In the past we'd have fallen apart, admits Cavan hero Clarke
Killian Clarke's smile as he came off the pitch in Clones could hardly have been any broader. Cavan had been put to the pin of their collar by Armagh but by the end, Clarke's seven-year itch had been scratched. Cavan were back in an Ulster final.
"I'm probably in a wee bit of shock now, I am wrecked from the game, it was a very energy-draining game, especially in the second half. They pinned us in and our defenders had to carry the ball a lot more which worked out well. They didn't like the direct running style at them. I'm probably still in shock, it hasn't really hit me yet but I'd say it will in a few days' time."
As part of three Ulster U-21-winning teams, the Shercock man could reasonably have expected to get to a provincial final before now. But seven senior seasons have passed without a ticket to the province's biggest day.
Disappointment and regret became all too familiar but in Clones on Sunday he could see that those tough days were all part of the journey. Cavan got the job done second time around here but Clarke reckons in a different time they'd have crumbled against Armagh in the drawn game.
"We've been on the receiving ends of defeats," he reflected. "Especially last week as well we would have fell apart when it tightened up and the squeeze was put on us and we would have come out a point or two on the other side of that draw last week.
"But we stuck to our guns. Cian Mackey had an excellent game and pulled us back into it in the second half and especially in added time as well. And it was a great team performance, everyone really produced in the second half."
Even through those difficult days, Clarke felt they weren't too far away. Defensively he reckoned they could cope but it was at the other end they needed help. On Sunday, they kicked an impressive 23 points with 11 different players getting on the score-sheet. A total of 0-16 of that came from play.
"I think from a defensive point of view we have been up there with a few of the top teams in Ireland and we didn't really put the attacking structure together to get us those scores and we are probably turning into students of the game now, we know every angle to go at things and what way teams set up and how to attack different types of teams and kick-out strategies.
"So there's loads of different things added in there. Martin Corry (team coach) thinks he's a principal in there half the time and we're his wee students; he likes to keep us informed on everything that is going on.
"The inside line was firing, Dara (McVeety) was excellent inside again. Oisín (Pierson) got a very good score in the first half and won some dirty ball as well and I think when we go man for man with teams and they don't have that blanket defence, I think we are as good as anyone out there."
Clarke agreed that Cavan had put down one of their most complete performances in his time with the squad.
"I knew if we performed well and put the squeeze on them and dominated the game and played from the front foot we were going to come out victors. We were probably a wee bit lethargic last week and didn't bring that energy like we know we can bring and that paid dividends."
And now they move on to an Ulster final against Donegal. Clarke once told the story of how he sat in his car, roaring in celebration in rush hour traffic when he was made captain of the county by then manager Mattie McGleenan. That honour has since been passed to goalkeeper Raymond Galligan but Clarke is sure to enjoy the build-up.
"I watched a bit of the game and thought they were very good. I don't think Tyrone probably performed to where they can perform, they are trying a different style to probably what they are used to.
"We'll sit down during the week, we have two weeks to analyse them and we're good intelligent footballers at this stage, and we'll come up with a plan that best suits us."