Arva and Peter Morris hoping to seize their one shot

All-Ireland Junior Football Championship semi-final: Arva v Milltown, Saturday, 1pm, The Downs, Westmeath

Ciaran Brady's experience will be very handy for Arva in the Cavan junior championship
Mr Consistent: Arva's Ciaran Brady was one of only two men to start every match for Cavan in 2023.

Winter football is a funny thing. When everyone else is switched off, you’re switched on. When the calendar almost draws to a complete halt, that’s when the biggest games of the season arrive for the lucky few. Arva’s Peter Morris is one of those few.

A December event befits an almighty rip, the lead in to Christmas where you eat like a sumo wrestler and you exercise like one too. Drinking becomes routine, rather than a past time.

But as Arva’s wins kept on coming, the visions of Peter’s brother’s wedding in Salthill shapeshifted. Full-back James was forced to steady the ship off the pitch as well as on it.

To put it lightly, the Galway Bay bar staff probably didn’t get the night they were anticipating. A dry December rolls into a dry January in County Cavan, but Arva are hoping their Christmas has yet to come as the All-Ireland Junior Championship intensifies.

Saturday provides the challenge of Kildare champions Milltown at the penultimate stage. Although favourites, the more advanced Morris of the two is well aware that the challenge doesn’t get much bigger than this.

So, is this the biggest game of Peter Morris’ life?

“I suppose it is. We’ve played lots of big matches to get to this point, but it will be a huge occasion for the club, and a massive opportunity to get to Croke Park.

“We are where we wanted to be.”

Cavan's Jonny McCabe of Arva (right) battles against Jason McLoughlin in action during this year's junior championship. (Picture: Adrian Donohoe)
Earn the right: Cavan's Jonny McCabe of Arva (right) battles against Jason McLoughlin in action during the Cavan junior championship. (Picture: Adrian Donohoe)

Arva drew the perceived short straw in facing Wandsworth Gaels of London in the All-Ireland quarter. Morris’ straw was shorter still, as injury cost him a place in the squad.

That unfortunately is the nature of these elongated seasons, all of it owing to success. Arva’s sharpshooter also missed the entirety of their Division 1 league campaign in the Breffni County.

The first issue was a torn hamstring. The second could well have been again, given the pain, but tendinopathy of the hammy was the diagnosis. In true GAA fashion, it was a fellow Cavan man in the shape of Dublin hurling physio Eamon O’Reilly who got to the root of Morris’ issues:

“Even when you’re missing games, you’re doing everything you can to get back. I had the hamstring issues, then tendinopathy in the hamstring, and I thought it was torn with the pain of it.

“Luckily enough Eamon O’Reilly sorted me out.”

And luckily enough for Morris, his brother and his teammates held out a Wandsworth Gaels side that featured former Roscommon star and Strokestown man Sean Mullooly.

In the Ulster final win over Blackhill, skipper Ciarán Brady was heralded as the difference between the sides, as the Anglo Celt’s Paul Fitzpatrick stated: “In every facet of play, the captain was the match winner.”

Brady was one of only two men to start every match for Mickey Graham’s Cavan in 2023, yet continues to play every game like his life depends on it.

Kevin Bouchier has been a consistent scoring threat, while the likes of Charlie Madden have freshened up a rejuvenated side that lost last year’s county final against Drumlane.

And new man at the helm Finbar O’Reilly has brought an added dimension that isn’t lost on Morris:

“Finbar has always been well respected around Arva. He’s been in and out since 2014, taking sessions.

“In the back end of 2017, he came in for a month or so when we were struggling. We’re very lucky to have him on board, and he clearly saw the potential in us too.

“His video work is second to none, a big step up in anything I’ve seen on the club scene, and Stephen Smith alongside him is another man very similar in that regard.”

With O’Reilly due to be part of Raymond Galligan’s Cavan backroom team, Morris is hopeful the manager will stay on beyond wherever this 2023/24 campaign ends.

But he knows too that in this game you make hay while the sun shines, be it the baking summer heat of Clones, or the sleeping January sun in County Westmeath.

That sun may not even surface, but Arva and Morris will do everything in their power to make sure that they make an appearance.

Sometimes you only get one shot, but one shot is all it ever takes.