Cavan County Focus: as they head into another GAA National League campaign
Cavan’s first All-Star was dynamic defender, Ollie ‘Texas’ Brady, but ‘The Holla’ rolls easier off the tongue and it’s a roar a body can almost hear ricocheting off Breffni Park’s rafters all the way to the hollow stretch of land amidst the drumlins in Arva where Ciarán Brady’s clan has been based for generations.
Last year, Ciarán ‘The Holla’ Brady was made vice-captain by the then Cavan boss Mattie McGleenan and he duly repaid his manager in spades.
From the half-back line, Brady banged in the goals and angled over the points with all the consistency of a nuclear clock.
By the end of the 2018 NFL and Championship season, the Cavan town-based primary school teacher was Cavan’s top-scorer from open play. Another year ahead then of ‘The Holla’ marauding up the field in the famed blue?
“I’d hope so but I don’t know,” says the medal-laden number six ‘cum number five. “I enjoyed my football last year. I put in big mileage on the pitch – we all did – but we don’t know what role we’re gonna be handed.
“We put in the hard yards in pre-season and so when you get onto the pitch on big days you want to express yourself and our style of play last year was a bit more offensive than previous years and so we found it that bit easier to put up bigger scores than we had been doing in previous years.
“I suppose I was lucky to get on the end of some moves and was able to chip in with some scores.”
Brady’s belters in the last third have become his trademark at club and county level and the plaudits and honours have arrived accordingly.
He has just turned 24 but he has collected a barrow load of top notch medals with two Ulster U21FC plus two Ulster MFC medals in his locker.
On the club front, he has won county junior and intermediate championship medals with his native Arva, the last of them coming in 2016.
He remarks that the medals “have dried up a bit” and thinks of his now well retired clubmate Sean Donnelly telling him a few years ago to “treasure the good times while they last.”
Does he reckon that his self-proclaimed barren period can be ended this year with an Ulster SFC gong?
“It won’t be any easier this year than any other year,” he cautions.
“You look at the four provinces and Ulster is definitely the most competitive, the hardest to win so it’s a tough ask.”
The toughest of them all in this neck of the woods?
“You’ve last year’s All-Ireland finalists (Tyrone) for starters and then Malachy O’Rourke will be determined to go one step better (All-Ireland final) than he did with his team (Monaghan) last year and Down could be a team that’ll come good again under Paddy Tally.
“Then Donegal are no mean team either. They ran Dublin close in the league last year and the same in the super eights. They have lots of strengths in depth, won Ulster last year and have top teams at all underage grades for years at this stage.”
“Ulster is very hard to get out of and the high standard among the teams is there to see when you have three Ulster counties in division one and another three or four in division two.
“You could pick five or six teams in Ulster and say that any of them could win the provincial title this year or make the super eights. Any team that wins Ulster this year will have earned it; that’s the way it is every year in the province.”
Interestingly, Brady is rather non-plussed when it comes to the infamous new rules that abound right now.
“Of the bunch, he reckons the restriction on the hand-pass might prove to be the most contentious among his peers when D-day comes:
“I suppose everyone will have to sit down and think about them when the trial period is over.
“The restriction on the hand pass might speed up the game to a certain degree but when a team goes on the offensive in the last third of the field and a case arises where there’s a two versus one situation, not being able to use that extra hand pass to finish off the move with a goal could foster a lot of frustration and even anger so it’ll be a tricky one to decide on when the rules are revised down the line.”
Although accepting of the notion that the mandarins based on Jones’s Road seem hell bent on aping hurling and making Gaelic football faster and more entertaining, Brady believes that the rule makers will have their work cut out to spread their gospel and stitch it into Ulster GAA’s DNA.
“There’s still variations of the blanket being used but I think counties are slowly moving away from that method of playing but even without the introduction of these proposed new rules, football isn’t going to change very much, especially in Ulster.
“Players are more organised and coached more, unlike years gone by.
“In Ulster teams are playing three or four teams in the same province maybe three or four times a year what with the McKenna Cup, league and championship so they know each other so well and that familiarity generates a lot of tense and kind of claustrophobic football where you have so many numbers around the ball and tracking certain key players. Ulster is just such a different football province.”
No goals have been set by new boss Mickey Graham, our informant declares but everyone on board the Good Ship Cavan is well aware of the expectations among their supporters.
“I wouldn’t say there’s a hungrier group of supporters in the country,” Brady explains, “but we want just exactly what they want and that’s success.
“It’s a long time (1997) since our supporters got to see the Anglo Celt Cup on home soil and that’s too many years of a gap for a mad football county like Cavan. We just have to do our very best to get rid of that statistic this year.”
Mullinaghta boss Mickey Graham might have lost his Midas touch up in Ballybofey with the Dr. McKenna Cup defeat to Donegal but his lustre remains unblemished as far as Cavan fans are concerned and he can be expected to benefit from a longer honeymoon than most of his predecessors, especially having been a pivotal figure in the blues’ 1997 Ulster SFC-winning campaign.
Graham will be banking on getting to the Ulster final this year but a lot will depend on how the young blood manages to cool the ardour of their rivals.
It’s a big ask to expect the new boss to keep his native county in the top flight of the NFL for another season but if he is to do so, Cavan will have to beat Roscommon at home, Tyrone (away), Mayo (away) and take something from their trip to Clones.
The retention of their division one status and a place in the Ulster final will temper the increasing frustration of success-starved Cavan supporters.
Strengths: A lot of athleticism in the team. Most of the players could run for Ulster. Their running power and high pressure game will keep all-comers on their toes.
The Gearóid McKiernan and Thomas Galligan (ex-St. Pat’s star) axis has the potential to be the best midfield partnership in the province and one wonders if there is a better playmaker in Ulster than Cian Mackey.
Weaknesses: The absence of a stand-out ball winner up front continues to be a worry. Conor Madden (Gowna) is probably Cavan’s best bet in that regard but he’s not a certain starter although his McKenna Cup form this year suggests he will be wearing the number 14 jersey for the opening league tie in Galway. The fear is though that 2019 could be coming too soon for the best of Cavan’s young guns.
YOUNG ONES TO WATCH
Four of the minor team from 2017 are on Mickey Graham’s 2019 senior panel but attacker Cian Madden (shoulder) and sub ‘keeper Gary O’Rourke (knee) lost out on impressing the new Cavan boss due to injury. However, erstwhile Irish News All-Star Oisin Pearson (corner forward) and James Smith (full-forward) are likely to see plenty of action in the coming NFL and big things are expected from both.
Further back, Crosserlough young gun Conor Rehill is a neat and tidy wing back and was acclaimed as the man of the match against Queen’s in this year’s McKenna Cup.
This year’s McKenna Cup also saw underage provincial medallist Paul Graham (Cavan Gaels) step up to the plate and he might well be the most likely to start come championship time.
Pierce Smith has an engine to die for and is an archetypal wing half-forward who should be at home on the current Cavan senior team. He was joint captain of the St. Pat’s McRory Cup winning team and is a fans’ favourite.
Of the dark horses among the young guns, Crosserlough’s Patrick Reilly could very well fill the troublesome number three position; perhaps allowing Mickey Graham to employ Padraig Faulkner further forward to the overall benefit of the team.