CAVAN skipper Raymond Galligan knows they’ll need to bring their ‘A’ game from the opening whistle if they’re to stand any chance against a formidable Donegal side in Sunday’s Ulster final against Donegal.
The Breffni County have brought their supporters on a roller-coaster ride en route to their second Ulster final appearance in-a-row, something which they haven’t achieved since the sixties, and it’s been some turnaround in fortunes after being relegated to Division Three a month ago.
In-form goalkeeper Galligan hit a remarkable winner in their preliminary round victory over Monaghan, they struggled at times against
Antrim, and they overcame an eight-point deficit at half time in last weekend’s thrilling victory over Down.
All three were comeback victories, but it’s likely that the door will be shut in their faces if they permit Donegal an early lead this weekend.
“The focus will be on ourselves over the next couple of days but we know we need to put in a full 70-minute performance. We’re aware if 35 minutes elapse against Donegal and we’re losing heavily again, we won’t be cutting into that sort of deficit so we have to bring our ‘A’ game from the start.”
It’s a repeat of last year’s final, and on that occasion Cavan were subject to a five-point hammering against a Donegal team with multiple serious scoring threats. Galligan admits that last year’s match isn’t entirely irrelevant.
“I suppose it has some degree of relevance. They were extremely dominant throughout the game so that’s something we’re mindful of.
“For us it’s all about seeing how much we have improved over the last 17 months. Hopefully we’ll be able to put on a complete performance that’ll be good enough on the day.”
Cavan brought a carnival atmosphere to last year’s final, but obviously things are a lot different this season. The match will be played behind closed doors, and there’s no summer weather to speak of, but the county is renowned for their fanatical support, and Galligan knows they’re as invested as any other year.
“Absolutely, the amount of support and goodwill there was after the Monaghan game was astounding, and it’s great to have such a positive story coming out of Cavan, we’ve had our fair share of doom and gloom over the last number of weeks and months.
“It’s something that the county can really embrace. It was a great feeling against Monaghan and ever since there’s been huge support from our club-mates and friends and family.
“It’s very unfortunate they can’t be there but the support is going to be around the county the same way it would be in normal circumstances.”
Most of the Cavan players have been on the road for a while now, and their experience has told in their Ulster Championship victories thus far. They’ve kept things cool at half-time even when their championship ambitions hung by a thread and Galligan hopes they’ll manage to play to their potential against one of the favourites for the All-Ireland.
“I definitely think our experience will be a factor, and it has done to date. In previous years a young, more naive Cavan team may have approached those half-time situations in a more rash way.
“But we’re a bit more experienced and have learned to be a bit more calm and to approach difficult situations with a better mindset.
“Going into the game this weekend, we’re keen to not let the occasion get to us and we have to portray that to the younger players as well as there are a lot of younger players in their first Ulster final as well.”
This will be Cavan’s sixth game in as many weeks, but Galligan says they’re not feeling fatigued after such a gruelling run of fixtures. If anything, it has helped them gel together as a team.
“Having games week-on-week means you don’t really have an opportunity to dream big or to look too far ahead of yourselves. It’s a lot different to last year, you had a window to really embrace the Ulster final whereas this year we have to get ourselves ready right away.
“We won’t really know until game-time but we do feel fresh. We feel we’ve built momentum having had all those games.
“It’s allowed us to understand each other better and the system we’re playing. We’ve been building and hopefully on Sunday those five games will have benefited us significantly.”
By Niall Gartland