‘Lads just got on with it... next man up, your job’
SFC final reaction
A breakthrough county championship success is always a special occasion and for Crosserlough manager Jimmy Higgins, it was doubly so. After guiding his own club to the title, having coached many of the players involved right through from underage level, Higgins was still making sense of it all when the media caught up with him.
“I’ve never seen this before so I don’t know what you’re meant to do or how you’re meant to act. You’d wish it was different times but it’s still a championship and we won it so we’re happy out,” he said.
Having come up short by a point in the final two years ago, Crosserlough knew they were close and the physical preparation helped tip them over the edge, he said.
“To compete at senior level, especially the top end of senior level where Castlerahan, Cavan Gaels, Ramor set the tone with strength and conditioning [takes a lot of work]. Eoin Maguire (above, with Jimmy Higgins) came in and his work has been phenomenal with the lads.
“We are able to compete now before the end of games, physically we are able to match teams now. The main thing for the club is to actually build on this, it can’t be just a ‘one and done’. You don’t know what’s going to happen in the future though.
“People will celebrate this and you’d hope that most of these young lads will stick around and you’d hope that the few players we have coming through will be able to complement this group in the years to come. We’ll enjoy this one, it was a lot of work and it will still be a lot of work to keep this going.”
2020 has been a difficult year for everyone, inside and outside of football. When lockdown was announced, like every other team, Crosserlough were busy getting ready for the season to commence.
Having lost star player Dara McVeety, who is in Australia, over the winter, they could have been forgiven for feeling sorry for themselves but their attitude was exemplary, according to the manager.
“I think it was in March, we were about four weeks away from the start of the league and you get word that everything was off for two weeks but you were thinking at the time that this is going to be a lot longer than two weeks. We basically said then, we are not going to train at all.
“I know there were a lot of clubs giving out running programmes but in our mind was that if there is going to be football this year, it’s not going to be for a long time so there’s no point in running and killing lads now. We gave the lads the option to do maintenance strength programmes at home on their own and some Pilates and I think out of boredom lads were tipping along and doing something.
“Eoin Maguire was then able to get us up to speed in a matter of two weeks when we did come back. We knew it was never going to be an issue in terms of our preparation. With Dara being away, it was a massive blow.
“He is the best player in Cavan and one of the best players in Ulster, make no mistake about that, but this is a confident young group and they weren’t daunted or fazed by it. We’d hope that Dara will be back next year and we can build on this with him.
“Lads just got on with it. We went into the championship then, Conor Rehill got a bad bang on the head in the first game against Lavey and missed the second game so that meant we were down two county players from last year.
“But it was just ‘next man up, your job’ and that was the way it continued on. The boys knew that with a wee bit of luck that they can play football, they are well able to play and well able to do it.”
Crosserlough learned a lot from the drawn game. Re-positioning Mark Stuart to defence and giving Paddy O’Reilly the job of minding the in-form Barry Reilly were two of the changes which paid off, Jimmy agreed.
“Mark is probably one of the most honest footballers there is in Cavan. He has a bad hip and he’s just going to have that looked at now over the close season. He will just give you everything, his strength is very important in that defence. I thought in the last 10 minutes, the amount of ball he won around the D and came out with, he was a very, very sure hand there.
“It was one of the things we looked at from the first game, we knew there were things we were going to have to change a wee bit. We thought the 15 who started the last day were good enough to start again, they did themselves justice in the first game, but it was just a matter of a few little match-ups, a few little tweaks just to push us in the right direction.
“We got the performance. It wasn’t just as open as the last game, replays never are really. They would have seen things to try and stop us. They moved Alan Clarke to full-forward with the option of dropping him back I suppose.
“It was never going to be an open game as such but we were happy that we maintained the level over 60 minutes, we were probably just a wee bit more consistent this time around.
“Barry Reilly is an absolute class player. He is probably the most naturally gifted player in Cavan. A footballer of that quality keeps his team going and keeps his team ticking. They have excellent young players all over the park but we felt if we could shut down Barry Reilly it would go a long way towards winning this game.
“Paddy O’Reilly has a great temperament for jobs like that and he stuck to his task very well over the 60 minutes. He probably just shaded it and we needed that for us to have a chance in this game.
“They had to highlight our danger men and we had to highlight their danger men. The players knew themselves that if there was a player free that they needed to match up on them. The players have to think about this themselves a lot of times.
“It’s just trying to negate their strengths and push our own. Everyone did their job there today so we can’t complain this time.”
When the dust settles on this win, will there be disappointment that there is no Ulster Club campaign to move on to?
“We would have played teams in Ulster the last couple of years, we would have played Dublin teams, and you would be a little bit off the standard in terms of physicality but you wouldn’t be too far off it football-wise and a lot of teams in Cavan would be the same.
“If you tell the lads that we are training Friday night for the Ulster Club Championship they’d be a little bit disappointed so there’s positives in it for them as well!”