CAVAN boss Mickey Graham says they are more than happy to adhere to the guidelines preventing collective training – and he hopes that there’s no-one gaining an unfair advantage by breaching the rules.
The Ulster Championship-winning manager has entrusted his players with individual training programmes with the league scheduled to start in late-February, and he says it’ll be something of a “reality check” when they line out in ‘Division Three North’ against Fermanagh, Derry and Longford (the leagues are split on a regional basis as a result of the pandemic).
Graham isn’t throwing potshots when he expresses his fear that some counties aren’t playing by the rules – he believes the majority are – but he’s still a bit concerned that some may seek a head-start on their rivals.
“I’m not too worried about collective training being pushed back per se as everyone should be in the same boat, but I think the worrying thing for managers is that some teams may attempt to gain an unfair advantage.
“As far as Cavan is concerned, we’re going by the rules and engaging in no collective training whatsoever. You have to place your trust in your players, that they’re doing the work on an individual basis and looking after their fitness and conditioning in their own time.
“In fairness I imagine the majority of counties are adhering to the rules – it’s too serious a situation and it’s rampant within all our communities. You have to respect the decisions that are being made and everyone has their role to play.”
Antrim player James McAuley has called for the GAA to postpone the start of the league to give counties breathing space to prepare. Graham wonders whether the league is that important in the current circumstances, but adds that it would be great if the championship went ahead as scheduled.
“When the first lockdown came, people said there’s not a hope the championship will go ahead – but Jesus, look what it did for the people of the country during such a difficult time. It gave people something to look forward to every weekend, even if their own county wasn’t involved.
“It’s hard to know whether the league will go ahead, things are so bad at the moment. If they push it back any further, the window gets narrower and narrower so we just have to play it week-by-week.
“If the league is scrapped is it the worst thing in the world? I don’t know, health is the most important thing. If they get the championship played again, happy days, another championship like we had last year would be very much welcome.”
Cavan had their best championship campaign in decades last season, winning the Ulster Championship for the first time since 1997. They lost out to the Dubs in the All-Ireland Championship semi-final, but they’ll play in Division Three this season nonetheless after experiencing relegation. Graham isn’t expecting anything easy, and nor will his players.
Asked if it’ll be a comedown for the players, he said: “There’ll definitely not be a comedown, let me tell you that – it’ll be a reality check for the players, that ye are back at it again and there’ll be nothing easy.
“People say Division Two is cut-throat, but Division Three is just as hard to get out of, and teams like Derry, Fermanagh, Longford and
Tipperary would fancy themselves against most of the teams in the country. It’ll probably still be winter football, so to speak, so anything can happen and we just have to get ourselves ready to go again.”
Cavan gave a fair account of themselves in the semi final against Dublin, but still ended up well-beaten on a final scoreline of 1-24 to 0-12. Graham says Dublin have to be admired for their amazing work ethic.
“They’re so relentless, they play at the same tempo for the whole game. When they take off lads their intensity doesn’t drop, so it’s very hard for teams to match that for 75 or 80 minutes.
“That’s what sets them apart – their work ethic and their unselfishness. It’s a collective effort and any player not doing their job isn’t tolerated. Their hunger to get the ball back has to be admired given they’ve won six All-Irelands in-a-row. It’s a credit to them and it’s up to everyone else to get to that level.”
It was quite evident that the Cavan players were exceptionally disappointed after the game, and that’s something that bodes well for the team – that they aren’t just content with winning that elusive Ulster title.
“There was nobody more disappointed than the lads – they were disappointed with themselves, every mistake they made was punished.
“Coming up to half time we gave away five unforced errors, Dublin got five points from that and they were five up at half time.
“The players knew Cavan hadn’t played at that stage in a long time so they wanted to put on a good show and do a lot better, as did the management team. We were just disappointed that a lot of it was down to our own mistakes. It was good to see the lads hurting, they didn’t take it as a moral victory. They can definitely take learnings from it.”