black death banished
From heavy criticism to the perfect ad on the big stage: Last two standing in Cavan SFC go again
Kingscourt Stars and Crosserlough vie for the crown in this evening’s Kingspan Breffni Park replay.

A TWEET FROM Limerick All-Ireland winning hurler Gearóid Hegarty summed it up:

“I can’t say I planned on sitting down to watch the Cavan senior football final this evening, but what a superb game of end-to-end football.”

padraig-faulkner-with-james-smith-and-shane-mcmanus Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Kingscourt Stars captain Padraig Faulkner is tackled by Crosserlough duo James Smith and Shane McManus. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

Many likely stumbled across the decider meeting of Kingscourt Stars and Crosserlough while flicking through the television channels last Saturday night, but those who opted to leave RTÉ 2 on were treated to a hugely entertaining game.

A rollercoaster from start to finish, the pinnacle of the Breffni club football calendar had it all. Both teams certainly delivered, playing out a brilliant spectacle under the bright lights of the fortress that is Kingspan Breffni Park, fittingly, on Cavan Day.

Crosserlough — seeking their first senior championship title since 1972 after seeing off 2018 and 2019 winners Castlerahan following extra-time in their semi-final — came out all guns blazing. Inspired by James Smith, Adrian Smith and Paddy Lynch, they powered into a commanding 1-5 to 0-1 lead by the first water break.

Kingscourt, lucky to still be in the game — albeit hanging on by a thread after their opponents kicked several wides, soon found their groove and kicked on. The colossal Pádraig Faulkner rattled the back of the net just before the break, leaving the gap at three.

Despite an early second-half Crosserlough major courtesy of Cian Boylan, the Stars of Kingscourt well and truly shone from there, the response nothing short of emphatic. Seeking Oliver Plunkett Cup glory and in the final for the first time since 2015, sharpshooter forward Barry Reilly led the comeback, ably aided by captain Faulkner and Peter Corrigan, among many others.

A goal from rising youngster Kevin Curtis eventually put David Lennon’s side two points up, and after some tit-for-tat scoring, the O’Raghallaigh Park men kept that same lead going into injury time.

Crosserlough didn’t panic, though. David Shalvey pulled one back with an influential effort, before Kingscourt missed a free-kick at the other end. From the kick-out, and right at the death, the Lough forced a replay through some Mark Stuart heroics.

For the Stars, it felt like a loss. And although out of the game for some time, this young Crosserlough side stood up when it mattered most, showing huge confidence and serious bottle at the end. A let-off after their heartbreaking 2018 final defeat.

crosserlough-players-stand-for-the-national-anthem Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Crosserlough players standing for the national anthem. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

All in all, it was a fascinating dual, in which both teams — without key players in Dara McVeety (travelling) and Joe Dillon (injury) — had their dominant spells and played some brilliant football when given the chance. The overwhelming reaction — minus comments on refereeing decisions — from elsewhere was that this was a brilliant advertisement for Cavan football.

It was direct and attacking, physical but open, with plenty of young talent on show. That said, the old-school style remained: most kick-outs were sent down the middle, leading to a fight for the ball after the break, when it wasn’t expertly fielded.

That undoubtedly had mouths watering in this day of more-often-than-not defensive battles, or as Pat Spillane once said, ‘puke football’.

His former colleague, a certain Joe Brolly was surely one person on the minds of many watching on.

The game’s attacking nature and unpredictability came as no surprise to those who follow club football in Cavan, as that’s how the competition in general has spiralled out over the past few years. 

But those looking in from afar — many of whom likely raised eyebrows after RTÉ announced its live football coverage last weekend and it wasn’t the Kerry final — may have been more pleasantly surprised, with negative, defensive connotations still tied to the county since Brolly’s infamous ‘Black Death’ jibe in 2014.

“The one real anomaly in the league is The Black Death,” he wrote in his Gaelic Life newspaper column at the time, referring to the Breffni county side.

“They have continued to play the most horrible, defensive football the game has ever seen, oblivious to the trend towards attack-based, non-fouling football.”

“It’s thoroughly depressing,” Brolly added.  “A warning: Please resist the temptation to go watch them play, as this will only encourage them. It may also lead to others catching the black death, which is fatal to all known forms of Gaelic football.” 

Unfortunately, it’s a perception that stuck to not only the team, but to football in Cavan in general, for some time after for those who know no better. And the Derry man hardened his stance on it a year later, before declaring The Black Death “gone” in 2018.

“Some people have said that Cavan football is as ugly as Marty Morrissey,” Brolly noted on The Sunday Game ahead of their 2015 Ulster quarter-final clash with Monaghan. “I should apologise… to the people of Cavan for that.”

In an amazing turn of events, who was on commentary enjoying every second of the game last Saturday night? The one and only Marty.

He, more than anyone, was pleased to see both sides get a second bite at the cherry as they do it all again in Cavan town this evening [throw-in 5pm].

Two heavyweights going toe-to-toe for the second time in a week with a result needed on the day, it certainly makes for more exciting watching — albeit not on national television this time, but on Cavstream, courtesy of the county board.

Sometimes in replays, one team runs away with it. You’d be pretty certain that won’t happen in this instance.

Who knows; Hegarty, Marty or maybe even the man himself could be among the neutrals tuning in for more of the same. And just like Kieran Donaghy famously did, the people of Cavan should be asking: ‘Well, Joe Brolly, what do you think of that?’

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