By Niall Gartland
CAVAN All-Star Padraig Faulkner says an undoubted motivation for their upcoming Ulster Championship campaign is the prospect of a long-awaited victory over ‘bogey team’ Tyrone.
The Breffni county haven’t beaten Tyrone in championship football since 1983. To put that stark statistic into context, the best they have mustered in nine goes is two draws, while their average margin of defeat in those seven other margins is a hefty 9.3 points.
The match is just over a week away, and Faulkner is relishing the prospect of a crack at the Red Hands, rather than fearing it.
“We’ve always struggled with Tyrone in the championship bar u-21 level. It’s one thing we really have our sights on. They’ve always had the upper hand on us in previous games in the championship. It’d be fair to say they’d be classed as a bogey team for us.”
Faulkner doesn’t mince his words about what a defeat would mean for the reigning Ulster Champions, following their recent relegation to Division Four. He says it would be one of the worst years in the county’s footballing history.
“If we lose to Tyrone it’s probably one of the worst years in Cavan footballing history. Last year was such a successful year and supporters probably thought it was going to be similar this year.
“Unfortunately it didn’t turn out that way in the league. People who were tapping you on the back telling you that you were the best in Ireland are some of the same ones telling you you’re the now the worst about. You just have to get on with it and look to the future.”
The camaraderie on the team hasn’t taken a dent by their relegation, says Faulkner, and some bruising in-house matches have helped them in their quest to get ready for the pitch of championship battle against a top flight team.
“I suppose the one thing I wouldn’t like is when someone starts running down players on the team. Everyone’s very close to each other, and we tend to keep things in-house. We just need to regroup and go again.
“We’ve gone back to the drawing board and regarding a level of confidence. We had a few tough in-house games, lads are getting stuck in, there’s a bit of championship bite, and everyone’s really trying to stake a place for the championship.”
Asked if it’s hard to avoid a sense of completion after winning last year’s Ulster Championship, even subconsciously, Faulkner acknowledges that may have been a factor in their poor league performances, culminating in an exceptionally disappointing defeat to Wicklow in a Division Three relegation play-off.
“It’s a good point. I suppose I’m in my sixth or seventh year playing with Cavan and never so much as won a medal, at league, champinship or even McKenna Cup level.
“So it was a big thing ticked off the list. I don’t know whether we’ve taken our foot off the pedal, but things just didn’t click in the league as well as we’d hoped. Pyschologically, everything was built up to win that Ulster, maybe the foot was taken off the pedal a bit, but hopefully we’re back on track now.
“I suppose relegation was mostly our undoing and it’s behind us now. There were a few factors in that, the lack of football over lockdown didn’t help us, and some injuries picked up early started hurting as well. We just have to park it and turn our focus to championship. That’s exactly what we did last year and we got our rewards.”