behind them -- leaving an average age of just less than 23.

Cavan may be taking a step back to go forward again on their own home turf tomorrow. But a clear vision of what the future may hold has been set.

Irish Independent

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