For all the measurements and key performance indicators that modern Gaelic games management likes to live and die by, silverware remains the most tangible and recognisable currency.
Mickey Graham has developed a nice habit of successful trophy hunts as a manager.
With Mullinalaghta, there was that giant-killing act in 2018 when they won the Leinster club title and then with Cavan, an Ulster title in the first Covid year that few saw coming.
This year there has been an Allianz Division 4 title and now a pursuit of the first ever Tailteann Cup.
Those two prizes are a reflection of where Cavan are after a fall through the divisions but they are prizes nonetheless. And for Graham there is a clear parallel.
“It is a bit like the FA Cup over in England, Liverpool and Man City in the early stages of the competition, they will throw out maybe half their reserve squad but once they get to a FA Cup semi-final or final, you can see all the first team players returning,” said Graham.
“The reality is that there is a cup there to be won and then they take it serious,” he added.
“It is the same with the Europa Cup as well. When the big teams get knocked out of the Champions League, the main focus is the next competition. Playing in Croke Park, winning silverware, even players at home who are maybe in the U-20 squad are thinking there is an opportunity for us, it just gives them that appetite to put on the Cavan jersey.”
In Cavan’s case, the FA Cup comparison probably isn’t as applicable. From the outset, they’ve had their strongest team and a big buy-in that took them past Down, Fermanagh and then Sligo in the semi-final. They’ve been favourites from the start, not a position past Cavan teams have been always entirely comfortable with. So this has really been new territory and an interesting experience for their group.
“We went in as favourites in all our games (in the Division 4 league) and we just had to deal with it. We’ve come to get used to it now,” Graham said. What has pleased him most is their attitude to the fledgling competition, their embrace of it and their vision of Cavan, potentially, beyond this year.
“It wasn’t a big sell because the players knew it wasn’t about this weekend or the Tailteann Cup, it was about the future of Cavan in the years to come and laying the right foundation, making sure that the mindset of players coming in over the next few years that it is not just for the Ulster Championship, it is for the development and progress of Cavan football,” said Graham.
“It would have been very easy to down tools after the Donegal game. Probably in the past for Cavan after a Ulster Championship defeat, teams generally didn’t approach the qualifiers with the attitude of seeing where we can end up, whereas after this year, when we got beaten by Donegal the lads felt that a lot of work had gone into the season and it’d be an awful shame if we didn’t try and see could we finish it out and go as far as possible in the competition,” added the Cavan Gaels man.
“I just think the way they have approached it has been a breath of fresh air and it’s given the county and supporters something to look forward to.
“There has been a great buy-in from the supporters, more so from the younger generation. They have the opportunity to go and support Cavan on three occasions in the one year. It’s unheard of.”
It has put them in the unusual position of being at the end of a competition knowing they can go no further for the first time since their 1952 All-Ireland win, the last of the county’s five.
There’s something special, he says, “to be still playing football into July and going into the last game of your season knowing that this is it no matter what, that it’s over and that when you train next Thursday night, that it’s the final training session of the year.
“Some lads will never be back collectively as a group or will never be in the same changing room again and knowing that this game is the end of the season and there’s something to play for it.
“The one thing about Cavan is, if you can string a few wins together to see that the lads are giving it their best shot, the supporters will get in behind them.
“There seems to be a real feel-good factor around.”