Cavan's Faulkner aiming for Championship lift after yet another League demotion

Cavan full back Padraig Faulkner (right) shadows Derry's Shane McGuigan during the National Football League Division Three North match.<br /> Picture Margaret McLaughlin
Cavan full back Padraig Faulkner (right) shadows Derry's Shane McGuigan during the National Football League Division Three North match.
Picture Margaret McLaughlin

BAD League, good Championship. Bad League, great Championship. Bad League…what sort of Championship can Cavan produce this season?

After three consecutive relegations the Breffnimen are effectively a Division Four side heading to Healy Park this Saturday to take on top flight Tyrone in the Ulster SFC quarter-finals.

Yet Cavan are also the reigning provincial champions after following up that good Championship campaign of 2019 - reaching their first Ulster Final for 18 years - by gaining revenge on Donegal with a shock victory in last year’s delayed decider.

It’s understandable if their Allstar full-back Padraig Faulkner seems to contradict himself when considering their chances of producing a positive result against the Red Hands this weekend.

“You can’t be looking back on previous performances and hope that things are just going to work, it just doesn’t happen that easily,” says the Kingscourt clubman. “A line has to be drawn now.”

Yet he immediately adds: “I’m very hopeful we’re a Championship team and that we’re going to do the exact same. We were in a low, low place last year after getting demoted to Division Three, and within a week we had that turned around before we got into the Monaghan game.

“This year after the Wicklow game [resulting in relegation to Division Four for 2022] we’ve had a bit more time to kind of rectify things and put measures in order that we want to take into our next game.

“As a team we had a few meetings and just tried to put things behind us, what wasn’t working, what was, things that just weren’t clicking for us like they would do in other years.”

The 27-year-old insists that Cavan didn’t let their surprise Ulster triumph go to their heads, arguing instead that the quick return to inter-county action counted against them this year:

“Sometimes the word ‘complacency’ is thrown around anywhere and everywhere. I don’t think we were complacent; I just think we were underperforming.

“We just didn’t have the time and the football we had last year. Personally, I loved the fact that club football was on and we were playing week in, week out.

“I suppose there are a lot of excuses you could make, you could say there was a lack of football initially going in because of the lockdown or that there’s that many niggly injuries coming in that we were losing out on players, but ultimately I just think we underperformed.

“We just made so many silly mistakes, probably mistakes that you can afford to make in challenge matches and McKenna Cup games that you’d usually have at the start of the year. But unfortunately for us we just hadn’t the timeframe to make them and we are where we are just because of poor performances.”

Although Cavan only lost narrowly to Ulster neighbours Fermanagh and runaway divisional winners Derry, as well as beating Longford, the relegation play-off defeat to Wicklow

“You were feeling more embarrassed… Not taking away from any county team but I just feel we shouldn’t be losing and we definitely shouldn’t be down near Division Four.

“It wasn’t a place we’d like to see Cavan football, especially from bringing on so many more players and so many younger players having an interest in Cavan football from last year, I suppose you don’t want to see them turning around and just having no interest anymore. We don’t want to leave Cavan in a bad place, we just want to see it on the rise and on the up every year.

“We were disappointed with our league campaign, we didn’t probably take the [Championship] form from last year into this year. We kind of just have to park it and get on with it. That’s kind of next year’s problem, unfortunately.”

The immediate concern, obviously, is this trip to take on Tyrone. Cavan haven’t beaten them in senior Championship since 1983 and Faulkner is painfully aware of that poor record:

“Tyrone are a very good team, they are a force to be reckoned with. I myself actually haven’t beaten Tyrone in a championship match before, so it’s something that I’ve always kind of been eyeing up for the last couple of years - a win against Tyrone.

“You can’t be looking to the Ulster final, you have to take it game by game and that’s definitely a monkey on our back we’re trying to get off.”

However, he notes that Tyrone themselves ended the League with a humiliating hammering in the Division One semi-final, so both sides are under serious scrutiny:

“From their perspective they got their eyes opened against Kerry as well, so there are two teams really looking to bounce back and put in a good performance.

“Tyrone have new management in. They need a Championship performance. There is as much pressure on them as us to perform.”

After last year, both Cavan and Tyrone know that anything can happen…