Graham positive despite disrupted NFL preparations

GAA news

Cavan seniors return to action this Sunday in St Conleth’s Park, Newbridge (2pm) against a backdrop of disrupted preparations.

Stringent Covid regulations mean that football squads across the country have been, if not decimated, then at least diminished and Cavan is no different. Manager Mickey Graham will be down a handful of players, most of whom are close contacts of positive Covid cases and, as such, must restrict their movements for two weeks.

“At this moment in time, we have to take it day by day because of the high case numbers in Cavan, you don’t know who has been in contact with who. Every day, the landscape changes,” Graham told The Anglo-Celt.

“Players may be close contacts of somebody who has gone for testing so they have to wait. The players themselves are following all the protocols and guidelines, the training sessions are perfect but unfortunately they can’t control who their families or housemates are in contact with.

“They have to isolate for 14 days even if they have no symptoms if they are close contacts of a positive case so that is a challenge we and every other county team are facing.”

It seems likely that the Cavan team which goes out against Kildare this Sunday could be markedly different to the one lining out against Roscommon the following week and then Monaghan in the championship in a Halloween fixture which it is hoped will be a firecracker rather than a damp squib.

Graham and his backroom team and players are congnisant of the challenges facing them off and on the field but, he says, the reaction in the squad has been to roll their sleeves up and embrace it. In the new normal, everything is different but attitude, he says, remains king.

“The response has been excellent, the lads have come back really energised and really looking forward to playing inter-county football. The big positive is that because it is a short window, players have really embraced it. The hard work as regards getting fit is not required, there is none of that because the lads have come back flying fit after the club championship.

“So it’s really been lots of coaching, enjoyable stuff and looking forward to just playing football. We have had a great response, people who have been asked into the squad have jumped at the opportunity as well which maybe wasn’t the case in the last few years.”

Jack O’Connor’s Kildare will be expected to provide a stern test for Graham’s side.

“Any day you go down to Newbridge, it’s always a hard place to go to get a result. We know the opportunity that we have, we can only control ourselves. It’s going to be a tough game down there, they are fighting for survival in Division 2 and they badly need two points.

“We badly need two points as well because while we are still in the hunt for promotion we could get dragged into the relegation battle too. It’s a big game for both teams, it’s going to be a big ask but it’s a game we are looking forward to.

“We are going to go down and give it our best shot.”

Graham believes that the remaining National League matches and the All-Ireland SFC could feature more open attacking football than usual – mirroring the experience in recent club championships – although weather conditions may mitigate against it.

“I think we might because of the short window and because there has been very little time to work with players and a high turnover of players at the moment with new players coming in, you don’t want to over-complicate things, you want to keep it as simple as possible.

“You want to go and play football and enjoy it so we might see high-scoring football – the only problem is, we are coming into winter football now so conditions might play a part in not being able to play that type of football. The ground will be heavier so that’s one factor in it too.”

The national conversation is dominated by the pandemic at present. It’s the first and last word in every discussion and sport, of course, is no different. For football people, this is uncharted territory but all they can do is keep moving forward.

“Without a doubt, it’s not normal circumstances at the moment. Every day is a new challenge but we could sit back and make excuses and feel sorry for ourselves, at the end of the day we have to just get on with it and play the cards we’re dealt and just be glad we have something to look forward to and that we’re able to play football.

“If we’re down a few bodies for various reasons, whatever it is, you just have to make sure that the lads who go out on the field, when they put on that jersey that they’re going to give it their all for Cavan.

“The year that’s in it and with everything going on in the world, the attitude has to be let’s just go out and give it a go, enjoy the opportunity we have been given to play football, work hard and hopefully the result will take care of itself.

“I think we all got our eyes opened this year. It put a lot of things into perspective. Sport is brilliant for taking people’s minds off things, it’s a distraction from all that’s going in the world.

“Players and management teams are doing the best they can but a lot of things are taken out of their hands. We should be just grateful that we can go out and play football and that people at home can sit down and watch the games on TV because if they didn’t have that, there would be damn all else to look forward to.

“Because of that, we are going with the approach that with the year that’s in it, let’s go and enjoy ourselves and express ourselves and see where that takes us because there’s enough pressures on young lads nowadays without football becoming another one.”

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