Ranked: All 15 clubs in the IFC
The Intermediate Football Championship is always the most hotly-contested and hardest to predict of all competitions in Cavan.
The 2020 renewal - if and when, hopefully, it comes to pass - should be no different. Paul Fitzpatrick runs the rule over the teams likely to be in the shake-up this year and ranks all 15 sides from one to 15.
Cuchulainns have been one of the most exciting teams to watch in recent seasons. They tend to score a lot, leak a lot and battle to the bitter end. Consistency is not the Cross-Mullagh men’s strong point but they cannot be doubted for effort.
Last year, they lost by five points to Cornafean in their opener, drew with Arva in a fantastic match, had a good win against Ballymachugh in Virginia and then hit 0-19 in a win over Ballyhaise to book their place in the last eight.
In the quarter-finals, they had a 1-13 to 0-15 win over a fancied Ballinagh before going down by 2-17 to 2-16 against eventual winners Laragh in the semi-final in what was, for our money, the best match of the season.
Key to their march to the last four last time was the form of Bryan Magee at midfield and the silken-skilled Evan Doughty up front. Both men seemed to bring their games to new levels and were rewarded with county call-ups.
There is lots of quality elsewhere in the side, however, particularly going forward. The young Kenny brothers settled in well in their rookie season, with Conor Smith still a handful up front.
Last year’s side had nine players under the age of 23 starting, five players in their 30s and only one in between and more youngsters are expected to emerge. Evan Doughty’s brother Cian and cousin Ryan Galligan are two attackers to watch while defender Niall Carolan captained Virginia College to Ulster schools success.
They have been close in recent seasons, losing the final in 2018 as well, and under the guidance of manager Michael Tynan and trainer Paul Cooney, look set for a very bold bid.
Manager: Michael Tynan
Key player: Evan Doughty
Last season: 5th in ACFL Division 2, IFC semi-finalists
The Rorys soared to a first intermediate championship final in 23 years last autumn only to be brought crashing down by an excellent Laragh United side on the day.
After a long stint at O’Moore Park, Padraig Dolan has since parted ways with the club and Francis ‘Fra’ McPhillips has been appointed as his successor.
McPhllips was at the helm when Shercock upset Ballyhaise in the 2017 IFC final and also steered the Monaghan border club to safety in the senior ranks (where they remain to this day) in the season that followed.
In Belturbet, McPhillips has a side with perhaps the perfect blend of youth and experience to add another Tommy Gilroy Cup to his collection.
The likes of Kevin McConnell, Eoin McGuigan and Damien O’Reilly have been doing this for a long time now in the maroon jersey, while former Cavan attackers Jason O’Reilly and Brendan ‘Bud’ Fitzpatrick were invaluable bench options in the Rorys’ championship final run of 2019.
Whether all five will be back for more when things return to normal remains to be seen. As for the club’s rising stars, none stood out more last season than Cormac Donohoe at centre-field while Fionan O’Reilly and Sean Og Lawlor are two more you can add to the list from which big things are expected of down O’Moore Park-way.
Enda Henry has been fetching the lion’s share of the team’s scorers these days, with back up from the likes of Lawlor and Conall McGinley, and will certainly be key again if the Rorys are to go one better than last season.
Manager: Francis McPhillips
Key player: Enda Henry
2019 results: 7th in ACFL Division 2, IFC finalists
Ballyhaise experienced a change in management early on in 2020 and it has since seen Monaghan’s Declan Brennan installed at the helm at Annalee Park.
A former selector under Colm Coyle in the Farney County, Brennan has managed at the top level with DCU, UUJ and his native Clontibret – winning six county titles with the latter (four as a manager and two as a player).
Brennan’s credentials are unquestioned. However, what is not known is whether he’ll have a full complement to operate with if and when the club season eventually kicks off this year.
Ballyhaise were purring this time 12 months ago, going on to win nine of 13 games in Division 2 of the ACFL to secure promotion before beating would-be junior champions Killinkere to collect some league silverware along the way.
The intermediate championship didn’t play out as planned though, with the departures of Kevin Tierney and Padraig Moore taking their toll to the point where Ballyhaise would miss out on the quarter-final stages.
No doubt the plan for Brennan’s men this year will have been to consolidate Division 1 status and make a deep run in the IFC, particularly if Tierney and Moore are to return home from their travels as the club’s supporters will hope.
If that proves the case, then the delay to the 2020 campaign could well prove somewhat of a blessing in disguise as those two, along with David Brady, see Ballyhaise with what is arguably the most talented attack in the intermediate grade.
Shane Briody, who captained the team to the 2017 final, is back from Australia with Fiachra McGoldrick also back in the fold and youngsters Brían O’Rourke, Ross O’Gorman, Colin McKiernan, Jamie Smith and Cormac Smith all set to add to the depth in the squad.
Manager: Declan Brennan
Key player: David Brady
2019 results: ACFL Division 2 winners, IFC group stage
Along with Ballyhaise, Cootehill and Killinkere, Ballinagh are an intermediate side operating with topflight status when it comes to league football in the county.
Adrian Maguire’s men finished eighth in the ACFL Division 1 last year and did so without the services of Niall McDermott and Eamon McEvoy (both travelled abroad), while Sean Keating’s season was cut short by a cruciate injury.
The good news is that they are expecting to see McDermott back in the saffron again after the ex-Cavan forward’s return home from Australia.
Kevin Smith and Thomas Moore were outstanding in their displays for the club last season and McDermott coming back into the fold sees them with one of the sharpest attacks when it comes to the intermediate championship race.
Club talisman Padraic O’Reilly still patrols the centre of the field and some of the younger talent within the squad such as Cormac Timoney, Thomas Smith and Evan Finnegan (all of whom played for Cavan U20 last season) have fit right in, while Kyle Tyler is another bright young prospect.
Cuchulainns pipped Maguire’s men at the quarter-final stage of the IFC last September (1-13 to 0-15) before being pipped themselves late on by eventual winners Laragh United in the semis.
It goes to show that Ballinagh are amongst the very elite when it comes to talk of intermediate championship contenders and, with McDermott added back into their pack, there won’t be many to write them off for a return to the senior ranks come throw-in time.
Manager: Adrian Maguire
Key player: Thomas Moore
2019 results: 8th in ACFL Division 1, IFC quarter-finalists
Arva fell short at the quarter-final stages of the IFC for the second year running last season and will be out to make further strides if and when the ball finally throws in for the 2020 campaign.
Ex-Longford forward Jamesie Martin is the new man at the helm at Michael Cully Park, succeeding fellow county man Stephen Foy in the post.
The club’s league form was patchy in 2019 but they secured their Division 2 status before ultimately losing out narrowly to Drumlane in the knock-out stages of the championship.
The Longford/Leitrim border men lost ace attackers Conal Sheridan and Brian ‘Beano’ Ellis early on in what would prove their last games of the season. Ellis was struck by the dreaded cruciate curse that September afternoon at Kingspan Breffni and could yet return to Arva’s front lines alongside the likes of Sheridan and Kevin Bouchier this year.
As former captain Johnny McCabe continues his travels abroad, it’s up to experienced campaigners such as James Morris and county defender Ciaran Brady to continue to steer the ship.
Unsurprisingly, Brady was one of Cavan’s outstanding performers in the first five rounds of the National League and is so often the heartbeat of this side whether he’s operating at centre-field or with the number six on his back.
With a full squad at their disposal, Arva should be right there in the mix for the Tommy Gilroy Cup which they last won in 2016.
Manager: Jamesie Martin
Key player: Ciaran Brady
2019 results: 13th in ACFL Division 2, IFC quarter-finalists
After many years trying to break free of intermediate ranks, Cootehill managed it in 2014 with a memorable win over Ballyhaise in the final. They quickly hit their stride at senior level, too, picking up some notable scalps and generally playing the sort of attractive football with which the club is associated.
Last season, however, was a disaster. In the absence of injured talisman John McCutcheon and with a number of injuries and former county forward Tom Hayes having departed for Ballyboden, the ship appeared rudderless in the championship and took four heavy defeats in the group stages, conceding heavily and, at the other end, struggling for scores.
Eventually, they capsized and went under in the relegation play-off against Shercock and found themselves slipping out of senior ranks again. It was a perfect storm and unexpected, too, because league form had been okay, with five wins helping them to a sixth place finish in the top flight.
Coming into 2020, it’s hard to evaluate exactly where the Celtics are at. If all players are available and commit to the cause, it’s easy to envisage them bouncing straight back up but if there is a hangover from last year’s disappointing conclusion, they could struggle in what will be, as usual, a dog-eat-dog environment.
Among those who will be expected to lead the way will be the likes of the Carney brothers, young full-forward Shane Sexton, Sean O’Connor, Cillian McGahan and Dean and Dermie Connolly. Cootehill provided the lion’s share of panellists for the St Aidan’s U20 side who came close to landing the U20 Division 1 title last December which proves that there is no shortage of talent there.
There is a history of teams suffering successive relegations and they will need to avoid complacency but Cootehill have lots of talent and should prosper back at this grade.
Manager: Clive Fitzpatrick/Darren Chapman
Key man: Sean O’Connor
Last season: 6th in ACFL Division 1, SFC group stages
Drumlane came closer than perhaps some might have expected of making it back-to-back championship final appearances in 2019 and this year sees Fintan Reilly back at the helm for a third year in charge.
The ex-Cavan and Redhills goalkeeper steered the club to a junior championship win in his first year in charge and this season is set to see a few more aces added to his pack.
Daryl McGurren was the marksman for the Cavan minors last season while James McCahill captained the side from centre-back and both are set to be a huge addition to Reilly’s charges when things get up and running for 2020.
McGurren, in particular, was instrumental for Erne Gaels (Belturbet/Drumlane) in their U20 Division 2 championship triumph at the end of last year and will add more potency to a Drumlane attack which has been spearheaded by Ryan Connolly and Darragh Dolan since Reilly’s arrival.
Around the middle, the Sons of O’Connell are as solid as any with Dane O’Dowd and skipper Kian Monahan at 8 and 9, while Donal Monahan, Declan Lunney and Josh Marsden are the key components in the Milltown men’s defence alongside veteran full-back John O’Dowd.
In the last line of defence, Harry Clarke was outstanding for the Sons of O’Connell in what was his breakthrough season last year and it’s looking like there’s plenty more to come from the 19-year-old shot-stopper.
The clear favourites in Division 3 of the ACFL, don’t be surprised to see Drumlane right back in the mix again come the business end of the IFC campaign when it rolls around.
Manager: Fintan Reilly
Key player: Ryan Connolly
2019 results: 12th in ACFL Division 2, IFC semi-finalists
A shadow hangs over Killinkere, and will do for the longest time, after the sudden and tragic passing of their captain Lewis Fay-Cooper a fortnight ago. His will be in an incalculable loss on the pitch, in the dressing-room and around the club.
Killinkere have suffered losing members of their senior squad, in the prime of their lives, before and while grief-stricken and always remembering their lost comrades, have come back from it. That will happen again.
Their senior team have been on an odyssey for a few years. In 2016, they lost the intermediate final in a replay before slipping down to the junior a year later and then losing that final, also in a replay.
Last year, they finally got over the line and bounced back. Their nous and their standing in league football – they gained promotion to Division 1 of the All-County Football League last year also – is such that they will be hopeful of giving the championship a good rattle.
Their team is built around the pace of Peter McCabe up front allied to the strength and accuracy of Emmett Fitzsimons while Jason McMahon is always a guiding light around the middle.
Brothers Liam and Kevin McCabe are both outstanding defenders while their younger brother Neil has already broken into the team and is the first of a good crop of teenagers ready to make the step up.
The team has amassed huge experience in the last five years and built up a great level of conditioning to boot. The likes of Garry Denning, Breen Smith, Darren Smith and Damien and Ciaran Sexton have all been around the block in football terms but are in their prime and the feeling is that if they can build on the momentum of last year, they will go a long way, with Division 1 league football a huge help.
Manager: Paddy Bates
Key man: Emmett Fitzsimons
Last season: 2nd in ACFL Division 2, JFC winners
Big things were expected of Butlersbridge last year following their first IFC semi-final appearance in 40 years in 2018. They started superbly with a big win over Ramor, a draw with eventual winners Laragh and a comfortable victory over Killeshandra before they came up short in round four against Arva.
That left them fourth in the table and meant they faced the Stradone men again, who were finding a rich vein of form at the right time and won by eight points.
There is lots of attacking quality in the squad, which is built around Caoimhin O’Reilly and Feargal Flanagan, two players who would make any side in the county. Around the middle, the classy John Fitzpatrick pulls the strings while Jonny and Killian Leddy are also outstanding, although both missed out last year due to injury.
There is a lack of height in the team which is a slight concern, although they have shown an ability to improve when it matters; their defensive record was the third worst of 14 teams in Division 2 last year but when it came to championship, they only conceded one goal in five matches.
In common with several sides in this grade, if they click, they could win it outright but the sense is that they need to make a leap soon, having been noted as a ‘coming team’ ever since rattling champions-elect Ballyhaise as far back as 2015.
Their cause will be helped this year by the emergence of a number of talented teenagers including Fiontáin O’Reilly and Kevin McPhilips.
Manager: George Dugdale
Key man: Feargal Flanagan
Last season: 8th in ACFL Division 2, IFC quarter-finalists
Coming into the championship last year, the Shamrocks had put together an excellent run of eight wins in nine league matches and were within touching distance of a return to Division 1 for the first time 15 years. But a mystifying collapse in form, at just the wrong time, ensued and they carried a hangover into the championship, where they lost their first three games against Ballyhaise, Belturbet and Laragh before beating Swanlinbar.
They still boast a good squad, however, with potent attackers Rhys Clarke, Michael Argue and Luke Gilsenan among the leading lights.
With other experienced leaders such as full-back Sean Cooney, midfielder Peter Clerkin and Damien O’Reilly up front, they will be approaching 2020 with confidence.
That feeling is bolstered by some quality young players who are emerging including the versatile 18-year-old Dylan Turner, who has vast potential. His pedigree is good; his grandfather Sean McCormack won an All-Ireland with Meath.
The team is managed by Finbar Clarke, who was wing-back on the 1995 Senior Championship-winning side and whose father Pat is a club legend and whose son Oisin made the breakthrough to senior football last year.
Selector Philip Dunne is another Shamrocks clubman, although they will have to plan without the services of Philip’s son Christopher, a key man at midfield, as he recovers from a cruciate ligament operation.
This back-room is bolstered by the presence of the well-regarded and experienced James Lovett as team trainer. The club went through a lean period at adult level but has been working hard and if they can persist, a breakthrough may not be far off.
Manager: Finbar Clarke
Key man: Rhys Clarke
Last season: 3rd in ACFL Division 2, IFC group stage
The Reds have settled in well at intermediate level since emerging from junior ranks in 2016. In their first season, they lost their opening games but showed their resilience to see off Killeshandra and Redhills and make the quarter-finals.
A year later, they defeated Ballyhaise to retain their status and last year, they finished ninth in the table, missing out narrowly on score difference after picking up wins over Cuchulainns and Killeshandra.
The good development work at underage level has begun to bear fruit and the feeling in the club is that they are poised to kick on to the next level. The side is backboned by the Wharton triplets, Andrew, Jack and Dan, whose form saw them called up to the county squad a couple of years back.
Up front, Barry Doyle has been the go-to man for some years now but he has an able assistant in young poacher Jack Trainor who has been a real livewire and has also worn the county jersey at underage level. Other important figures in the side include defender Jason Miney and the powerful Andrew Smith, who is equally adept leading the attack or between the posts.
Mullahoran man Paul Lynch took the managerial reins last year and returns for 2020. The Reds have been competitive with the best sides in the division in recent seasons and their commitment and cohesiveness has seen them establish themselves at this level.
Again, this is a very competitive and even championship and Cornafean are one of many sides who will feel that they have enough ability in their panel to push on.
Their ninth place finish in Division 2 of the league and in the championship table places them in or around the top half of sides in the county. The challenge now is to kick on.
Manager: Paul Lynch
Key man: Barry Doyle
Last season: 9th in ACFL Division 2, IFC group stages
There is a mood of quiet optimism around Packie Devlin Park this season. The Leaguers were short on numbers in last year’s championship and it didn’t go well. After a memorable opening round win over neighbours Arva, they lost another high-scoring derby against Cornafean and the wheels came off; heavy losses to Butlersbridge and Drumgoon followed.
But they managed to pull things together for a relegation play-off against Ramor, hitting 4-12 in an impressive win to retain their status. There’s no doubt the Leaguers at full strength are much better than that – it’s only a few years ago since they contested a Senior Championship semi-final and the spine of that side remains in situ.
Experienced players such as Shane ‘Bosco’ O’Reilly, Dara Tighe and Tomás O’Reilly can more than hold their own with the best at this level while man-marker Cillian O’Reilly has transferred back after a stint playing club football in the capital and will be another leader in defence.
The word is that the towering Paddy King is now fully fit and injury-free and his return is a massive boost too. Talented youngster Eoin Brady has established himself as a scoring forward and has the ability to take his game to another level this season.
Damien Keaney and Ciaran Owens have remained on in the bainisteoir bibs for another season which is also a positive.
They were too good for the vast majority of teams in Division 3 last year, even though they were pipped in a promotion play-off, but found the going tough in championship. To go a long way this year, they will need to progress on what we saw last term. The scope for improvement is there but in a hotly-contested division, every bit of it will be needed.
They should consolidate and a place in the last eight, a stage they last reached in 2018, seems very achievable but the same can be said for most sides. To go further than that will require a sprinkling of luck, especially with injuries, but the pedigree is good with anything up to a dozen Intermediate Championship medallists from 2013 still on board so they are not completely ruled out.
Manager: Ciaran Owens/Damien Keaney
Key man: Dara Tighe
Last season: 2nd in ACFL Division 3, IFC group stages
Crosserlough native Raymond Reilly returns for a second year at the helm of near neighbours Ballymachugh. Last year was a case of mission accomplished as they returned to Division 2 at the first attempt and retained their championship status in comfortable fashion in their relegation play-off with Swad.
This did not tell the full story as injuries had robbed them of Liam Buchanan, Darragh Kiernan, Dillon Kiernan, Barry Kiernan and Anthony Baxter, who had formed the spine of the 2017 Intermediate Championship-winning team. Into the breach stepped newcomers Stephen Halton, Daragh Sheridan (an exciting player who will benefit from a settled position on the team), Patrick Goldrick and Ryan Smith who all excelled as the year progressed.
The positioning of Gary Kelly at full-back should free up Daragh Kiernan for a role further up the field where the return of Buchanan could also allow Mark Kiernan and James Smith to provide support to Killian Smith in the forward line.
With so many players back, expectation will be to make the knock-out stages of the championship. Their low ranking on this list belies their ability and at full strength they will be a handful.
Manager: Raymond O’Reilly
Key man: Darragh Sheridan
Last season: 1st in ACFL Division 3, IFC group stages
2019 was a very good year for the Boyle Park men, who over-achieved on general expectations when sealing promotion from Division 3 and storming to the quarter-finals of the Intermediate Championship.
With most of the great team of previous years now retired – although the brilliant Keith Fannin continues to do the business, showing extraordinary commitment in commuting from Inverness – the Eire Ógs seemed to be in transition and were not fancied to make a major splash last year. However, history has taught us that they are a very dangerous side in championship football, as they showed when beating Ballyhaise and Butlersbridge in the group stage in 2018 and going unbeaten through the group the year before.
Last summer, manager Ciaran O’Malley had them primed and they played scintillating football in running up a big lead against champions-elect Laragh in the opening round last year and withstood a fightback to record a famous win. They lost their next two matches to Ballyhaise and Ballinagh but had a 0-22 to 0-7 win over Killeshandra in round four to seal their passage to the last eight.
The Rorys put five goals past them and won by seven points in the quarters but Drumgoon could be content with what they achieved. Going forward, playing Division 2 league football will be a help and while the squad is not the deepest, it is talented.
County star Conor Moynagh, of course, is the key figure, with his brother Killian also very influential. Young freetaker Conal Farrell has the makings of being a really top player while there are other talented youngsters – Donal Keappock, while still a bit raw, and the skilful Kaylan Jackson are super prospects.
Firepower, then, is not a problem, with Paddy Smith another with the ability to rip it up at intermediate level, although he has soccer commitments also. All in all, Drumgoon are well fit to hold their own in this grade. An outright championship success is probably beyond them at this stage in their development but they are a team no-one will want to meet if they are at full strength.
Manager: Alan Stephens
Key man: Conor Moynagh
Last season: Division 3 winners, IFC quarter-finalists
15 Ramor United
Uniquely in this competition, Ramor is a second string side, with the club obviously also fielding in senior ranks. As such, it’s very difficult to evaluate them without knowing the make-up of the squad. They survived in this competition last year, however, and should improve, with plenty of young talent coming on board.
They are ranked 15th due to a lack of information but will be expected to hold their own once more.