A new year, a new season, new hopes and dreams. Last year, much was changed in the old order of Cavan club football – and the smart money says that after a period of flux, things will settle down again in 2017.
Of course, nobody knows. So, what is the state of play? Just for fun, here is our (totally subjective, although based on last year’s championship and league results) ranking of the top 20 adult teams in the county at present.
1: Ramor United
Their early league form last year may have been patchy but they came good when it mattered and lit up the championship with a succession of sparkling displays en route to a first SFC success in 24 years.
The scary thought for the opposition is that Ramor should get better and better in the years to come, having won back-to-back U21 Championships. Retaining the senior title will be a difficult task in such a competitive landscape but there’s no doubt that, as of now, the Virginia lads, under manager Micheál McDermott, are the ones who set the standard.
The Ballyjamesduff men have come as close as is possible without lifting the Oliver Plunkett Cup and while many in the county feel that they have missed their chance, we’re not so sure. Their experience and consistency (they were third in ACFL Division 1 again in 2016) commands huge respect and they may be buoyed by a change in management, with Donal Keogan (assisted by Anthony Forde) now at the helm.
They’ll be there or thereabouts again in 2017, make no mistake.
3: Kingscourt Stars
The Stars were our tip for championship honours in 2016 but they lost out in a dour quarter-final battle against the eventual winners. Still, they remain an exceptional outfit who could easily have gone on and won last year’s title.
They’re stronger than they were a couple of years back but they’ll need to be. Some of their old stagers are nearing the end but there’s enough talent and resolve there for this bunch to scale the mountain again. There may not be multiple championships in them but it would take a brave punter to bet against the current squad – augmented by the arrival of some decent underage recruits – landing at least one more to go with the two they picked up in the last six years.
4: Lacken Celtic
2016 was a marvellous year for the Crowe Park men - they topped the league and eventually defeated Kingscourt in the final of that competition, came through the Group of Death in the championship and were only eventually beaten by a single point in a replayed quarter-final against Castlerahan.
They have a potent blend, with physicality and scoring power, although the suspicion is that they are just one or two players short of a championship-winning team.
That said, they maximised their capabilities under Finbar O’Reilly (whose loss is a blow) last year and a repeat of that level of performance under new manager Damien Keaney will see them in the mix once again.
5: Cavan Gaels
Reports of the demise of the Gaels have been exaggerated. While admittedly they have lost the level of consistency they once had, they retain the ability to turn on the style and put teams mercilessly to the sword, as they showed when book-ending their championship campaign last year with wins over Cuchulainns and Denn respectively by 20-points plus.
Their squad is littered with SFC medallists, they have a new manager in Jason O’Reilly and shouldn’t have any retirements or defections. Winning the U21 Division 2 title in December was a boost, too.
Up to the semi-final stage last year, Lavey were arguably the team of the championship, having coasted to eye-catching victories over Kingscourt, Crosserlough, Killeshandra and Mullahoran.
And if anything, their reputation was bolstered in defeat to Ramor at the last four stage, when they pushed the eventual champs all the way. The age profile in Lavey is positive and manager Kevin McDonnell is staying on for another year.
He would probably have preferred to have his side operating out of Division 1 of the league but they showed last year that they could launch a good run from Division 2. They hadn’t been in SFC semi-final since 1993 – could they go one better in 2017 or will ‘second season syndrome’ catch up with the New Inns men? Time will tell.
Last summer’s championship was a disaster for the 2013 winners, with a raft of injuries at the worst time doing for their chances. However, they have a solid squad, with a couple of marquee players and a sprinkling of talented kids from the minor team which won the Division 2 league last year.
There’s no reason why Ballinagh can’t bounce back in 2017, although they’ll probably need to put more emphasis on the league to develop that winning habit which deserted them last year.
The Celts have emerged as a force from nowhere in recent seasons. For the longest time, they were generally regarded as perennial middling-to-strong intermediate contenders but they reached the IFC final in 2012 before winning it in 2014 and consolidating well in senior ranks since.
They finished fifth in Division 1 of the league last year and made the last eight in the championship, defeating Lacken and Cavan Gaels - both of whom are ranked above them on our list – in the process.
In championship football, albeit outside of senior ranks, the St Patrick’s have been the county’s most consistent side in recent years, reaching four finals in succession. They’ll play Senior Championship in 2017 but, in truth, they’re ready for the step-up; they were comfortably seventh in Division 1 of the ACFL in 2016, and could have been as high as fourth had they converted three draws into wins.
They’re still a young side who have scope for improvement and while it’s hard to keep a run going into a fifth season – burn-out becomes an issue – they should consolidate at worst in the higher grade.
After a poor league campaign in which they only won one game from nine and were the lowest scorers in Division 1, Gowna took the championship by storm, going all the way to the last four where they were beaten by Castlerahan.
Wins over Ballyhaise and Killygarry and a quarter-final victory in a replay against Cootehill represented real progress and suggest that Gowna’s transitional period is nearing an end and they may become a force again in the not-too-distant future. There is lots of young talent coming on stream; that’ll take time but so far they are ahead of schedule.
The Crubany men are one of the most experienced squads in the county in terms of longetivity – most of the spine of their side have been around for close to a decade by this stage, reaching numerous county semi-finals, most recently in 2015.
Last year didn’t go well but they retain a lot of talented players and, crucially, a wealth of youngsters emerging from the juvenile ranks. Look for them to bounce back in 2017.
There were high hopes for the Dreadnoughts under former Tyrone footballer Aidan McCarron in 2016 and while their championship started brightly with a classic smash-and-grab one-point win over Ballinagh, the wheels came off against Ramor next time out and not even a big win against hapless Denn could get them back on track.
They were well beaten by Lavey in the quarter-final. There are some very talented teenagers in the club but many of the core senior players are on the home stretch of their careers at this stage and a lean period is likely in the next couple of seasons. Their pedigree, though, means the Dreadnoughts should never be discounted.
With normal time up in their third group match against Lacken, Cuchulainns were topping their section and set for a quarter-final against Gowna which they would have been fancied by many to win.
And then they conceded two late goals, lost the resulting play-off and crashed out. The Cross-Mullagh men have been very “hot and cold” (sometimes within actual matches, other times from week to week) in recent seasons but there is no doubt they have the tools to go a long way at senior level, especially under manager Niall Lynch.
They have firepower in abundance, as they showed in their recent Division 2 final win over Belturbet, and if they can develop a level of consistency, they will be much higher up this list in 12 months’ time.
Crosserlough, for a traditional powerhouse, have been in the doldrums for far too long. They competed in senior finals back in the 1990s, lost a lot of players to emigration from the subsequent generation but are well down the road in terms of underage development and should reap their reward at adult level before too long.
Under new manager Darragh McCarthy, they should be on the rise in 2017 and could well focus on the Division 2 league, where they finished fifth last year with three wins from nine matches. It’ll be a couple of years yet before they bring through their underage starlets but a good run in 2017 would be more than welcome.
After winning a first championship in almost half a century, Ballyhaise suffered a hangover in 2016 when they were relegated back down to intermediate. That came as a surprise to many, as they looked to have the makings of a solid senior side, but their championship run came off the back of a poor league in which they were rooted to the bottom of Division 1.
Still, they have an imposing squad, with the likes of David Brady and Kevin Tierney worthy of making any team in the county. They’ll be right among the favourites to return to the top table in 2017, having secured the services of former Cootehill manager Ciaran O’Malley.
The surprise packages of the 2016 season, they went all the way to the intermediate final, losing by a single point after a replay in the final against Arva. That level of championship performance belied their league form (they were seventh in Division 3) but proved just what a cohesive, hard-working and pacey side they are.
They will look to secure league promotion this year, which should be well within their grasp, with another crack at the intermediate title very much on the agenda, too.
While their championship campaign (barring a draw with would-be winners Arva) was a major disappointment, the Rorys did secure promotion to Division 1 of the league and have a good squad with a potent blend of youth and experience.
18: Laragh United
The Stradone men finished second in Division 3 of the ACFL, winning seven games from nine, and lit up the championship with some excellent wins before eventually losing by a point against Killinkere in the semi-finals.
They have an extremely young squad and should climb the ladder quickly in the years to come if they can keep them all together; chances are Laragh will be well up this list this time next year.
The Leaguers, minus the services of some key players, struggled in 2016 and didn’t come close to replicating the highs of the previous year when they went all the way to the semi-final of the Senior Championship.
Numbers are tight but when they have their whole team, they are closer to 10th than 20th on this list.
A one-point defeat to Arva in the last four was Shercock’s ultimate lot in the championship last year but they did continue to make progress. With the likes of Killian Clarke, Brian Sankey, the Clerkins et al, they are a physically strong, capable outfit, as they showed when topping Division 3 of the ACFL with eight wins from nine matches.