Sport Gaelic Football

Thursday 14 December 2017

Home-grown manager a must for Cavan football to thrive, insists Flanagan

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The roll-call of Cavan managers over the last two decades stretches into an array of different counties and provinces.

From Donegal came Martin McHugh for three years that culminated in their only Ulster title for 44 years in 1997. Liam Austin (Down), Mattie Kerrigan (Meath), Eamonn Coleman (Derry), Marty McElkennon (Tyrone), and Tommy Carr and Val Andrews (twice) from Dublin followed.

In between, local man Donal Keogan's two-year spell was the only time in just under 20 years that a home-grown manager was given responsibility for managing the senior team until Terry Hyland (right) was given sole custody in April 2012 after Andrews' departure.

Perhaps no other football county over the same period has drawn from across its boundaries for managerial guidance.

Acrimony has never been far away, either. Keogan left a parting shot at the door of the players when he left after 2008, a county board heave against Carr at the end of his first year didn't materialise when he got sufficient player backing, while Andrews exited after the 2012 league, making way for Hyland.

Ronan Flanagan has played under five different Cavan managers since his arrival in 2006 and is adamant that, for Cavan to progress, a Cavan man should be charge. He can sense a calmness now, a stability that will help players develop better.

"That I feel is a big thing, because he (Hyland) is a Cavan man at heart and that's what you want in control of your county team.

"Personally, I feel it's better. I've had too many experiences of outside managers and there's nobody who cares like their own – and Terry Hyland cares a lot.

"It doesn't matter if you're number one or number 30, Terry gives you the exact same time because he's not just looking at Monaghan or just at 2013, he's looking at 2014, to build and bring players along. He wants to make that panel as big as possible so that he has lads to call on in the future."

His restriction on outside managers does not extend to back-room staff, however.

In Peter Donnelly, the former Tyrone U-21 captain, Cavan County Board have employed a full-time strength and conditioning coach who works in parallel with Hyland and Anthony Forde.

The players, Flanagan acknowledges, are really comfortable with him. "Everyone's always interested and willing to go to training and Peter's the reason for that," he admitted.

Successive victories in Ulster this year over Armagh and Fermanagh have doubled the number of wins he has had as a Cavan player in the previous five years, the 2009 quarter-final against Fermanagh being their only moment of satisfaction.

"It hasn't been many unfortunately. This year we got two and hopefully we can make it three.

"When you are there that long you do start questioning things, but when you see the improvements in the U-21s, you always have hope. They have come through and pushed us and they will keep pushing us until we're gone. They'll take the mantle," admitted the versatile 26-year-old.

Under Hyland – who last night named an unchanged team for Saturday's Ulster SFC semi-final against Monaghan – their game plan has focused heavily on defence and counter-attack, a style that served them well in both games so far.

"They have changed their approach and things have definitely evolved since I started. It's now about working hard and defending hard and when you break, you break fast and get up the field for your scores."

It is a style that has, he admits, cost them dearly in the past, when they have encountered it, especially against Donegal. It was a great education.

"When you play the best, you can only try to learn and improve from them and Donegal are the best.

"As players, we discussed it (the way they want to play) but there is no point in us discussing it because, at the end of the day, it is the manager who has the decision to make.

"But Terry and Anthony and the lads have really bought into the modern game and they are really trying to evolve us."

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