By Niall Gartland
LORY MEAGHER CUP FINAL
Cavan v Fermanagh
Saturday, Croke Park, 6.30pm
IT was something of a feel good story when Cavan returned to the senior intercounty scene in 2017, but let’s be honest – nobody, outside the county at least, expected them to do much of note.
That’s the way it panned out for a couple of years, but they’ve made unbelievable strides since Ollie Bellew came on board as manager last season, and now they’re getting ready to play in a national final at Croke Park.
Bellew, a native of Antrim, says he’s “lived and breathed” Cavan hurling since he took up the post, and they had their finest victory yet when they overcame reigning Lory Meagher champions Louth in last weekend’s semi-final.
Four points down with seven minutes to go, points from Sean Keating, Cillian Sheanon, Brian Fitzgerald, who also scored a late goal, and Kevin Conneely snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
“When we won the quarter-final, the local paper said it was Cavan’s biggest result in 40 years and now we’ve gone one step further again,” said the manager.
“In all my years involved with the sport, I’ve rarely seen an outpouring of emotion like there was on Sunday at Breffni.
“It’s been lovely to hear the stories and the anecdotes from other people.
“We don’t have a massive fanbase, but what they lack in numbers they make up for in passion.
“They haven’t known success but they’ve kept on coming back to games in the last 20 or 30 years, and all of a sudden this has happened and that was evident in the pitch.”
Nonetheless, Bellew says the players themselves are keeping themselves ground with a short turnaround to this weekend’s final. It’s been a real team effort from all involved, from the various people in the backroom to the lads with the hurls.
“Myself and my right-hand man Tomas Mannion (of Galway hurling and football fame) have lived and breathed Cavan hurling for two years, but we have a great management team around us and everyone has their role.
“The first year was about changing the culture and getting the panel we wanted, and now we’re right where we want to be.
“This team just don’t seem to know when they’re beaten, Louth were four points up and don’t normally get caught, but the boys stuck to the plan. They’ve great faith in the system, in the management and in each other. I said to Tom with five minutes to go ‘we’ll win this in ordinary time’, he looked at me like I was mad but right enough we managed it.”
Cavan have edged their recent contests against Fermanagh, including in the quarter-finals of this very competition.
However, the games have always tended to be close-run things, and the Erne hurlers will be desperate to make amends for losing the final of last year’s Lory Meagher Cup when the Wee county got the better of them.
“Listen, there’s nothing between these two teams. I said earlier in the year to Tom ‘don’t be surprised if Fermanagh and Cavan reach the final’ even though we were both rank outsiders. Tom agreed as he said they’re the most improved sides.
“There’ll be nothing in this game, they haven’t beaten us yet which is a good thing, but in every game there’s only been a puck of the ball in it.”