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A six-year layoff to making history in Croke Park - Cavan chase hurling glory

The Breffni county face Fermanagh in the Lory Meagher Cup final this evening.

THE ONE COUNTY that were without a senior hurling team: Cavan reignite the flame.

An article on this website in 2017, as the county’s PRO, Mark O’Rourke, mapped the Breffni’s return to the inter-county scene following a six-year layoff.

“Who knows, we might even see them in Croke Park,” O’Rourke signed off at the time.

hurling Source: Cavan GAA.

A little over four years later, they’re in the Lory Meagher Cup final, lining out at GAA HQ in an adult championship match for the first time. 2020 runners-up and Ulster rivals Fermanagh stand in the way of dreamland this evening [throw-in 6.30pm].

The emotional scenes at Kingspan Breffni Park last week said it all, as Cavan enjoyed a landmark semi-final victory over reigning champions Louth. This meant so much for the hurling faithful in the county, who had wintered many a storm through the years.

The ultimate day in the sun after so many dark ones.

Prior to the 2011 season, the team disbanded. It wasn’t exactly a surprise, with things at a low ebb in the years beforehand. This was rock-bottom, though.

“At the time the decision was made to discontinue the senior hurling team, there would have been very low turnouts at training, and very poor results on the field,” as O’Rourke told The42 shortly after the team returned in 2017.

“That would have been happening for a number of years, it wasn’t just one season or it wasn’t just a couple of games. It was consistent over a number of years.

“I’m not sure what the tipping point was. I suppose there was funding being put into it, and then players not turning up to training and some of them not taking it seriously enough. The players didn’t seem to be there.

“You can understand it. With them continuing to get hidings, they mightn’t have wanted to come out. Things just weren’t going well.

“The decision certainly wasn’t taken lightly. It was decided to discontinue with the team for a couple of years initially, and then see how things were going. The plan was to develop the underage set-up and get the numbers coming through, and regroup that way.”

While many threw the hurleys to one side, a core group stuck together and never gave up hope. The driving force for a return was there, as serious work was put in at underage level (the U17s are in the Tom Hogan Cup final today, too — throw-in at Abbotstown is 2.30pm.)

When Cavan native Aogán O Fearghail was elected as the President of the GAA, the opportunity for a new dawn arose.

“Certainly, I know Aogán was keen that Cavan would field a senior hurling team,” O’Rourke noted, “and I’m sure that every president would be keen that every county would field a senior hurling team. It was disappointing from everybody’s point of view that there wasn’t one.”

The hurling committee started up officially again, and the decision was made that they’d contest the Lory Meagher in 2017. Things fell into place from there, the county board offering backing and support as the players got going again.

O’Rourke “saw a difference” as “lads definitely took it seriously and worked very hard” — and that has continued to be the case over the last four years.

The first-time Lory Meagher finalists are reaping the rewards now, though it’s far from a case of job done.

Under the watchful eye of Antrim native Ollie Bellew, they’re eyeing championship silverware after dethroning the holders in the last four.

Bellew is no stranger to breaking ducks, ending long droughts and tasting success. In 2014, he managed his native club, St Galls, to their first-ever championship final. He steered the Saffron minors and U21s to Ulster championship and Leinster league glory; triumphed in charge of Ulster University, St Marys University Belfast, and Queens University; and has been selector and coach to several victorious Antrim senior sides.

Galway native Tomás Mannion has been by his side since he took the reigns in 2019, Cavan slowly but surely building towards this long-awaited breakthrough.

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It came after a simply remarkable, and highly dramatic, finale against Louth under the scorching sun last time out. Bellew and Watkins’ men looked down and out with a few minutes to go but their never-say-die attitude ultimately got them over the line.

A long-range Brian Fitzgerald goal and a string of late points sealed the win — and most importantly, a shot at a first national title since the 1983 National Hurling League Division 4 crown (also against Fermanagh, with the final staged in Clones).

a-view-of-the-fans-at-the-game The counties facing off in the 2018 Lory Meagher Cup Round 1. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Hopes within the county are that captain Mattie Hynes will climb the steps of the Hogan Stand, a Mullahoran dual player who grew up in Dublin.

One of many with links to the capital, the addition of three All-Ireland club winners from Cuala club in semi-final goal-scoring hero and free-taker, Fitzgerald, and brothers, Colum and Cillian Sheanon, has been significant.

While Croke Park is new territory for most of the other Cavan players, their opponents, Fermanagh, are familiar ones.

The sides are no strangers to one another, locking horns regularly in the past few years with little between them.

In this year’s Allianz Hurling League, they finished joint-second in Division IIIB, and in June’s Lory Meagher Group B clash, Cavan won by two points after two draws in recent months.

Fermanagh’s Lory Meagher final defeat to Louth last November was their third defeat from four decider appearances, their only title to date coming in 2015.

Redemption will be on their minds, though Cavan will back themselves to continue this fairytale story after reigniting the flame not so long ago.

About the author:

Emma Duffy

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