'This is an exceptional bunch of guys' - Farrelly

Ulster MFC preview

Kevin Óg Carney

Cavan’s search for a third Ulster MFC title in 46 years will throw in this Saturday afternoon (2pm) at St Tiarnach’s Park when Gary Farrelly’s squad take on defending champions Monaghan.

The Breffni boys are expected to be short at least two first-teamers and possibly two others due to Covid 19 regulations and injuries but team-manager Farrelly is hopeful that that does fit for duty this weekend will be up for the task:

“I have great faith in these lads and if Monaghan are to beat us then they’ll have to produce a very good performance to do it,” the Ramor Utd clubman opined.

“This is an exceptional bunch of guys that we have this year. After last year’s championship, I got involved with the county under 16s and teamed up with Andy McgGovern and Aidan McCabe and I saw at first hand the potential so many of Saturday’s panel have.

“Last year, I saw them play Cork and Kerry in challenge games and they really showed how good they are and hopefully they’ll show something similar this weekend.”

In these times when so many known unknowns are spoken about and the phrase ‘new norm’ gets at least a weekly airing in every household, Cavan’s current crop of under 17s will be sharing an unreal stage in Clones on Saturday afternoon.

Cavan boss Farrelly says the stage this weekend will be one of the few familiar aspects of what is a special competition. He hopes his charges can rise their game to match the venue and the occasion but he is also mindful of the bigger picture.

“Obviously our preparations have been hit because of the virus but it’s the same possibly for Monaghan and the other counties taking part in the competition across the province and the country; it’s part and parcel of the bi-product of the times we’re living in right now.

“It’s tough on the players this year but they have worked hard to be ready to hit the ground running on Saturday and they will be giving it their best shot and hopefully that’ll be enough to get them over the line.

“At the end of the day though, it’s a game of football. The players are delighted to get the opportunity to tog out and represent their county after suffering the lockdown and other restrictions over the last seven months. For us as a management team, we’ve worked hard at ensuring that everything is done right to protect the players. That is the most important thing for us Saturday is a big day for all of us but we have to keep it in perspective too.”

Aside from the twin ravages of Covid 19 and injuries, Farrelly and his team of selectors, namely, Jack Wharton (Cornafean), Liam Maguire (Lavey), Seanie Johnston (Cavan Gaels) and Ciaran Flynn (Cavan Gaels), have had to contend with having limited time with their full squad of 37 players due to the busy schedule of club matches which have taken place in recent weeks.

It’s changed times, all round, for all concerned with pre-championship preparations this year contrasting sharply with the corresponding timeline in 2018 when – at this time of the year – Farrelly and co. were busy staging trials, putting a panel together and then, at Christmas, handing out individual strength and conditioning programmes ahead of the 2019 championship campaign.

This year, the Cavan team-management has overseen just one Ulster Minor Football League tie; a tie away to Tyrone which saw Cavan win quite comfortably at the end of Febuary last.

“Any day you play Tyrone and come away with a win at whatever level is a good day and as a management team, we were very encouraged by the lads’ performance and by the result,” Farrelly enthused.

“We slipped up against them last year and suffered a big defeat so it was nice to turn the tables on them this year.

“Unfortunately, we were looking forward to the next league game (against Donegal) when it was called off due to the virus so all we could do after that was keep encouraging the lads to stick with their individual programmes and keep their eyes on the prize.”

Farrelly and his think-tank have a handful of players who featured against Donegal back on board this year and 12 survivors in total from last year’s panel that went under (2-17 to 1-18) to Tír Chonaill in Kingspan Breffni in the quarter-final of the U17 provincial championship.

Team-manager Farrelly hopes the investment in the younger lads involved in the Class of 2019 will hopefully reap the required dividend. He is convinced that Cavan have quality and strength and depth this year but he understands that the blues must keep their discipline in the tackle.

“It crucial that we finish as we start, with 15 players,” the former highly-regarded Ramor defender cautioned.

“We’ll be emphasising to the lads that they must go into the tackle determined and in an aggressive manner but they have to be disciplined in the tackle too.

“Picking up a black card can be huge too and is something we will want our players to avoid. At underage level, it can be game over in 10 minutes if one team has the momentum and puts a few scores on the board, one after another.

“Like a lot of underage matches, it’s likely to come down to which team grabs the momentum and causes the maximum damage in that period that they’re in control.

“Saturday is a winner-take-all. It’s not like last year when we had a couple of games (against Fermanagh and Derry) in the championship before the quarter-final. It’s all about how you do on a single day. Hopefully it’ll be our day on Saturday.”

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