Eugene McGee: Cavan earned their success in some style
It's a long time since we've seen a standing ovation for Cavan senior footballers as they troop off the pitch at Breffni Park - and the accolade was well deserved after their victory over Galway in an epic encounter earned them a place in Division 1 for the first time in a decade and a half.
Frayed nerves were the order of the day in the final 10 minutes as Galway, to their credit, staged a very impressive rally to leave the home supporters on edge.
The margin was cut to just two points before the game turned on a save that denied Damien Comer a goal for the visitors.
Boosted by that let-off, Cavan went up the field to snatch the two insurance points, courtesy of Gearoid McKiernan and Niall Murray.
For those of us who take a special interest in the fortunes of Cavan football, the transformation in the team from the previous two seasons has been nothing short of phenomenal with regards to their style of play.
They were the most boring team in the country, with massed defences all the time and only a meagre score tally in most matches.
Supporters were often totally fed up with what they were paying in to watch and many actually turned away from the team.
But everything changed this year, with the team adopting a completely different style based, dare we say it, on a more traditional game - in which foot-passing and long kicking was quite common and their scoring from long-range was exceptional, as their league statistics show quite clearly.
The loyal fans were in shock until they realised this was going to be the norm, and the results were getting better and better.
Five successive league victories underlined the new direction for Cavan football - and yesterday was the culmination of that refreshing style.
Going back through their chequered history, one main ingredient in Cavan teams was the necessity to have at least one heroic figure on the team to give a sense of direction for the others.
Now they have McKiernan, from the Swanlinbar club, in that role. He has been steadily improving over the past few seasons and yesterday proved what a rare talent he is, as he lined out at centre-forward - or, as they used to call that position in Cavan, centre-three-quarters.
McKiernan is very versatile with all the skills of the traditional big player - aerial brilliance, rare scoring ability and tremendous fighting spirit in gaining possession.
His point in the 22nd minute was typical, as he set off on a long solo run while being harassed, pulled and dragged by two Galway opponents - but he still burst through to score that point. No wonder the huge crowd responded.
This Cavan team has been assembled from four Ulster-winning U-21 teams of recent years, which means they have a very strong and adaptable panel to add to those in the first team.
Few epitomise the versatility of this team as well as Dara McVeety from the Crosserlough club, who can operate as a back or forward with equal effectiveness.
Galway were somewhat unlucky in this league, having drawn three games, and they also showed great promise yesterday - but they possibly paid the price for being overly defensive at times, as they often had a dozen men behind the ball while trying to stop their opponents.
That's not the trademark of previous Galway football teams.
Cavan were much the same a year ago - so it just shows how football styles can be changed if the players and management are willing to do so.
League of our own
The National Football League has now been completed because all seven rounds of the competition have been played and the points have been allocated, as happens in every football league around the world. But hold on a minute - don't you all know the GAA is different to other sports so we have to have a different variation in our Leagues as well?
We are not content in the GAA to merely have an ordinary league competition but we want to have a knock-out competition at the end of the league too. We will have League finals in Divisions 2, 3 and 4 and even better, we will get two semi-finals and a final in Division 1.
The reason for this strange finale is quite simply money, or at least that applies to the Division 1 and 2 play-offs. Next year, it has been decided that we will not have Division 1 League semi-finals, only a final, and that was done recently as part of the campaign to release more weekends from football and leave more time for club fixtures, something that club players around Ireland will appreciate.
But if the GAA really wants to save more time for fixtures, the solution is very simple - stop playing knockout conclusions to all four League divisions and let results be decided by points tables like all other sports.