By Niall Gartland
IT would be a sweet way to hit the century mark for Cavan. Padraig Faulker is set to clock up his 100th appearance for the Breffni County in the coming weeks – and it’s almost guaranteed to happen in the Division Three final in the first weekend of April.
Cavan have found themselves virtually guaranteed of a promotion berth with two rounds of fixtures remaining, and Faulkner, who made his 97th Cavan appearance in last weekend’s victory over Down, is happy to acknowledge the looming milestone.
“Playing in 100 county games is a serious achievement for any player. Looking at the Cavan panel at the minute, a lot of lads have already reached 100 games, like Killian Clarke, Killian Brady, Gearóid McKiernan, Raymond Galligan and Martin Reilly.
“It is a great achievement and it’s a great compliment to past managers, strength and conditioning coaches and everyone else, that lads have had that durability to play for so long and to stick at it.”
There’s been a real freshness to Cavan thus far this season with some relatively new names staking their claim for selection ahead of their looming Ulster Championship campaign. Then of course there are the aforementioned older heads – Gearóid McKiernan made his first appearance of the new season in the second half against Down – so it’s a potent blend and they’ve been rampant since the very outset of their Division Three campaign.
Faulkner says the newer players are ready-made for senior inter-county football, something that wasn’t always the case in years gone by.
“The young lads have come on in leaps and bounds. Some of them have been part of the panel but are only really making a name for themselves this year, so it’s gone unnoticed a bit by supporters and media.
“You have the likes of Niall Carolan who’s only a young lad, Cian Reilly, Paddy Lynch, Oisin Brady, Evan Finnegan – the development of those lads has been really impressive.
“They’ve come into senior football in great shape, and their mindset has been spot on as well, and that’s something that’s different in the past when lads of my era were coming through.”
On the sidelines, Mickey Graham is now in his fifth year in charge, a relatively lengthy stint at the helm of an inter-county team these days.
It’s self-evident that things haven’t become stale under his tutelage, and it would take a strange set of circumstances for Cavan to fall short of promotion to Division Two with two rounds of fixtures remaining.
“As well as keeping things fresh, Mickey has brought consistency to the whole thing too.
“This year he’s brought in James Burke who’s really made a serious impact with his focus on defence and attack, it’s a new approach for us.
“Also, one of the appointments at the start of Mickey’s tenure has been key, when we brought in Andre Quinn, he’s a top class strength and conditioning coach.
“Mickey would be the first to say he’s only as good as his backroom staff and that’s been the case the last couple of years.”
The games have come thick and fast for Cavan this year between reaching the semi-finals of the McKenna Cup, likely having a league final date on the horizon and the advent of the Ulster Championship and beyond. It sure beats lockdown, though, says the Kingscourt Stars man.
“It’s great to have so many games close together. During Covid it was fierce annoying having to wait so long to play our final two league fixtures (in 2020). I like that the games are coming fast and steady. Touch wood, we haven’t picked up too many injuries and have a lot of lads coming into form. So the games are coming fast but we’re enjoying it.”
Cavan have had a topsy-turvy record in the league, suffering back-to-back relegations in 2020 and 2021 before bouncing back in the last 12 months. Playing in Division Four was the nadir but Faulkner says it’s something they took ownership of.
“It seems we don’t like staying in the one spot. We’ve been looking for consistency and that’s something we haven’t really seen in the league in recent years.
“We’ve had high highs and low lows and we’d like the consistency of playing Division One and Two teams on a yearly basis.
“It’s been a close knit panel in the last three or four years but we still suffered two relegations.
“I’m not sure you can put your finger on it, maybe there’s an element of bad luck and injuries, but at the same time we had to take ownership of it, getting relegated was ultimately down to ourselves.
“Winning can become a habit but so can losing. I suppose it all depends on your next game but look, we’re in good form and in good spirits as well, so we’re happy with where we’re going.”