By Shaun Casey
A LOT has changed in the short space of time since Dara McVeety traded in his football boots for a pair of sunglasses and headed Down Under to explore new ventures.
The Crosserlough clubman starred for Cavan in 2019 and helped them reach the Ulster final, where they lost to Donegal, before heading off to Australia and stayed there for a number of years. Cavan were a Division One team back then, although relegated after winning just one of their seven outings, and were guaranteed a spot in the race for the Sam Maguire.
But now, a Division Three team, Cavan must climb into the division above if they want to fight for Ireland’s most prized sporting possession, the Sam Maguire.
Last season, they took part in the first ever Tailteann Cup, but ultimately lost out to Westmeath, the team they meet in the opening round of this year’s league, in the final. And that’s the trophy they’ll compete for once again should they fail in their pursuit of promotion.
McVeety watched on from Australia in 2020 as the Breffni men captured the Anglo Celt for the first time since 1997. To make matters worse, his club Crosserlough ended a 48-year wait for a Senior Championship title. Enough to break any man’s heart.
But instead of looking back, McVeety is looking forward and he is like a fresh signing for Mickey Graham’s men. He starred against Antrim and Armagh as the Breffni Blues reached the last four of the McKenna Cup, only to lose out to Tyrone in the semi-final.
When he left, he was a free scoring inside forward, but on his return, he’s been greeted with another change. During the McKenna Cup, McVeety has lined out at centre half-back and while the trial is still in its early stages, it has proved a great success so far.
“I’m just happy to play wherever Mickey wants me,” said McVeety, who picked up the man of the match award against Armagh and chipped in with 0-3. “It’s a bit different I suppose, it’s not easy playing inside this time of year with the heavy weather.
“But I’m really enjoying it, I would have played centre half-back with the club so I’m just following on from that. But look, I’m happy to go where there’s a job to be done, I’m happy to go and do it.”
Most players dread the slog and sludge that comes with January pre-season training, but when you’ve been out of it for a few years, a return is most definitely welcomed.
“I’m just delighted to be back; I was obviously away, so I haven’t played in the McKenna Cup for a while. It’s great to be back, it’s nice to be back doing the hard training at the start of the year, pushing the body I suppose.
“Going out there then on the field, you kind of reap the rewards when you have the hard work done. I’m enjoying it, there’s a few new faces in the changing rooms, a lot of old faces as well so it’s great to be back and I’m enjoying playing with the lads again.”
The McKenna Cup was a worthwhile endeavour for Cavan. They’ve bled through a number of fresh faces and engaged in three competitive games. All key in preparing for a difficult looking league campaign.
“You see Tyrone, they set the blueprint for the McKenna Cup, they had some very strong league campaigns on the back of a lot of McKenna Cup wins (down through the years), I don’t think it’s done us any harm.
“For us this year, the league is very important because it determines our championship. We’re just mad to hit the ground running, the most important game for us at the minute is the Westmeath match and those first few league games before the break.”
The league is an extremely competitive one and along with Westmeath, Offaly, Longford and Tipperary, Cavan will come up against fellow Ulstermen Antrim, Down and Fermanagh. Every point will be a prisoner.
“Everyone knows what the Ulster Championship is like, they are games that no one will be betting on. They’re going to be hugely tough games for us so it’s just about trying to get a bit of form and get a few boys back and try to get over the line as best we can.
“No matter what division you’re in, the league is probably the most competitive part (of the season) because everyone is there on merit. If you deserve to be in a higher division, you’ll be in it, if you don’t, you won’t. It’s seriously competitive.
“We saw that Westmeath beat us in the Tailteann Cup final last year, they’re the first game and that’s going to be a massive game for us. And then we have the likes of Longford and all those other teams, there’s nothing between anyone in Division Three.”
It’s all about that first day out, against Westmeath, and starting as you mean to go on. A win on the opening day of the season will set Cavan up for a push at promotion, but it’s by no means a given.
“I think it’s very important to get a good start, I know any other year before I left, we got promoted to Division One and the start of the league was very important to us. Hopefully we can hit the ground running and get a few results under our belts.
“I think we’ve been away for the first round of the league a lot of the time, since I started playing, I don’t remember too many home league matches for the first round,” recalled McVeety. “But that one is going to be massive; we’re keeping our eye on that.
“We have to try and get everyone back fit for that and try to get a result from that one and if not, we’ll definitely need to have some points on the board before the break in the league if you’re going to have any aspirations of going up.
“If we don’t go up (to Division Two), that will determine where we are in the championship so it’s very important for us. The fact we were in Division Two not that long ago, we were even in Division One, so we’re trying to get back to that level I suppose, I think we have the players to do it.
“We’re going to be pushing hard to get promoted. I think there’s probably a bit more significance now in the fact that it determines your championship but that was going to be the goal anyway. I think everyone in Division Three will feel they can get out of it, there’s no one in Division Three that will want to just hold their position, everybody wants to push up.”