GAA Football

Cavan need their best players playing says new boss Mickey Graham

New Cavan manager Mickey Graham has guided St Columba’s, Mullinalaghta to the last two Longford SFC titles. Picture by Sportsfile 

NEW Cavan manager Mickey Graham says his first ambition is to get “the best players playing” for Cavan, and to make them “unpredictable” to play against.

The Cavan Gaels clubman was finally confirmed as Mattie McGleenan’s successor yesterday morning, having been put forward to the full county board for recommendation by Cavan’s management committee earlier this week.

42-year-old Graham was part of the last Breffni team to win an Ulster title in 1997, and was a multiple championship winner as a player with the Gaels.

His unwillingness to go against his native club has meant he’s spent recent years managing across the border in Longford, and he will continue with Mullinalaghta until the end of their campaign as they chase a third SFC title in a row under him.

In taking on his native county whose recent championship record shows one win in Ulster in the last five years, Graham feels the first big step is to get the cream of the crop bought in.

“No more than any successful team, you look at your neighbours around you. Tyrone and Monaghan have the best players available to them playing for them, and that’s important, especially when you’re dealing with a small county like Cavan.

“You need all the best players playing. That’s the first thing we’ll be looking at. But you need players that want to play too, players that will give 100 per cent commitment.

“While it’s easy to say you need the best players playing, they have to want to play for Cavan. You can’t make them play for Cavan, there has to be a passion there and a motivation within themselves.

“The county scene at the moment is so intense and it’s a huge commitment for players. Your life’s basically given to inter-county football. We want lads who will give it 100 per cent and are in it for the right reasons.”

Cavan have struggled in recent years to find the balance in their play, going from overly-defensive to leaving themselves completely exposed at the back this summer, conceding huge tallies to Roscommon in the Division Two final and then Donegal in the Ulster SFC.

“It depends on the players available to you, and the type of player you have,” said Graham when asked how he intends to play.

“You have to play to your players’ strengths. There will be tweaking along the way and we’ll be hoping to not just have one plan, we hope to be adaptable to different games and different situations.

“That if one thing’s not working, we’ll be able to go to a plan B and not become too easy to predict. We want to be unpredictable, that when teams come they’re not sure what to expect because we’re adaptable.

“That will take time for us to stamp our authority on the way we want to set up.”

Time is a luxury that Division One doesn’t often afford. Their excellent spring last year led to them jumping straight back up after relegation in 2016.

Graham, who pointed to the Cavan side he played on coming up from the third tier to go on and win Ulster 21 years ago, admits the top tier could be a tough drawing board.

“We’re under no illusions, we find ourselves playing Division One football against the best teams in the country, starting off in our first year of management looking to blood new players.

You can look at it two ways. You can either think, Jesus it’s a big ask of them, or that they’re in at the deep end now and they have to learn how to swim or they’ll sink.

“The best place to learn is against the best teams. Those young lads we’ll hopefully bring in and may be playing inter-county football for the first time will see what the game’s like at that level, and they’ll know what they need to get to that level.

“While it’ll be a tough experience, it’ll be a learning experience for them and it’s exciting for them too. This is where you want to be.”

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