#Last20Years: The pick of Cavan from the last two decades
In the sixth of a nine-part series, Cahair O'Kane selects his best 15 footballers to have represented each Ulster county over the past 20 years. Today it's Cavan...
In the sixth of a nine-part series, Cahair O'Kane selects his best 15 footballers to have represented each Ulster county over the past 20 years. Today it’s Cavan
IT would take some trawl of the archives to find a bad game that James Reilly played for Cavan. Made his debut in 2005 and over the next eight years he’d build a reputation as one of the game’s best shot-stoppers. Brilliant in his first year against Antrim and twice Tyrone, his efforts were never rewarded with the results they might have secured. Raymond Galligan is a very different goalkeeper but is squeezed out.
CALLED up just out of minor in 2002, Hannon was the speedy corner-back that the Breffnimen came to rely on after he finally got a proper run at it in 2005. He was outstanding that season, starring against Tyrone and Donegal, and he’d go on to play every minute of their next 18 championship games over six years. Always caught the eye on the ball. Also, once won a race against a greyhound (albeit with the benefit of a handicap) at a club fundraiser.
WHEN Rory Dunne exited stage left, Cavan turned to Padraig Faulkner to fill the number three shirt. In the last four seasons, he’s eclipsed anyone that’s worn the number three shirt so far this century. Perhaps defined by his battles with Conor McManus, in which he has enjoyed fair success, Faulkner has always had the ability to play further out since coming properly into the side in 2016.
APPEARED off the production line in 2013 and was one of the country’s most promising young players that year as his defensive displays helped Cavan reach a rare All-Ireland quarter-final. Thereafter, he never shirked any of the considerable challenges he was handed in a career that has seen him moved from pillar to post. Arguably at his best at wing-back, Clarke will be a huge miss in 2020.
IN the season just gone, Marty Reilly showed all the guile and craft you’d expect from a playmaker of his calibre. His ability to drop a pass into a man’s chest off his left foot is a skill that very few have perfected the way he has. Could have been lost to Cavan after initially pursuing a soccer career across the water at Burnley, but was home by ’07 and has been brilliant since returning from a break for the 2013 campaign.
INITIALLY a wing-forward in his early days at inter-county, Forde became the hub of Cavan’s defence when he moved into the number six slot with which he became synonymous. An old-style centre-back, his pace and reading of the game were second-to-none. A graduate of the 1996 U21 team that reached an All-Ireland final, Forde was a big championship player and was still going strong up until he quit in 2008.
IN an interview in 2015, Karl Lacey was asked if he’d ever been ripped apart in a game. “I remember a minor game I played for Donegal. I was marking Mark McKeever. He nearly finished my career.” The Gowna man was that good. He was Ireland’s player of the series in the U17 international rules in 2001 and went on to play senior county football for 13 years, starring on his debut against Antrim in ’03 and on a lot of Sundays thereafter.
THE glorious architect who was born at the wrong time. Dermot McCabe’s career deserved to be laden with trophies and medals, but while he got his Ulster title and Allstar in ’97, he spent much of the rest of his time in blue trying to inspire the county to heights it couldn’t reach. Bull strong, he was a tremendous ball-winner, and his left foot was just outstanding. It was a shame for everyone that he spent so much time injured. One of the best the county has produced.
THE fulcrum of the current team, McKiernan has gotten continually better across his senior career since breaking through in 2014, hitting 3-74 in championship football since, and has scored in each of his last 19 games. Has developed a very good right foot that makes him harder to defend against, but it’s far more than just his scoring. His work in the air at midfield is superb and he’s a far stealthier attacker than a man of his size has any right to be. Great at timing a late run.
HIT his peak in the early 2000s, and was instrumental in helping Cavan to the Ulster final in 2001, not least with a fine display in the semi-final win over Monaghan. Had been around since ’94, the Knockbride man was a powerful unit with a serious work ethic. Pulled strings and kicked frees from the ground off his trusty left boot. Played most of his football in the number 10 shirt but had a go everywhere from centre-back to full-forward.
WHEN he burst on to the scene, Reilly was lithe and lively and full of pace. As the career progressed, some of those attributes waned but the brain never slowed. Reilly was a classy operator, a constant ball-winner with the left foot to put the chances away. Scored 5-62 across his 41 championship games in blue, rarely finishing a game without a 0-3 or a 1-2 under his belt. The Knockbride man played up until 2010.
MADE his championship debut off the bench away to Meath late in a qualifier win in 2005 and since then, Mackey has largely been the orchestrator of the Cavan attack. He was never blessed with blistering pace but always had a keen enough mind to circumvent the problem. The speed with which he could make decisions and cut open the opposition’s defence was plenty. Coming near the end now but his class was still very evident in reaching the Ulster final this past summer.
WILL always be a controversial figure in Cavan football because of his infamous spell with Kildare, but make no mistake – he’s one of their best of this generation. Made an impression in 2005 and within two years, he was leading the line. They weren’t heady times for Cavan football and the wiry Cavan Gaels man largely carried the attack at the tail end of the decade. Left after 2011 and by the time he returned five years later, the best of him was gone. A brilliant point-taker, albeit never a huge man for goals.
A GOALSCORER, pure and simple. In compiling stats for the Anglo Celt newspaper, Arthur Sullivan tallied that Jason O’Reilly had scored 48 goals for Cavan in competitive games. The nearest players to him in terms of raising green flags, Dermot McCabe, Peter Reilly and Mickey Graham, would have had to add their 16 each up to tie with him. O’Reilly was almost ever-present in the team for 14 years (’96-’09) and tormented all and sundry during that time.
ANOTHER of the current team, and another whose absence is set to tear a significant hole in Cavan’s resources next year. McVeety has really come to the fore over the past three years, and has played most of his best football as the focal point of the attack, although that’s not always how Cavan utilise him. He may be small in stature but he’s a great ball-winner and his directness hurts teams. The Breffnimen cannot afford to be without him.