GAA Football

Reasons to be cheerful says Martin Reilly after Ulster champions bow out against Dublin

Martin Reilly looks on as referee Ciaran Branagan awards a free last Saturday. Pic Philip Walsh.
Andy Watters

MARTIN Reilly is confident that Cavan’s Ulster Championship-winning season will inspire the Breffnimen to work harder and return stronger next season.

After clinching their first provincial title since 1997, Mickey Graham’s unfancied side were mauled by the Dubs in the second half of their All-Ireland semi-final meeting and the final scoreline (0-12 to 1-24) illustrated the gulf between the counties.

However, Reilly insists that the 2019 season, which ended with a lacklustre drubbing from Tyrone in the Qualifiers, was a more bitter pill to swallow and it led to some players deciding to take a break from the inter-county scene.

“Winning Ulster will help to keep players involved and encourage them to commit. I’d be hoping that the players want to work harder and get back to the Ulster final again,” said Reilly.

“Last year we got to an Ulster final but we were beaten convincingly by Donegal and then, in the Qualifiers, we were beaten convincingly by Tyrone – it wasn’t a nice way to end the year at all.

“I suppose we had a few players who dropped off after last year but I can’t see that this year, there’s too many positives from the last six-to-eight weeks for that to happen. I think the lads will want to taste that success again and I think even people who weren’t involved will be looking to get into the senior set-up.

“I don’t know what the story is with Dara McVeety and Conor Moynagh, they’re still away travelling but you’d love boys like that back, they’d make any team stronger.”

On a personal level, Reilly enhanced his reputation as a reliable, skilful and hard-working half-forward in the face of the sky blue monsoon last Saturday. The Killygarry clubman showcased his Allstar credentials by scoring the game’s first point, adding two more in the second half and also clearing a goal-bound shot off his own goalline. He might have had a goal too if he hadn't been fouled by Johnny Cooper.

Never one for self-praise, he summed his performance up as “not too bad”.

“I could have done better but, overall, I’m relatively happy with how it went for me,” he said.

“We’ve come so far in the last six-eight weeks as a team. After the way the League ended up (relegation to Division Three), to get to where we got to after that is a great achievement for us as a team and I think there’s lots of positives to be taken from it.

“It has given us great belief and hope for the future. It should help things going forward over the next couple of years and give lads encouragement to push on and try and get some more of that success. The lads will want to taste that success again.”

There were many other success stories for Cavan on Saturday and right through this Championship season from Raymond Galligan in goal to his cousin Thomas up front but, in the end, Dublin were on another level on Saturday.

“It was disappointing,” said Reilly, reflecting on the 15-point loss.

“Obviously we were hoping to win the game and there was a big difference in the score at the end which was disappointing but there are positives to take from the result. We did some great stuff but some mistakes cost us.

“Dublin just punish you, you can’t make mistakes against such a good team.

“We had belief going into the game, we felt we were going well and the confidence was high. With each game in the Championship this year we’ve got stronger but Dublin are so good… They do the basics so well, they make very few mistakes and every one of them is so athletic and strong. They’ve such good players to bring in and freshen it up for them when things are opening up a wee bit more and lads are getting tired.”

As for his future, the former Burnley and Republic of Ireland youth soccer star has no intention of hanging up his boots at the end of his 13th season in inter-county football.

“I still feel good and I’m always trying to improve and that’s what I’ll continue to do,” he said.

“You always have lads coming in (to the panel) and pushing you on and you have to keep improving if you want to get in the team.”

Kyle Lafferty was a contemporary and former house mate at Burnley but while the Fermanagh native broke into the first team, a place on the bench for a League Cup game was as close as Reilly came to the breakthrough at Turf Moor. With so much free time on his hands, homesickness was hard to shake off and after being released he returned home in 2007 “happy enough”. He immediately returned to action with his club and was snapped up by then Cavan manager Donal Keoghan, who had future Armagh manager Paul Grimley as his assistant.

“I was happy enough to come home,” said Reilly.

“I played a bit with Longford Town when I came back but I was playing with the club and working too so I had to make a choice and I decided to go with the GAA and it’s worked out ok for me.”

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