GAA Football

Cavan Gaels' Eamonn Reilly has bitter memories of 2014 Slaughtneil defeat

Eamonn Reilly of Cavan Gaels battling with Slaughtneil's Paul Bradley during their 2014 Ulster Club SFC quarter-final. Pic: Margaret McLaughlin

FORMER Cavan Gaels defender Eamonn Reilly ranks their 2014 Ulster Club quarter-final defeat to Slaughtneil as one of the biggest disappointments of his career – and hopes for a different outcome in Sunday’s provincial decider between the sides.

Reilly, a key member of Peter Canavan’s Gaels team that ran Slaughtneil so close back then, didn’t play another championship game for his club.

“The defeat to Slaughtneil [in 2014] was my last Championship match and I played one more league game the following week against Kingscourt and they beat us, so that was me finished.”

Cavan Gaels mounted a remarkable second-half comeback in Owenbeg three years ago but Seanie Johnston, virtually uncontainable on the day, missed a free to equalise to force the tie into extra-time.

Eleven players who lost by two points to the Derry champions helped the side overcome Derrygonnelly in the semi-finals.

“That defeat would be right up there with the biggest disappointments I’ve had,” says Reilly.

“We were confident going into the game, we’d worked hard all year, Peter Canavan was manager and he had us hugely prepared for it.

“But we let ourselves down in the first half and probably left ourselves a little bit too much to do in the second half. We really should have drawn the game. That was a huge regret of mine but I’m just delighted to be involved with these lads this year.”

After three years away from his club, Reilly has persuaded to return as selector to new manager Jason Reilly.

He won nine county titles as a player, six as captain, but harboured regrets over Cavan Gaels never making an impression on the provincial stage.

Sunday will signal the end of a 40-year wait for an Ulster final appearance for the Breffni men.

Reilly adds: “The team or the management have never really talked about the 40 years thing. Other people have been latching onto it but we haven’t. The players have 15 Slaughtneil players to take on – they’re not going to be thinking of the last 40 years.

“We would have been in a few quarter-finals over the years but we always seemed to meet really good teams – Crossmaglen, St Gall’s and Ballinderry – and were on the wrong side of the result by a point or two.”

After beating Castlerahan in this year’s county final, the Gaels cruised past Antrim champions Lamh Dhearg before needing two games to down Fermanagh champions Derrygonnelly.

“We beat the Antrim champions Lamh Dhearg - the final scoreline probably didn’t help us going into the Derrygonnelly game. Those two Derrygonnelly games really opened our eyes and showed us what it’s all about. It was brilliant the way they responded and never gave up.”

This year’s successful campaign, where they are still unbeaten in all competitions, has been a far-cry from the same side that were in a relegation struggle the previous year.

“We’re back in the Ulster final for the first time in 40 years and there’s a real buzz around the club, particularly after last year when we were fighting relegation.

“Basically, we shouldn’t have been fighting relegation last year because the same players were there all the time. I think it was a once-off.

“People got together in January and said: ‘We’re way better than that and we haven’t become a bad team overnight.’

“So we knuckled down, there’s been a great team spirit, no back-biting and Jason has brought a real positive attitude to it. Anything he says, he’s bringing the players along with him and it’s kind of snowballed from that.”

On facing Mickey Moran’s Slaughtneil side, Reilly says: “I know Slaughtneil are a hardened team and always seem to come out the winners of tight games, so we’re under no illusions. We’re going into this final as firm underdogs but it’s a great position to be in – we’re in the final and 60 minutes away from possibly winning the competition.”

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