New players gave Cavan belief to win Ulster: Padraig Faulkner

Padraig Faulkner (3) celebrates the Ulster SFC triumph with Cavan colleagues.<br /> Picture Seamus Loughran
Padraig Faulkner (3) celebrates the Ulster SFC triumph with Cavan colleagues.
Picture Seamus Loughran

"I THINK I'm going to win it every year."

Padraig Faulkner was the personification of Cavan's efforts on the pitch, that triumphant combination of talent and effort, and he also represented all his colleagues afterwards with his laughter and head-shaking, still in some disbelief.

At last, the Breffnimen are Ulster senior football champions again, after shocking hot favourites Donegal in the decider. After 23 years.

Much is made of that ethereal element 'belief'. Everyone says they have it, especially after winning a trophy.

Kingscourt clubman Faulkner acknowledged, with a chuckle, that he's always set his sights on silverware - but credits others with changing the squad's mindset.

Any expectations about Cavan in 2020 were lowered even further early on when star player Dara McVeety decided to go world travelling this year, with others also stepping away.

Yet Faulkner says the injection of fresh blood boosted the Breffnimen: "At the start of the year our training schedule was a difficult one, there were boys not committing and different things, but the lads that came in were the ones that believed we were going to win it the whole way through.

"I think I'm going to win it every year, but coming out of 21s after we haven't won anything for five years – I haven't won a League medal or a Championship medal - that's changed."

Having battled back from seven points to beat arch-rivals Monaghan after extra time in the preliminary round, Cavan then stuttered past Antrim, before recovering from a 10-point deficit to defeat Down in the semi-finals.

Faulkner feels Cavan's patchy performances actually gave them another useful element against Donegal – that of surprise:

"The belief that's in the camp is fantastic. Every man believed that we were going to do it.

"We trained Friday and every single person there said 'This is in our hands. We know what Donegal is going to bring. No one knows what Cavan is going to bring because they played so bad in two first halves – and played Antrim who were always going to put it up to us.'

"There wasn't really much you could tell about this Cavan team, so I felt we had the belief ourselves- and other counties didn't know what to expect."

Another negative – the absence of a crowd – was turned into a positive too: "Taking [supporters] away from the game probably suited us. Donegal are used to playing in front of a big audience.

"Last year we played in front of a big audience in Clones and maybe there was nerves there. Playing in front of an empty stand, those nerves aren't there, that's one less thing I feel Cavan had to worry about."

The football fanaticism in the county never waned, however, as Mr Faulkner revealed with a smile: "I work in two different schools at the minute, in Redhills and Drumcrave, and the kids are mad for football. They're going out pretending to be players on this team.

"You go home to Kingscourt and you're seeing different ones – I've never signed as many autographs in Kingscourt. This weekend it was a quick coming to the door.

"Kids are mad for Cavan this year, even though they don't get to come to the games, the spirit is still there. You see videos being sent to you of people jumping up and down in front of their couches. It's what drives Cavan on."

There were tactics too, of course, learning lessons throughout their Ulster run: "Every game we worked on a small aspect of our game. Last week we worked on runners through the middle because we know Down destroyed us in the first half. [Against Donegal] we tagged runners coming through the middle.

"I could probably count on one hand the times their runners came through the middle and slotted over the bar. They were always under pressure and they weren't getting free shots.

"We know their strong kickers: Langan, Murphy, McBrearty, Brennan, they like to come on the loop. We didn't want their strong runners to come through and lay the ball off to them.

"We tagged them, we pushed up men. Probably the two black cards were from stopping men from running but that's football. I thought our game management went on from the matches we've played."

The determination to avoid another slow start was evident too, as Cavan registered four of the first five scores: "I said we had to come out of the traps against Donegal and we did. I think we went three points up and we've just built on from that."

Yet although he's listened to Tipperary ending their 85-year wait for Munster Football success, Faulkner admitted:

"I still can't believe it — it's like waking up from a dream. It's what you dreamed about when you were younger – that's all we wanted when we were younger. It was to lift the Ulster title and… I'm stuck for words."

He wasn't though, and he and Cavan had the final say.