Wednesday 13 December 2017

'You won't beat Dublin with 15 men inside the '45' so what's the point?'

Cavan manager Mattie McGleenan Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Cavan manager Mattie McGleenan Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

"Jim Gavin has my gold medal," Cavan manager Mattie McGleenan jokes, referencing the controversial 1995 All-Ireland final, the first time he came across the Dublin manager.

Former Tyrone star McGleenan goes on to explain how his path has crossed with Gavin's a few times since that September Sunday.

A few years back, Art McRory brought the two teams together to Dungannon to replay that final in aid of charity, and old friendships were reunited. Not long after that, when McGleenan was looking for someone to speak at an event run in memory his Eglish clubmate Cormac McAnallen, Gavin popped into his head.

"I invited Jim up to speak at a Cormac McAnallen leadership lecture in St Pat's Armagh maybe two years ago," he recalls. "His speech to the audience that night was absolutely superb - you could see this was a guy focused in terms of his coaching and how he runs his life and how he did his job.

"I could see that night he was starting to put a system in place to make Dublin a force to be reckoned with."

Tomorrow the pair meet again when Cavan and Dublin face off in Kingspan Breffni Park.

If McGleenan is the new kid in school, setting out on his first season in charge of a county side, then Gavin is the yard kingpin, aiming to further cement his place among the GAA's all-time great managers.

The learning curve has been steep for McGleenan this last couple of months. He says he never expected to be given a job of this magnitude, but maybe somewhere in the back of his mind this was where he always wanted to be.

For 16 years he trained a variety of club and county teams and after winning three Monaghan senior championships in four years with Scotstown, Cavan decided he was ready.

"It's a huge learning curve for me this weekend, I'm jumping from club football to Division 1 and the highest level of football you can play in Ireland," he says.

"But the one thing I guarantee is the Cavan players who come on Sunday, they will play the shirts off their backs. At this minute in time that's what I can guarantee.

"In terms of systems of play and skills of the game and those things, that's what coaching is and what we have the next five, six, eight months to work on. So I'll take character and commitment from the boys on Sunday and that will be a huge stepping stone for us going forward into the rest of the games this year."

McGleenan's admiration for Dublin is clear, not least because their expansive style of play is one he favours himself.

That will require a sea change for Cavan football, who won four Ulster U-21 titles on the bounce with a defence first mentality. That change will take time, but the McGleenan stresses that the foundations left by Terry Hyland make the switch a little easier.

"I know Cavan were very much built defensively and that's part and parcel of the game with men working hard around the football field," he says. "But I like forwards to be forwards, I like them to score, stay up the field and play attacking football and that's what we are trying to develop and work on.

"It won't be an overnight process. Jim Gavin is four years ahead of me in his programme. I'm four weeks into my programme so naturally there's a gulf in terms of how his players think and move in terms of Jim's idea of football.

"I love the Dublin style of football, the way they play - they are probably the best team I have seen, if not to have played the game in terms of the skills they bring to the table, their fitness and conditioning.

"Whatever system you throw at them. . . if you throw a blanket defence, they break it down.

"They have dealt with all those things, so put it like this: you are not going to beat Dublin playing 15 men inside the 45 - not this new team. So what is the point doing it?"

If there's any doubt in Cavan that they're back in the big time, tomorrow will make it abundantly clear. One of the best teams ever to play the game are coming to town and the TV cameras will be there to show the fixture live on TG4.

"Why do you play football? I played 20 years ago and if you didn't enjoy going to Kerry or Dublin or Cork to play the best teams in the land why are you taking part in the game?" asks McGleenan.

"In all of this National League we have a great opportunity to develop ourselves, and it gives us serious preparation going into the Ulster Championship.

"I have all intentions of keeping Cavan in Division 1 but I'm not worried where I have to go to play football.

"But listen Cavan will enjoy this, we haven't been in Division 1 in a long time and we have no intentions of going out without giving a serious effort.

"If everyone puts their noses in the right direction, you never know what will happen if we can keep the game tight."

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