Cavan are out on their own in Ulster - in more ways than one
OPINION: As a Fermanagh man, DECLAN BOGUE knows a thing or two about Cavan and how they are viewed by the other eight counties in Ulster. He takes a tongue-in-cheek look from the outside in.
THINGS I know about Cavan, part one in a very short series indeed. I’ll keep it mercifully brief.
I come to these pages in peace. I pose no threat to you.
Yes, the byline picture on this page screams of something rock ‘n’ roll, a man with a whiff of serious danger, something exotic and dark and desirable. As Ann Widdecombe once said of her fellow Tory institution Michael Howard, there is ‘something of the night’ about me.
But I’m not all that different from you.
I’m just from Fermanagh. Which obviously bestows natural advantages upon me; greater dental care, a more rounded palette, a lack of boot-cut jeans…
But I must admit a certain kinship with the Cavanman and Cavanwoman before we take a deep dive into the Gaelic football world.
Some years ago, I was kindly invited to take part in one of those GAA Chat Nights in aid of something or other, in The Kilmore Hotel. Beforehand, I sat with the other guests and got to see Seamus ‘Banty’ McEnaney tackling a sirloin steak, chips, pepper sauce, and a full portion of onion rings. There may have been knives and forks in the vicinity but they have never seemed so irrelevant to the magic unfolding in front of our eyes.
Everyone loves onion rings. Most take the approach that they hope some are included on the plate. When it was down on the Cavan account though, that’s when you order up separate portions. For all.
That evening, we were asked what came to mind when the word ‘Cavan’ meant.
“Don’t they play in blue?” asked Colm O’Rourke to equal parts laughter and grinding of teeth.
It came to me. I have plenty of Cavan experience. As a teenager, a group of us would head down to the Slieve Russell disco.
Into the teenage disco on a Friday night as a 16-year-old, nod to the bouncers, couple of cokes and a curry chip.
Then back the next night for the adult nightclub, nod to the bouncers, couple of pints of cider and a curry chip and a couple of Regal filter cigarettes that threatened to produce a whitey.
Every time I watch Gearoid McKiernan bring his comically-tall giraffe-like body to a tremendous height to field a ball, I think of your man at Mullan Mart, close by to McKiernan's homeplace of Swanlinbar.
That's where a man from Enniskillen once self-consciously whispered to a market trader with a shelf of DVDs if he had ‘any blues?’ To which the market trader shouted at his wife in the back of the van, ‘Bring out the dirty fillums for the young fella, Patricia.’
The words ‘An Cabhán’ mean, ‘The hollow’. I know this because the great Kevin Carney once told me that in the Breffni Park pressbox.
I still call it Breffni Park, out of pure habit. The succession of Cavan county board apparatchiks have battered it over the heads of anyone that visits the ground that it is now ‘Kingspan Breffni’, of course, but here we are.
Other colleagues hold a different theory, that we should use ‘Kingspan Breffni’ as often as we can, as a way of reminding the people of Cavan of the time the bean counters sold out all that lustrous, luscious tradition and heritage dating back to when Breffny O’Reilly were a boy, for a few peels off the wad of a plasterboard crowd.
I jest. The funny thing is, Cavan are almost entirely disregarded in football terms by the rest of Ulster.
Hear us out on this.
I believe this is down to the lack of connection with the rest of the northern counties in education and GAA matters.
When the young people of Ulster spend their formative years in college – and as Sambo McNaughton once said to me, ‘every dense idiot is going to college now’ – they gravitate in the main to Belfast.
I didn’t go to school, but I knew the scholars, as the saying goes. So when I went to Belfast to bluff my way through a GNVQ when the rest of my peers were engaged in serious academic study, you could tell the various factions.
You could spot a gang of lads from south Armagh anywhere. Likewise a gaggle of hallions from Tyrone, girls from south Derry. But nobody from Cavan.
Look through recent Sigerson teams of UUJ and Queen’s and you will see the likes of Monaghan’s Ryan McAnespie, or the Donegal McHugh cousins, Ryan and Eoin. Eoghan Bán Gallagher and so on. Not so many Cavan players however.
This divide extends into the media world.
Pre-partition, The Belfast Telegraph was a big seller in Cavan. Former GAA President Aogán Ó Fearghail once told me his local historical society used the newspaper as one of its’ most important primary research materials as events around Drumgoon would have been mentioned in dispatches.
Nowadays, neither Belfast paper in The Tele, or The Irish News are shifting many units in Cavan, and so that is reflected in their coverage of events in the county. It is blatantly ignored. Antrim football is the subject of multiple backpage spreads in The Irish News. And you can’t blame them for servicing their readership, even though Antrim football is, well, do you need me to go on?
And that seeps down into the minds of Ulster people everywhere. Cavan is one step removed from the conversation, the person who comes in a room in a party and all the bubbly chatter and the music stops and people look down at their feet awkwardly.
“Were youse chatting about me?”
“Oh, no. No, not really.”
Wanna change that? Win an Ulster title. Yes, we media folk really are as fickle as that.
I have to acknowledge that all of this does not look good for me, or some of my northern colleagues.
But hot damn it, it’s the truth.
• Declan Bogue is a native of Tempo, Co Fermanagh. An award-winning author and Gaelic games writer, he regularly contributes to the Irish Independent, Belfast Telegraph and Irish Examiner among other titles and was previously nominated for the Sports Journalist of the Year award. His second favourite county is Cavan.