Padraig Faulkner sends the ball over the bar. Photo: Adrian Donohoe.

The making of Cavan’s All Stars

Damien Donohoe

All-Star awards are only given out to the best of the best, and so we are right to savour this moment in Cavan. Inter-county players make up just two per cent of the GAA playing population, and the All-Stars are the top two per cent of that elite. Raymond Galligan, Padraig Faulkner and Thomas Galligan now join Cavan greats Ollie Brady and Dermot McCabe in the most exclusive of clubs in the GAA.

But how did they get there? I’m sure the lads will say the usual, that ‘it’s thanks to their team mates’ and ‘that it’s not just down to last year, they have been working for years to get to this level’. All this is very true but the dozen plus people who come together to select the GAA football season’s best 15, only judge you on your contribution to your team’s victories and what a contribution Raymond, Padraig and Thomas made.

The three lads produced so many moments that made us sit up, stand up, and in a time when it was most needed, cheer up! Padraig Faulkner forcing an early turn over on Paddy McBearty in the Ulster final or his back from the dead tackle on Con O’Callaghan in the All-Ireland semi-final will never be forgotten.

Hooking it over

Thomas Galligan was described recently as the man you go to when you simply have to make something happen. He showed this throughout the season but one of the best examples of this was in the Ulster final as he won a long ball to the square from behind his man, flicking it up and hooking it over the bar with a mass of bodies around him.

Raymond Galligan brought goalkeeping to another level this year as he not only performed brilliantly the fundamentals of shot-stopping, kick-outs, communication and commanding the square in the air, he also supplied forwards with quality ball in open play as well.

We all remember Conor Madden’s goal in the Ulster final but a few minutes before that Martin Reilly had a goal chance saved after the Cavan keeper came out to the middle of the field and played a super pass to match Reilly’s run. This I’m sure is something we’ll see others try to copy as time goes on.

The highlight reel for Raymond Galligan’s championship run last year would sit well as an example of the complete goalkeeper in an era when the art is evolving rapidly. Three first half saves against Monaghan in Clones set the ball rolling for the Lacken man. Once rolling, momentum never stopped. Three minutes into injury time at the end of second half extra-time Raymond stepped up.

Rory Beggan was after levelling the game with a 40 meter free but referee Ciaran Brannigan still had time to play. The Cavan captain put the ball on the 20 meter line and aimed for the target who had controlled the middle of the field since his introduction at half-time in ordinary time. Driving the ball north of 65 meters, cousin Thomas gathered possession like a fire-fighter saving a baby from a burning building.

Thomas who was carrying an injury - not that you’d notice - was thrown in to rescue Cavan from the fire as they trailed Monaghan by seven points. Not content with the mark he drove forward and won Cavan that all important free.

Back into the spotlight stepped Raymond. Having delivered the ball into the other half of the field he now had to convert a 58 meter free to upset the bookies pre-game odds. Miss it and the game goes to penalty kicks which he would have had a massive role to play in.

Despite there being no crowd the pressure must have been enormous. Coolly striking the ball from right to left Raymond broke Farney hearts and set Cavan off on an unforgettable journey.

Before we leave the Monaghan game let us not forget Thomas Galligan’s involvement in Martin Reilly’s extra time goal. With six minutes of second half extra-time remaining Cavan trailed by two points and in truth two white flags looked unlikely given the energy expended to get back from seven down.

A kick pass from Evan Doughty found Thomas moving towards the dugouts sideline. While not known for his quick turns, a drop of the shoulder fooled Ryan Wylie and Thomas Galligan galloped towards goal before setting up Martin Reilly for finish to the net.

Fast forward two weeks and it was time to face Down who fielded a weakened team against Fermanagh to be fresh for the Ulster semi-final.

The first half saw the Mournemen beat Cavan in almost every individual battle but one man’s resolve stood out.

Padraig Faulkner’s early first half block was a hint of how crucial he was to Cavan, and his defining moment came 27 minutes in.

Diving block

Down were ahead by eight points and Cavan had been reduced to 14 men. Jerome Johnston was running amok in the Cavan defence with five points to his name already. Things were about to get a whole lot worse as Down created a two v one with Pierce Laverty and Johnston facing off the Kingscourt Stars man.

Faulkner immediately positioned himself to make up Laverty’s (the man on the ball) mind that passing the ball to Johnston was the correct option. As soon as the pass was made Faulkner knew what he had to do. A full length diving block to the boot of Jerome Johnston saw not only the ball go out for a ‘45 but resulted in Down’s star forward hurting his left knee and curtailing his influence for the remainder of the game.

If Cavan had gone 11 points behind there is a strong chance that was the end of the road for Mickey Graham’s men. If that wasn’t enough of a contribution Faulkner landed one of the two final scores of the half for Cavan to close the gap to eight points. Those two points were significant because it was a sign of the momentum shifting as it was the first time in the game Cavan put scores back-to-back.

Those men showed leadership, resilience, skill and determination through the Ulster winning championship of 2020, and when they retire in years to come they can look back with satisfaction at the little bronze statue on the mantle and smile. Hopefully it’s joined by others in the coming seasons. Well done lads.