The make-up of the Cavan panel has changed drastically without us even realising it, writes PAUL FITZPATRICK.
What's the best year to be a Cavan supporter, a joker from Monaghan (a pox on his house!) asked us last week. The answer? Next year. Har-de-bloody-har.
Like all the best rubs, of course, there was a bit of substance to it. We all know that for the longest time, Cavan have been building and building. The old structure was cleared and, yes, a foundation was put in place but, it must be said, by this stage the job is dragging out.
And, on the evidence of what we saw last Sunday, it won't be signed off in the near future either. That's not to take away from the best efforts of the Cavan players against the Dubs; rather, it has dawned on us that we may be – whisper it – in transition, to some extent, again.
I know, I know – we take no joy in it either. But it's hard to argue with when we see the make-up of the current Cavan panel, the old faces gone, the new ones in place.
There was a huge clear-out of the old, and not so old, guard when Val Andrews took charge way back in 2011, which, in hindsight, was misguided. New players needed to be introduced but some experienced veterans were discarded too soon; a bunch of fresh-faced recruits were sent over the top without sufficient training, with predictable results. A couple of massacres ensued.
By 2013, it looked as if things were coming together and Terry Hyland had put his stamp on things as the senior side reached the Promised Land of August championship football for the first time in a not-so-sweet 16 years.
But the boys of that summer are gone, most of them, from the team now. Of the 20 who played that day against Kerry, only five took on the Dubs on Sunday last. That's an incredible turnover rate for a team which have been upwardly mobile, in league football anyway, in the interim.
In 2014 and 2015, Cavan used 43 players in total in league and championship. Staggeringly, of those 43, only 10 saw any game time last Sunday. For reasons of form or injury or, who knows, a hundred other things, 33 players good enough to play competitively just two to three years ago saw no action against the Dubs.
The inescapable conclusion to be drawn is that the current Cavan team is a new-look one. And a new look means transition. And what does transition mean only that we must wait a little longer for success?
Six Cavan players made National League debuts against Dublin and most of them showed up well, which is encouraging. Gearoid McKiernan got some game time under his belt, too.
And, of course, it was a most memorable occasion, as good as any championship game in terms of a carnival atmosphere. On days like these – unprecedented for a league game, extremely rare for championship – it must be said that the stadium, which we’ve long cribbed about, is worth every penny. The challenge is to make sure these afternoons come around more often than just a couple of times in a decade.
To do that means elevating Cavan's status in the championship. Because to hell with the league – it's over-rated, the only return accruing being that it helps prepare the team better for what really matters, the championship.
It is a means to an end and that's worth remembering in a season where the drying sod will reveal a path for Cavan, should they figure how to plot it, to the Ulster final. A precarious one, yes, but clearer than in other years, too.
Mattie McGleenan told this newspaper last week that the league was his sole aim for the season but we suspected he was holding back a little. Last Friday night at our sports awards, Dara McVeety confirmed what we suspected, just as Eoin Maguire did the week before and McGleenan did post-Dublin – championship, man, that's where it's at.
We'll know more about where Cavan themselves are at after this Sunday and a trip to Castleblayney to take on the noisy neighbours.
It represents as winnable a game as any in this division – not because Monaghan are not a very fine team but because there's rarely more than the width of a ticket stub between them. In the last five meetings in all competitions, the margins were: draw, one, three, four and one.
They may lie in wait in summer, too, and Cavan owe them one. Monaghan have plundered two Ulster titles of late while in the blue corner, it hasn't happened on the big day.
Never in the history of the GAA have we gone this long – 16 years – without at least reaching the Ulster final so that’s rightly the priority.
Look at the teams that are winning those titles. Much has been made of the fact that Donegal have lost so many players and their chances have been written off in most quarters because of it.
Yet, last Sunday against Kerry, Donegal had more players on show from their final championship outing of 2014 than Cavan – that young, coming Cavan team, remember - had from theirs.
If the team that Terry built hasn't exactly broken up, it has certainly been fragmented. We didn't notice it happening, perhaps because we were always told Cavan were a youthful team, learning their trade.
But while looking to the future, maybe the present passed Cavan by. The continuity of personnel wasn't there and that delayed the breakthrough.
Jim McGuinness is on record as saying that the lifespan of a team is four years - that’s why, he says, the Olympics are run on that cycle.
It's no coincidence that four years have passed since the high water mark of 2013; now, do we start again?
No. If Cavan are to reach their destination this time, the journey won't take as long – they're starting from a much, much different place.
The hope is that a Spring in Division 1 will be worth two or three in a lower division in terms of development for the new players on the panel. If not, much as it pains us, we'll be talking about ‘next year’ again...
NEW LOOK CAVAN?
Cavan used 43 players in league and championship in 2014 and 2015. Of those, the following have left the panel:
Conor Gilsenan, Alan Clarke, Feargal Flanagan, David Givney, Damien O’Reilly, Declan McKiernan, Micheál Lyng, Martin Dunne, Kevin Tierney, Eugene Keating, Niall Smith, Robert Maloney-Derham, Packie Leddy, Philip Tinnelly, David Hyland, Damien Barkey, Mark McKeever, Ronan Flanagan, Chris Conroy, Barry Reilly, Paul Smith, Brendan Fitzpatrick
And the following are still part of the squad (to the best of our knowledge):
Josh Hayes, Rory Dunne, Killian Brady, James McEnroe, Turloc Mooney, Cian Mackey, Martin Reilly, Niall McDermott, Killian Clarke, Michael Argue, Niall Murray, Jason McLoughlin, Tomas Corr, Paul O’Connor, Ray Galligan, Ciaran Brady, Conor Moynagh, Dara McVeety, Tom Hayes, James Farrelly, Gearoid McKiernan