Martin Dunne says no reason why Cavan Gaels can't make Ulster impact
MARTIN Dunne’s hunger was carved out at an early age. The 28-year-old Cavan Gaels forward was an eager spectator when the club bridged a 23-year gap by winning the Cavan senior football title in 2001.
That was only the town club’s fifth Breffni crown, but the Gaels have since gone on to add nine more and Dunne reveals that those players at the heart of the club’s renaissance in the early Noughties inspired his own ambitions to lift the Oliver Plunkett Cup.
Last month’s win over now-perennial bridesmaids Castlerahan was Dunne’s fifth Cavan title, and he has more than sated that hunger which developed on the terraces of Kingspan Breffni Park years before.
“All my best friends are club men, lads that I grew up with since eight years of age and other lads who I looked up to when I was a young fella going to county finals, watching the likes of Seanie Johnston and Micheal Lyng picking up medals,” he said.
“All I wanted to do was try and get on the team and play with these boys and now to be part of it and winning with these boys, it’s great.”
Dunne, who works as an accountant in Cavan town, stepped away from the county game toward the end of 2015 and then Breffni boss Terry Hyland flagged it up as yet another example of the unyielding demands of county football.
But the forward, who hinted at a sparkling county career in the blue of Cavan with a sensational Ulster Championship display against Armagh in 2013, in which he bagged eight points from play, has been ploughing his efforts into maintaining the Gaels’ spot at the top table within the county.
And that work has given him a glimpse into the effort that goes on to maintain the cycle of success in the club.
He’s keen to flag up the contribution of the Gaels at the opposite ends of their playing careers, the likes of Lyng and Johnston, and players he’s had a hand in developing while volunteering his time to coach underage teams in the past.
“I would have done a bit of coaching with the club and coached a couple of the young lads and now I’m playing alongside some of the young lads I was coaching a few years ago,” he said.
Dunne is well placed to judge the potent mix of youth and experience in this Gaels side as he can still claim to have a little bit of the former and a fair share of the latter.
Their success this year has been built as much on the young shoulders of full-back Luke Fortune and the pace and work-rate of the Graham brothers, Andy and Paul, as it has in the points he and Johnston have flung over the bar.
Winning a county title is the big box the Gaels look to tick every year, and Dunne revealed it’s “the goal we set ourselves at the start of every year. We set the standard high and, the last couple of years, it didn’t really go according to plan”.
This year was their first county title since 2014, and they’ve watched as Kingscourt and Ramor United claimed the honours in the last couple of years. The Cavan championship is run on a league basis before the knock-out stages and although they start most years as favourites, last year’s renewal was one to forget for the Gaels. They finished bottom of their group with just one win which meant they had to face Denn in a relegation play-off. They won that comfortably, but Dunne believes it was that wake-up call which meant they were determined to get off to a much better start this year.
“This year, we really knuckled down early on and got a couple of wins under the belt early on in the league and that got momentum going from there and luckily it carried throughout the championship and we got across the line,” he said.
“There was a couple of years there we lost games we wouldn’t normally lose, league games.
“Once we got that going early on and won the first couple of league games, we kind of got momentum from then and confidence started coming back into the team, especially with the young lads coming in as well. The more games we won, the better we got.”
They will have to get even better if they are to finally break Cavan’s duck in the Ulster club championship. No club from the Breffni county has won the competition in its near 50-year history and, of the 49 finals which have been contested, only five have featured Cavan teams.
It’s something Dunne confesses he can’t quite put his finger on and, to be fair, he can only speak of his own experiences in the competition which have featured narrow defeats to St Gall’s in 2009 and Slaughtneil in 2014, both teams going on to contest All-Ireland finals the following spring.
It is on such fine margins that championships are won and myths perpetuated. All that Dunne knows is that the Gaels have never been better prepared for the challenge that county and now provincial championships throw up as they prepare to face Antrim champions Lamh Dhearg.
Former player Jason O’Reilly has regained the Oliver Plunkett Cup in his first year in charge, a feat made even more impressive, according to Dunne, by the fact that he’s managed to keep a huge panel eager and involved.
“To keep 35/40 lads hungry for football all year and for numbers not to be dropping off, he must be doing something right,” said Dunne.
“It’s hard to juggle every player, everyone’s going to be disappointed if they’re not getting play or not on the panel, but he’s kept everyone together and he’s done a great job so far and hopefully we’ve another couple of months left in it.”
And if they are to blaze a trail for the Breffni county, Dunne, having seen the commitment by his Gaels team-mates to date, knows that every member of the senior panel is ready to stand up and put their shoulder to the wheel.
“Once we got going early on, the lads kind of got into a routine and definitely this year the commitment levels have been probably the best I’ve ever seen,” he said.
“Not just from the lads who would be playing, but from the lads who are subs and not usually togging out, they’ve put in as much effort as anyone else and you can really see that there when lads are coming off the bench and at training, everyone’s putting their best foot forward and that’s what we want. We need that, lads pushing for places.
“Every man’s not going to play well any given day, so we need lads to come in and do a job. Luckily enough, in a couple of tight games, our bench has stood to us. We’ve a big strong bench and a strong panel.”