PAUL FITZPATRICK caught up with Cavan and Mountnugent midfielder David Givney, who picked up two prestigious medals in the space of one momentous weekend.
There was the barrel-chested Michael Murphy, routinely described as the best forward in the game, colliding with Darran O’Sullivan, two All-Ireland-winning captains coming together. The towering Mayo man Aidan O’Shea, grappling for the ball on the ground with former AFL pro Michael Quinn. Two-time All-Star Paul Flynn scurrying up the wing, Tomás O’Connor on the edge of the square and, at the other end, James McCarthy, a darling of the Hill, mopping up at the back.
And in the middle of it all, as the biting cold blowing in from the Shannon caused the couple of hundred of Sigerson semi-final spectators to huddle together, was a 23-year-old from a junior club in Cavan, a man with, by his own admission, scarcely a medal to his name, soaring and swooping and dictating the flow.
Growing up in Mountnugent, hard on the Meath border, David Givney wanted to be an inter-county footballer. The big midfielder makes no apologies for it — he’s a lover of the game and, kicking around in the back garden, he was Dermot McCabe or Darragh O Sé, a commentary reel running in his head.
Maybe that memory buzzed through Givney’s brain this past weekend, as he delivered on his biggest stage yet.
His enthusiasm still comes through, on and off the field. Having lined out at midfield in the Sigerson Cup semi-final and final on Friday and Saturday respectively – and, in the opinion of many, been the best player on the pitch both days – the 23-year-old hit the swimming pool on Saturday evening before lining out alongside three-time All-Ireland winner Sean Cavanagh at centre-field for Ulster in Sunday’s Inter-provincial final.
As we write, less than 24 hours have passed after the biggest weekend of his sporting life and while the body is aching, Givney is still on a high. His career has changed in three short days; he has a Sigerson Cup medal, he has a Railway Cup medal and, suddenly, the world of gaeldom knows his name.
“The legs are very tired. The feet are up now!” he laughs.
Much has been made of the affront visited on the DIT team when the odds for their semi-final against DCU were chalked up by the bookmakers early last week. The men with the satchels made Givney, Martin Reilly, Ross Sheridan and Co out as 4/1 outsiders to win that particular two-horse race, which Kerryman Darran O’Sullivan described as “an insult”.
Givney admitted that he was taken aback at the prices but wasn’t tempted to have a nibble himself – the weekend, it is inferred, was strictly business.
“From the beginning of the year, all the talk was about the Sigerson weekend and giving it a good lash. It was great to get there and to win it was unreal,” he said.
“When you look at the team-sheet at the beginning of the year, we all knew that we had the team that, if we pushed hard, could win it. As you saw from the odds against DCU, we were 4/1. No-one gave us a chance but we all knew that if we put in the hard work we had a great chance of winning it.
“Everyone was thinking of DCU and saying that they had a great team full of stars but we knew that we had equally as good a team, if not better. We showed it and we upset a lot of people.”
Were some of the lads tempted to draw down on their student grants and have a punt?
“I don’t know about that,” he smiled, “I didn’t have money on it anyway, I don’t like backing myself, but it was brilliant to win it. You want to beat the best on the way to the final and I think it worked out in our favour that we met DCU in the semi-final. It was great to beat them.”
Billy Morgan’s UCC impressed in dismantling hosts Athlone IT in the other semi-final but, said Givney, DIT knew they had the potential to out-work the Cork college. Plus, they had some inside information.
“We had Mark Collins in our team who had played for UCC so we had a bit of background information I suppose. We knew that they were a hard-working team, we all stayed on and watched their game against Athlone and we knew that if we gave them a chance and let them have the ball, they know how to play ball. But we worked very hard, we knew if we worked very, very hard we would be able to turn them over.”
Scoring 1-4 over the two matches, from play, was an impressive return. Givney and Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea dominated the middle third in both games.
“It was great to play a long with Aidan, as you could see over the weekend, he is a very, very talented man. He holds the middle well and that gives you the opportunity to get forward. It was brilliant to play alongside him.
“There’s not [much difference between Sigerson and inter-county football]. The Sigerson weekend is very intense stuff, there’s not a whole lot of difference between the two. You could see from the players on show, they are all inter-county standard.
“It was absolutely brilliant to win but to win with five Cavan lads on the panel is an unbelievable feeling too. You want to be winning titles with the boys you have grown up with and played alongside. Marty [Reilly] has been in very good form for DIT and hopefully he can carry that through for Cavan.
“I didn’t know Ross until I came up here this year but talking to the boys, they said he has come on in leaps and bounds this year. He definitely is inter-county standard and is definitely worth a run with the county, he’s a very talented footballer and one to look out for.”
Sunday brought a new challenge. If attendances are any guage, the Inter-provincial series has been languishing for a couple of decades but Givney is a believer. He attended the games as a child, watched “men like Jim McGuinness playing in Clones” and admits that some of his Ulster team-mates were his heroes growing up.
“The legs were tired on Saturday night but I knew the game was coming up and I prepared well for it, I got a pool session in and a stretching session so I was fit and rearing to go for Sunday. At half-time the legs were a bit tired and it was good to get Gearoid on the pitch. It was great to get him on the pitch too, great for Cavan and himself.
“I haven’t won a lot of medals in my time but to win two in one weekend is just unreal. To play alongside Sean Cavanagh and the likes of them… They were my idols. I grew up looking at them on telly and just getting a chance to play with them was unbelievable.
“It was great to play in Croke Park. It was my first time playing there so I was eager to get out there and put in a good display. I know the legs were tired but I left whatever I had in the tank out there. It was a great experience.
“The Railway Cup, I grew up watching it. It’s a brilliant competition; I don’t understand why the GAA aren’t promoting it more. It’s great to get a chance to play for your province.”
He allowed himself a few pints with the Sigerson team on Sunday night before the serious business of preparing for this Saturday’s test against Meath began again. This week will be like claiming a kick-out – timing, preparing, getting up and getting down. He wouldn’t be anywhere else.
“The weekend was unbelievable, just fantastic, but it’s time to get the head down and concentrate on Meath now. It’s a massive match for Cavan and that’s my number one priority at the minute. I want to get a performance against Meath. That’s the main thing now.”
Seconds out, round four...
David Givney helps DIT to the Sigerson Cup title: