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CAVAN'S DREAM Sean McGoldrick: Cavan's mission this winter has been to make a mockery of punditry 


Cavan players celebrate their Ulster final win

Cavan players celebrate their Ulster final win

Cavan players celebrate their Ulster final win

THE GAA’s DNA is deeply embedded in the psyche of Cavan.  

This is no accident – Cavan was once a GAA superpower as reflected in the fact that they were winning their 40th provincial title on Sunday.

Prior to this latest success they have won just one Ulster title since 1969. They last contested an All-Ireland final in 1952, when they beat Meath to win the Sam Maguire Cup for the fifth time. But the flame never dimmed.

Despite their decline in the last 50 years, they have still won more than twice as many Ulster titles as their nearest rivals Tyrone (17).

There are few Cavan adults who cannot at least sing the chorus of ‘The Gallant John Joe’ – a ballad penned in tribute to the county’s legendary double All-Ireland-winning captain John Joe O’Reilly.

Sadly, he died in 1952 at the age of 33, having failed to recover from a serious injury he sustained while playing the game he loved so much.

Another Cornafean native George Cartwright has just published a biography of Cavan’s greatest GAA player, simply titled ‘The Gallant John Joe.’

In a poignant coincidence the 68th anniversary of O'Reilly's on November 22, 1952 fell on Sunday.

Cavan boss Mickey Graham has spent a lifetime steeped in that tradition. He played on the previous Cavan team to win the Anglo-Celt Cup in 1997 which was managed by Donegal All-Ireland medallist Martin McHugh.

Few outside the Breffni County gave Cavan any chance of stopping Donegal from winning a hat-trick of Ulster titles. Cavan were 15/2 and the bookies are rarely wrong.

Donegal’s prospects in the last four of the All-Ireland series were already being debated. Graham must have relished how his team’s chances have been summarily dismissed.

Wiser Donegal fans would have fretted about the outcome regardless of the odds. They still have nightmares about what happened in the 2013 Ulster final when last the county went in search of a hat-trick of provincial titles. They were blindsided by Monaghan.

What was remarkable about Cavan’s win as that it was their sixth game in as many weeks. But the depth of their squad has been their saviour with the likes Thomas Galligan, Thomas Edward Donohoe, and Conor Madden, who scored 0-3 off the bench in their semi-final win over Down, all filling the role of super subs.

What has made Cavan special this winter is that they have developed a Kilkenny-like refusal to accept defeat.

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They were behind at half-time in their four Ulster championship games against Monaghan, Antrim, Down and Donegal.

They scored the last six points to force their preliminary-round tie against Monaghan into extra time and were ten points behind Down before half-time.

Kerry could learn a lot from their ability to close out games. Their methods might give their fans collective heart failure, but they get the business done. The late, late free from goalkeeper Raymond Galligan to knockout Monaghan at the end of extra time was, arguably, the score of the championship – until Mark Keane’s famous knockout goal for Cork.

Cavan needed to start well against hot favourites Donegal and stay in the game for as longer as possible to sow doubt in the minds of the Donegal players, who wouldn’t be human if they hadn’t started believing some of the hype surrounding their All-Ireland chances.

They have an unenviable record in the clutch games, losing at home to Tyrone in what was effectively an All-Ireland quarter-final in 2018 before succumbing to a more streetwise Mayo when there was a place in the All-Ireland semi-final up for grabs last summer.

This loss against Cavan was another high-profile meltdown which will take them a long time to come to terms with.

The sprint-like nature of this year’s championship means that team managers haven’t sufficient time to devise and practice plays to counter-act their opponents.

This suited Cavan because the prospect of meeting Donegal would have been on the mind of Mickey Graham for a long time whereas the Donegal management only had a week to focus on Donegal who comfortably beat them in last year’s Ulster final.

In this strangest of years everything about the championship is different with echoes of what happened one hundred years ago becoming the dominant theme.

So, on Saturday week, as was the case a century ago Dublin and Cavan meet in the All-Ireland semi-final.

It will scarcely matter to Cavan what the defending All-Ireland champions will be the hottest of favourites as their mission this winter has been to make a mockery of punditry.

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