Where are they now? Free-taking supremo Ronan Carolan looks back on his career in Breffni Blue
Club: Cuchullain’s, Mullagh
When did you play for Cavan? 1985-1999
What do you do nowadays?
I’m a chartered physiotherapist with my own practice in Virginia, Cavan. I mostly do private work but I would work also in an orthopaedic centre looking after long-limb fractures, femoral fractures and the like. I would see a lot of sports injuries, a lot of players from the likes of rugby and soccer, but mostly GAA players.
Are you still involved in Gaelic football?
I’m chairman of my own club, and I look after the U12s.
I’ve also been involved at different levels with different county teams since I retired really, and for the last seven or eight years I’ve been involved with the Cavan U21s.
There’s been three different managements but they’ve fed into each other, there’s been a continuity there. It’s been such a tight-knit group that it’s an easy crossover.
What do you remember about your first game for Cavan?
It was in Longford against Monaghan in the League before Christmas – an important game at the time.
There was a very established Cavan team that day, I was in from minors, and I remember the joy of playing with some players who were truly great – the Jim Reillys, Joe Dillon, Pat Faulkner, Ray Cullivan, there was a whole load of the Kingcourt and Laragh lads.
When we eventually won the Ulster title in 1997, thinking back to some of those players, they more than deserved success. It didn’t arrive for them unfortunately and that’s a real pity.
We were fortunate to have had that success and, as deserved as we felt it was, it’s very easy to go through a long career and win nothing.
What’s your best memory from your playing days?
There are many of them. You look back at the friends you made, even the simple training session where something funny happened. It’s all part of the tortuous, painful journey! You’d still get a belly laugh looking back at a lot of those times, and those things stay with you sometimes more than matches or winning or whatever.
In the Ulster final in 1997 though, there was a clarity before the game that there was no other way than winning the game. At half-time we were told that we were simply not to come back into the dressing without having won.
Probably that sheer and utter desperation to win got us over the line. It was an exhilarating experience, the moments after, and I have friends from different parts of the country who reckon it was the greatest sporting moment they had experienced.
And the worst?
Losing to Kerry in the next game, the All-Ireland semi-final.
It was a huge thing for us to win an Ulster Championship then, and there was probably a degree of fatigue kicked in.
But I vividly remember Larry Reilly hitting the underside of the bar with six minutes to go and that would’ve put us a point up, and the ball ended up in our net less than a minute later and we were five down.
That’s how close it was. What we learnt afterwards was that particular Kerry team was hugely vulnerable. They had an enormous amount of pressure on them, and we realised too late that they were there for the taking.
We should have taken them, but we didn’t. It’s still an open sore, but it’s something we have to live with.
Biggest character you played with?
You couldn’t go far beyond Paul O’Dowd and Fintan Cahill at opposite ends of the field keeping everybody entertained. Two real characters, and many of the fond memories I’d have from the depths of hard training would involve those two guys.
Are you glad you played in your era rather than today?
I’d be very glad to play when I did, it was an honour, but I would love to play nowadays. I was maybe more on the athletic side of the footballing sphere, and the modern day is all about being a middle distance runner. Athleticism is the primary requirement in most parts of the field.
Having seen the evolution of the game over the last number of years, I find it fascinating watching what teams are trying to do.
It’s a big regret that the one really significant injury of my career kept me out of an All-Ireland U21 final in 1988, but again it would have to be that Kerry game in 1997.
I believe we would’ve won an All-Ireland had we had the back door in the previous 10 years to gain some experience. We were beaten during those years by the brilliant Donegal team that really should’ve won more than one All-Ireland, and we came up against a particularly brilliant Monaghan team.
It might have made us a bit more shrewd when we did get the chance in ’97. Until the day I die, it will be my greatest regret that we didn’t take that opportunity. I’ve no doubt we were good enough.