By Niall Gartland
CAVAN football stands at a crossroads following their forgettable championship exit to Tyrone, according to one of their most famous sons.
Former player Damien O’Reilly wonders whether stalwarts of the team like Gearoid McKiernan and Martin Reilly will have the appetite to come back for another year, especially given the unenviable prospect of playing Division Four football.
Reilly recently made his 100th appearance for Cavan, and McKiernan has been playing for the senior intercounty team for a decade, so it remains to be seen whether they’ll want to give it another lash after such a disappointing season on all fronts.
O’Reilly said: “It’s a bit of a crossroads for Cavan. Martin Reilly and Gearoid McKiernan have been great servants, and I’m not saying they’re old but they’ve been around a long time and it’s difficult to know whether or not they’ll decide to walk away.
“I hope they stay another while to help the transition with younger players coming into the squad, but you have to appreciate that we’re in Division Four of the league next year and that won’t be ideal preparation heading into the Ulster Championship.
“That means the older lads may be asking themselves whether it’s worth staying, as they might think it’s only worth it if they can help get the team back up to Division Two level, which could take a number of years.”
O’Reilly thinks much the same applies to their manager Mickey Graham. He led the team to the promised land of a long-awaited Ulster Championship title last year, but it’s understood that he recently decided to return to Longford club Mullinalaghta, who he memorably led to a Leinster Club title in 2018. What that means for his role at Cavan is anyone’s guess at this stage.
“It’s hard to tell what Mickey or Dermot (McCabe) are thinking. But it goes back to what I said about the players – if Mickey stays on, I could see him staying another couple of years rather than staying one more season where it’s going to be Division Four football. Then it becomes a five- or six-year term, and is that too long? Mickey Graham is the only man who knows the answer to that one.”
The Breffni county were decent in the first half against Tyrone, but they fell away badly in the second half as their championship campaign came to a hasty end on a scoreline of 1-18 to 0-13.
Hindsight is a great thing but O’Reilly wonders whether they have the forwards to compete with the big guns.
“There was the high of last year and it’s hard to get back up to that level, and the league campaign didn’t instil a lot of confidence.
“I was pleasantly surprised early on that they were competitive against Tyrone, but I thought Tyrone were a bit flat.
“I suppose if you look at our team really in term of the players, our half-forward line are good players but they’re predominately defenders with their clubs.
“Our starting half-forward line was Jason McLoughlin, Conor Moynagh and Oisin Brady. Oisin is mainly a back for Killygarry and Conor Moynagh years ago was always a defender for Cavan and Jason is a corner-back.
“ He was half-forward in last year’s Ulster final, marking Ryan McHugh, and it worked out, but the only problem is, and it’s easy to say in hindsight, is that you’d wonder where our scores are going to come from.”