By Niall McCoy
CAVAN goalkeeper Raymond Galligan has said that the pain of last year’s Tailteann Cup final defeat to Westmeath is providing the fuel for their assault on the 2023 competition.
While keen to stress that they are not looking past Saturday’s group opener against Laois at Kingspan Breffni – a game set to be shown on GAAGO – the Lacken man said that they are entering the second year of the competition with lofty ambitions.
“We’re going to take it very seriously. Getting to final last year, we learned [about it] and it’s an opportunity to guarantee an All-Ireland series spot.
“Being in Division Two next year is great, but no one knows where you’re going to finish in Division Two next year. Hopefully [we] go one step further than last year, cementing that All-Ireland series place.
“We have a very difficult group, Laois the first day out is a very tough prospect and we can’t really look any further than Laois.”
There’s hurt from this year providing ammunition too. Cavan’s Ulster quarter-final at home to Armagh looked like a real chance to take a scalp.
Uncharacteristically for Cavan under Mickey Graham, the hosts were timid for the entire first half, allowing Armagh to build up a cushion that saw them through on a 1-14 to 0-12 scoreline.
“We had a great finish to in the end to the Fermanagh league final and we did a good bit of work going into the Armagh game.
“We felt both physically and mentally that we were in a really good place. Armagh brought a level of aggression that we probably weren’t just maybe familiar enough with in Division Three.
“Looking back at it, that step up in leagues did come home to hurt us. They had been playing at that higher level, Division One football against a higher quality opposition week in, week out whereas we probably thought we were ready and we weren’t.
“It wasn’t really until we got going in that second half that we knew we could actually win the game. It was too late and to be fair to Armagh they had the work done by half-time.”
At the launch of the second year of the Tailteann Cup at Croke Park, GAA President Larry McCarthy said it was important the competition avoids a ‘sophomore slump’ – a decline after a good first term.
Galligan isn’t too worried about that. Twelve months ago he wasn’t too sure if the tournament would take off, but the proof was in the pudding, as they say, and the excitement that grew in the county ahead of their Croke Park final loss to Westmeath was testament to how much it cut through.
“I remember the Tommy Murphy many years ago and it was kind of compared with potentially being another Tommy Murphy. The way that fizzled out, I could understand the views this time last year.
“I think the way the competition was run, the way it was promoted, the way Croke Park invested in it, the opportunity of getting games in Croke Park – the addition of silverware but also that pathway to the All-Ireland series, it brings so much value.
“It’s given teams the opportunity to play outside of their province. For us to be playing Laois, London and Offaly, teams you wouldn’t primarily play too often, it’s great to be able to test yourself against other teams from outside of Ulster.
“I definitely think it’s here for the future.”
Graham is in his fifth season with the county with only Clare’s Colm Collins and Armagh’s Kieran McGeeney having been with their counties longer.
There’s no sense of staleness though, far from it, and Galligan said that Graham’s ability to evolve maintains a happy dressing room.
“Mickey has done a fantastic job and unlike other managers he’s actually won stuff.
“We’ve got to two Ulster finals, we won one. We’ve been to the Tailteann Cup final, we have two league titles. He’s a proven winner.
“He’s changed up his backroom team, we have a fantastic coach in James Burke, we also have ‘Ricey’ (Ryan McMenamin) who brings a lot of added value to the team.
“He’s also built the resilience. Going down through the leagues, we’ve been very fortunate that everyone’s stuck together. It’s built a real togetherness. In regards to management, we couldn’t be happier.”
Laois plied their trade in Division Four this term, losing out on promotion to Wicklow on the head-to-head rule.
Only a Leinster final spot would see them entering the Sam Maguire race and despite an opening provincial win against Wexford, Dublin put 4-30 on them in the quarter-final.