By Niall Gartland
2018 league: Relegated from Division One. 2018 championship: reached the Ulster final
2019 league: Relegated from Division Two. 2019 championship: won the Ulster title
2020 league: Relegated from Division Three. 2020 championship: ?
The records show that Raymond Galligan has been through this before.
Cavan have proven that disastrous league campaigns aren’t necessarily an impediment heading into the championship (you’d almost be tempted to think the opposite), but it’s hard to ignore that this year’s relegation was particularly alarming.
The fact that the reigning Ulster champions couldn’t summon the necessary performance to swat aside Wicklow in a relegation semi-final has left Cavan fans scratching their heads and asking the question: what on earth has happened to our team?
Galligan says they just have to park the league and put it in a box somewhere – what else can they do? – but prior experience suggests that they should, at the very least, be able to raise their game for Saturday’s Ulster Championship quarter-final away to Tyrone.
Galligan commented: “We’re going into championship the same way as last year. I suppose we can use last year as a guide to prepare for the Tyrone game.
“We just had to draw a line in the sand after the Wicklow game, and just take the learnings that we used last year from a disappointing league campaign, and use it as best as we can going in to play Tyrone.
“I suppose it was a case of getting back up and running. We didn’t want it to end the way it did.
“There was a lot of hurt, so it took a few days to do a lot of soul-searching. Every player had to look at themselves, and just try to see where we went wrong. But we had a fantastic week’s training last week, and our management have a fantastic way with the players.
“We picked the confidence back up and we had a good reaction to what was a difficult day. Things are definitely more positive and hopefully we can keep building on that going into the Tyrone game.”
It’s a point that the hugely experienced Cavan net-minder reiterates a number of times throughout the interview; that they know how to translate league disappointment into championship success.
Mickey Graham has worked miracles in the past, but perhaps this is an even bigger challenge than usual as they’ve had a frankly rotten record against bogey team Tyrone – their last positive championship result against the Red Hands was in 1983, four years before Galligan was born.
“We know the challenge that lies ahead of us. It probably doesn’t get any more difficult than going to Healy Park, but we’ll definitely be able to reflect on the great victories we had last year, and it will instil the belief that we do have a great chance when we go to Healy Park.
“The one thing we did last year, we stopped looking behind us, because I think it’s a habit that a lot of teams can do, and think too much about the past.
“When we played Donegal in the Ulster final, the talk was about the beating we had got the year previous.
“So that’s one thing we’ve learned, is that it’s all about the present moment, and what has gone on before will have very little relevance come game time.”
Galligan won an All-Star for his performances last year. It isn’t really the week for reminiscing, but he doesn’t brush it off as something entirely inconsequential either.
“It was a fantastic honour, a bit surreal. When I get a bit older and look back, I’ll see it was a fantastic accolade to have.
“Having to jump back straight into training on your own and getting back into the club scene means we didn’t get that much time to reflect and embrace it.
“Obviously we didn’t have that night in Dublin where you’re able to mix with other players and it took a little bit of the occasion away.
“But with regards to the achievement, it was fantastic and brilliant for our clubs to have two All-Stars. It has given the whole parish a great lift.
“When I retire and hang up the boots is really when I’ll be able to embrace it, because winning Ulster last year was really everything to me.”
As a goalkeeper, Galligan is particularly attuned to the quality of the pitches.
Intercounty football had shut up shop last summer, but it’s back this year and Galligan will be hoping that their season doesn’t come to an abrupt end this Saturday.
“The condition of the pitches will definitely be one of the differences this year, and the nice dry sod.
“We have noticed even in the league that it’s nice for things like kick-outs, you’re able to keep it better underfoot.
“I know last year in the Athletic Grounds against Down, it was the complete opposite to what we’re playing in now.
“It makes for a faster game. Last year was a little bit slower, but I don’t think you’ll see major changes, just a little bit faster football.”
Galligan has also welcomed the transition to a more attacking-game with high scores the norm in the league. What it boils down to is that teams have seen what the top teams have done and are now trying to replicate it.
“I think a lot of teams are now evolving from playing defensive to that more attacking brand, and I think definitely teams are going to look to put up big scores, because if you want to be competing with the Dubs and the Kerrys of this world, you’re going to have to be able to score, on average, 20 points a game.
“So I think it really was inevitable that teams really went more attacking, and the likes of Tyrone are showing that it can be done.”