GAA Football

I never feared for Cavan future even after consecutive relegations says boss Mickey Graham

Mickey Graham celebrates after Cavan's unexpected Ulster title success - which came less than two months after the Breffnimen suffered a second consecutive relegation. Picture by Seamus Loughran
Neil Loughran

TWENTY-twenty hindsight is a wonderful thing, but Mickey Graham was always confident Cavan could have a big finish to 2020 – even after suffering a second consecutive relegation before the Championship got under way.

Defeats to Kildare and Roscommon upon the resumption of their Division Two campaign last October saw them slip down Division Three on the final day, piling pressure on Graham’s shoulders as his Breffni outfit prepared to face neighbours and top flight regulars Monaghan seven days later.

The rest is history of course, with Raymond Galligan’s dramatic late free-kick completing a miraculous comeback and setting Cavan on the way to an unlikely and unexpected Ulster title triumph.

Graham admits “questions would have been asked” had they fallen to the Farneymen at the first hurdle, but insists that – behind the scenes – there was momentum building in the Cavan ranks.

“It’s a results-based business but sometimes people don’t know the full extent of things from the outside. You look back at the Kildare game, we went down there with a panel of 21 players from a panel of 41 – we were down 20 players because of Covid and injuries.

“The same with Roscommon, but we were actually training well and there was a great spirit within the squad. We knew that if we could keep going, week on week we’d get players back and by the time we got to the Ulster final we had a clean bill of health.

“It worked out brilliantly for us in the end but if we hadn’t got over Monaghan, definitely questions would have been asked, but the true picture was we were without a number of key players.”

Cavan’s fitness proved a decisive factor too after comeback victories over Monaghan, Antrim and Down, while the Ulster final pendulum only swung their way in the dying moments against Donegal.

And Graham is quick to praise the impact of Andre Quinn, the Warrenpoint native who was appointed as Cavan’s head of athletic performance in 2018.

Quinn’s “professional approach” has been one thing after 11 years spent working as a strength and conditioning coach with professional rugby sides London Irish and Harlequins, but it is his wider impact on all age groups that Graham hopes will stand the Breffnimen in good stead for years to come.

“He’s brought continuity within the whole county, not just with the senior squad but with the U20s, minors and development squads. He oversees that whole thing.

“What happened for years in counties was there was lads coming in for two years and they were gone then. All of a sudden another lad would come in and he’d be doing something different from the last guy over the two years previous.

“There was no consistency there, different lads had different views on how things were done, and there was no real moving onto the next level. There was no plan or pathway of where we want to get to, whereas Andre has a plan.

“Everybody from development squads right up to senior is on that pathway. He can tell me exactly where a lad is at U16 level and where he needs to be when he gets to senior level.

“It gives those players something to go after, it gives them goals to achieve, it just brings that continuity within the whole system, knowing that you have a database there of every player and how they’re developing.”

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

GAA Football