GAA Football

Happy Cavan Day... Goalkeeper Raymond Galligan and the Breffnimen aiming for upset in Ulster Championship final against Donegal

Raymond Galligan kicks his side's winning point, a free in extra-time, during the Ulster Championship preliminary round match between Monaghan and Cavan at St Tiernach's Park in Clones. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile.
Andy Watters

YOU pass a billboard on the way to Kingspan Breffni that reads: ‘Happy Cavan Day’.

Aimed at lifting spirits in a county that has suffered more than many in the Covid-19 pandemic, ‘Cavan Day’ was held on September 26th and, coincidence or not, the county has been having happy Championship days ever since.

Goalkeeper Raymond Galligan has made vital contributions in all three: His stunning extra-time free-kick that sank Monaghan, the point-blank save from Antrim’s Patrick Gallagher, another when Down’s Caolan Mooney broke through in the semi-final…

In every game of this unforgettable Championship run, Galligan has stood tall or spread himself wide when his team needed him most and alongside those headline-grabbing moments, his bread and butter stuff – kick-outs and ball handling – have been to a very high standard.

Galligan’s consistency – the product of hour after hour on the training pitch - has underpinned the Cavan charge and, whatever happens against Donegal tomorrow, the Breffnimen know that their reliable number one man gives them a very solid platform to work from.

“It all happened very fast,” said the Lacken clubman as he reflected on his winner against Monaghan,

“When you get the nod to come up, it’s just a matter of sticking to your routine and believing that you can do it. Thankfully it went over – on another day it could have went horribly wrong – but it was a nice feeling when it went over.

“The wind could have took the free left or right and I was lucky to be in the right position for the Antrim shot. You need those small bits of luck to find yourself in the position we’re in now.”

As he said, it’s all about “believing that you can do it”. Cavan were in an Ulster final against Donegal last year too but that belief wasn’t there. The world was a different place then and Cavan – in their first Ulster final for 18 long years – was a different team.

They’re still underdogs – that hasn’t changed - but Galligan agrees that the experience of losing the 2019 decider got something out of the team’s collective system and they’ll be the better for that tomorrow.

“It has some degree of relevance,” says Galligan, whose wife hails from Donegal town.

“We’re under no illusions that it was a five-point hammering we got. They were extremely dominant throughout the game.

“It’s something we’re mindful of but, for us, Sunday is about seeing how much we have improved over the course of the last 15-17 months.

“We’ve got a bond and a belief now that has been lacking in Cavan. We put a massive emphasis on the team and that has been seen over the last few weeks – it’s been a real team effort, it’s not about any one player, it’s a collective mindset and approach to winning these games and that’s what has got us over the line.”

 

Donegal's Michael Murphy and Cavan's Raymond Galligan in action during last year's Ulster final. Picture Philip Walsh.

 

Covid-19 took a heavy toll on the county and that hindered preparations for the conclusion of the League - Mickey Graham’s side was relegated which makes their recovery in the Championship all the more astonishing.

For five weekends on-the-trot, the Breffnimen have been battling right to the wire, so what is left in their legs? Galligan says the Anglo-Celt dream is what sustains him and his team-mates and dedicated preparation has allowed them to chase it.

“When you’re winning Championship games it makes it a lot easier to get into the car and go to training and get involved,” he says.

“Having these games back-to-back, it doesn’t give you that much opportunity to dream big or get too far ahead of yourself. It went from Monaghan into Antrim and then it was about Down and now we’re looking forward to the final.

“We feel fresh and we feel we have momentum and that having these games is allowing us to understand each other and the system we’re playing better. We’ve been building so hopefully, on Sunday, these five games will have benefitted us significantly.

“Thankfully the lads are in super condition and that’s testament to our strength and conditioning over the last number of months. We’re finishing strongly so there’s been no ill-effects from the consistent games so far.”

But if Cavan leave it late again tomorrow they are likely to find that the horse has, finally, bolted. Donegal are masters at building a lead and then sucking the life out of the game. Monaghan and Down wilted under pressure but Galligan accepts that the defending champions are unlikely to do the same.

“It’s all about ourselves,” he says.

“We have to put in a complete performance over 70 minutes. We know that 35 minutes’ of a lapse and you’re not cutting that deficit against a team like Donegal so we really have to bring our A-game.

“Last year we probably over-analysed Donegal because we were fully aware that they are a fantastic team with high-calibre players all over the pitch.

“This year we really need to focus on ourselves and make sure that we present with our best performance rather than other-analysing Donegal. Hopefully we have improved enough to put on a complete performance that will be good enough on the day.”

Tomorrow will be Galligan’s 76th appearance for his county and alongside Gearoid McKiernan, Killian Clarke and Padraig Faulkner he has developed into a leader in the team. The one pity about the team’s series of inspired wins is that fans in his football-mad county will be unable to pack out the Athletic Grounds tomorrow but every man, woman and child will be cheering them on from in front of their television sets.

“The amount of support and good will we got after the Monaghan game was really astounding,” he said.

“It was great to have such a positive story coming out of Cavan because we’ve had our fair share of doom and gloom. It was something for the county to grasp on to and ever since then there’s been huge support from clubmates and friends and family and it’s very unfortunate that they can’t be there but the support is there around the county.”

Victory tomorrow and they might consider changing the date of ‘Cavan Day’… To November 22nd.

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