Postman Reilly aims to deliver Holy Grail for Gowna
FINTAN Reilly understands just why the late Eamon Coleman was attracted to managing Gowna on his sojourn in Cavan way back yonder.
The charismatic Derryman led the men from the Loch to five SFC titles in the Breffni county over the course of the late nineties and early noughties.
“It’s a football-mad area. There’s a serious passion for the game in Gowna and you just can’t help getting caught up in it,” says the former Cavan senior ‘keeper who has been riding shotgun with former Gowna and Cavan star Dermot McCabe for the last two years.
Last year, Reilly and his think-tank steered Gowna all the way to the SFC final but lost out to a Ramor Utd team which was later humbled by All-Ireland champions-elect Kilcoo.
Gowna begin their 2022 SFC campaign against Killygarry in Kingspan Breffni (7pm) this Sunday and the former have been tipped by a lot of smart football people in Cavan to go one step further than last year and make it into the Ulster Club SFC. But which teams does Reilly personallyfeel will have most to say about the destination of the Blessed Oliver Plunkett Cup:
“It’s hard to look past the likes of Crosserlough and Cavan Gaels,” the Redhills native opines.
“You only have to look at the quality of the football they played in the league (division one) final a couple of weeks ago to see what they have to offer.
“It was a fantastic game of open, attacking football; a bit unreal really when you look at the final scoreline (Crosserlough 6-18;Gaels’ 4-23 a.e.t) but all credit to them. “They are the teams for everyone else to beat in my book.”
The fact that Reilly’s Gowna didn’t qualify for this year’s league semi-finals should be taken with a pinch of salt. The truth is the Longford-border side had to make do without their county under 20 and senior players (nine in total) for half of the season.
“With the likes of Gowna, you have to live with the fact that you’re going to have to do with so many players being away on county duty during the year,” Reilly laments.
“We had only half a team for about half of our league games and it wasn’t until after Cavan’s Tailteann Cup campaign was over that we had everyone at training for the first time this year.
“I think there has to be a better way of doing things in terms of playing half a league with half your players. Its not the county board’s fault but we honestly have to take another look at accommodating the county players to play a lot more club football in Cavan.
“No harm to the likes of Ballyhaise and Ramor but you’d have to think that a lot of their good results in division one this year came down to the fact that they had almost all their players available to them all the time because of a lack of county involvement which isn’t fair on the Gownas of this world.”
In effect, the phoney war that is the All County Football League in Cavan is over and the real business is about to begin this weekend. Surely last year’s beaten finalists will do the business against a Killygarry side that is undoubtledly talented but is notorious for flattering to deceive?
“I don’t know if any team can be considered a banker going into any game in the senior championship because its so even. It’s so open yet again this year. Anyone of about five or six teams could win the senior championship,” says the man who won county junior and intermediate club championship medals between the sticks with Redhills.
“The thirteen league games that made up the senior league this year didn’t really tell the proper picture in terms of the relative strengths of the teams but this weekend will tell a tale and Killygarry will fancy their chances of being in the mix as the weeks roll on.
“This will be the third year in a row that Gowna and Killygarry have met in the championship and there was only a point between the teams last year and the year before as well so there won’t be much between us again on Sunday. Breffni park should suit Killygarry ‘cause they’re a fast, light team and they’ll like the big open spaces.”
Gowna look to be better armoured to go the distance this year. Reilly and co. have been credited with expertly blooding some new, young players into the fold in the last 12 months. Fellas like Tiernán Brady and Conor Casey have caught the eye in 2022. As the saying goes, Gowna have a good mix of youth and experience with the likes of 2002 SFC winners Mark McKeever, Ronan Bannon and Raymond Keogh still on hand to coax the young guns along the road.
“There’s good competition for places right now with the newer lads making a good impression this year,” Reilly enthuses.
“Fellas have come into the panel and have taken their chances so we’ll have a few discussions ahead of us in the next few days to pick our best fifteen which is a good problem, I suppose.
“The panel is mostly the same as it was last year though, but I would say it’s a more mature, more confident panel now but we will have to improve in a number of ways if we are to make up for last year’s disappointment.”
And those number of ways are?
“Well, we have to make sure we get out of the blocks a lot quicker than we did in last year’s (final) replay. We went no-score to 1-4 behind after about four minutes and that’s just not on. You just can’t be giving teams that sort of a headstart and expect to reel them in.
“Then in the first game, we didn’t take a lot of our chances so that has to change in this championship season too. The lads did brilliantly to reach last year’s final but they’re a year older now and they should be able to go up another gear.”
Hot off the presses comes the news that former All-Star Ulster minor (and current county senior) Oisín Pierson looks set to be fit to take his place in this Sunday’s first round tie having seemingly rid himself of a long-term hamstring injury. “We should have all the lads fit and available for selection,” Reilly confirms.
Reilly is acutely aware of the ‘coming team’ nametag that has been attached to Gowna over the last couple of seasons but he reminds all and Sundry that the red and green brigade – as a collective – are of a similar vintage to 2020 winners Crosserlough, also deemed a ‘coming team’.
He recognises that his charges have an abundance of county underage medals; often achieved at the expense of their peers in Crosserlough. Reilly believes that their underage pedigree will ensure Gowna will be confident in taking on all-comers.
“I can’t see our fellas lacking self-belief, especially having reached the final last year and having brought Ramor to a replay.
“It’s been notoriously difficult for a team in Cavan to do back-to-back titles. I think Castlerahan were the last team to do it (2018/2019) and they were probably the outstanding team in Cavan for the guts of ten years then so the pressure will be on Ramor to repeat their form of last year.
“Hopefully Ramor won’t be the force they were last year but I wouldn’t bet on it. I wouldn’t bet on any team if I was a neutral ‘cause it is going to be another very closely run race.
“Hunger is a big thing and maybe Ramor won’t be as hungry as they were. I don’t know but I know that no team will be hungrier than Gowna this year. Twenty years without a senior championship title is a real famine for the likes of Gowna.”
Reilly exudes confidence in his players as he does with those alongside him on the line; men like former Cavan All-Star and erstwhile Cavan senior selector Dermot McCabe and his brother Seamus McCabe.
“We’ve a good set-up either side of the white line. Dermot has an abundance of knowledge of football and it’s great to be able to pick his brains and Seamus is so good at organising things and getting all our ducks in a row.
“At the end of the day though, it’s about the ability of the lads to do the business in the white heat of battle and, maybe, getting that bit of luck at the right time.
“The lads have given serious commitment this year. I think they really want to have another crack, 12 months on, at a senior final and doing themselves justice ‘cause they know didn’t do that in either the drawn game or the replay.”
The blue riband competition in Cavan this year will be run using the same format as 2021; operating on a league basis up to the quarter-final stage and knock-out thereafter.
Each team will play four rounds in the league phase against different opponents with the fixtures decided by a random draw at the conclusion of each round.
Five teams have had their hands on the Blessed Oliver Plunkett Cup in the last seven years so the odds on Ramor Utd retaining their title in the next few weeks aren’t so good.
Kingscourt Stars could be the best each-way bet with the return to the fold of their talisman Barry Reilly; the recruitment of Meath county star Jody Morris and the brilliant form of county star Padraig Faulkner.
The totemic Gearóid McKiernan scored 3-14 in the Division One league final a few weeks ago for Cavan Gaels but it wasn’t enough to oust Crosserlough and one imagines that even McKiernan’s class won’t be enough to forge a first SFC title since 2017 for the county town side.
Forwards, they say, win matches and the return from an extended sabbatical abroad of erstwhile county star Darragh McVeety will see Crosserlough boast the greatest spread of scorers of all the runners and riders with the likes of the Smith brothers Pierce and Stephen, the Boylans, Brandon and Tommy and, of course, county full-forward Paddy Lynch likely to cut a dash over the next few weeks.
However, in Oisín Pierson, Cian Madden, Conor Madden, Conor Casey and Robbie Fitzpatrick, Gowna have plenty of firepower too and that, allied to their great physicality, could get them over the line for the first time since 2002.
2022 Cavan SFC first round fixtures:
Friday, August 12th; 8pm: Kingspan Breffni Park: Kingscourt Stars v Ramor Utd
Saturday, August 13th; 7.30pm: Kingspan Breffni Park: Crosserlough v Cavan Gaels
Saturday, August 13th; 6pm: Cornafean: Mullahoran v Ballinagh
Sunday, August 14th; 2pm: Killygarry: Butlersbridge v Laragh Utd
Sunday, August 15th; 3.30pm: Crosskeys: Lavey v Lacken Celtic
Sunday, August 15th; 7pm: Kingspan Breffni Park: Gowna v Killygarry