Hurlers set their sights on HQ
Kevin Óg Carney
“We’re one hurdle away from reaching Dreamland and I know the lads will give it everything to get there.”
Cavan senior hurling manager Ollie Bellew says steering his native club in Belfast to a first ever Antrim SHC final and achieving success at university level in hurling have been “highs” to date in his career as a coach but booking a berth at Croke Park this year with his adopted county “will be right up there with all the other highs.”
Cavan take on Louth this Saturday (2.15pm) at Kingspan Breffni in the 2021 Lory Meagher Cup semi-final with the winner meeting the team that comes out on top in the other semi-final between Longford and Fermanagh.
Louth go into the game against Bellew’s boys as favourites to reach ‘Dreamland’ but based on the most recent results between the sides, the odds on the tie going right down to the wire are fairly short.
Last November, Cavan put up a brave fight in the Lory Meagher Cup against the Wee County but were outgunned by 0-16 to 0-18. In the teams’ most recent meeting, the Leinster men again triumphed, winning on home ground by 0-19 to 2-12 in Division 3B of the NHL.
“In fairness, we were well beaten by them last year, much more than what the two point defeat suggests. They played us off the park; annihilated us to be honest,” Bellew avers.
“They have beaten us twice over the past two years but only by a combined three point total so we know we’re within touching distance of them. They’re the defending champions (Lory Meagher Cup) though and they’ll be very determined to at least make it back-to-back finals.”
Bellew is adamant though that his charges aren’t in bonus territory right now and that making an all-Ireland final this year was always in Cavan’s sights.
He says he has the “height of respect” for the Louth hurlers and their management team led by Armagh native Paul McCormick and he reckons “every single one of our lads will have to hit top form on Saturday if we’re to make the final.”
Bellew believes the outcome of this Saturday’s penultimate round encounter “will come down to small margins”. In that context, he is convinced that Cavan won’t shoot themselves in the foot by conceding too many scoreable frees; an aspect of play which has become a telling factor these days in separating hurling’s chaff from its wheat.
“We’ve worked hard at various parts of our game over the past two years and we’ve probably become one of the most disciplined teams in the country with our low free count and yellow card count.
“A lot of hard work has been put in by the players and the management in making the improvements that we all wanted to make at the start of the year a reality and we hope that that hard work will stand to us on Saturday.”
Cavan senior hurlers have been tagged as underdogs in every single game they’ve played over the past four decades and the blues will again go into battle as the least likely team to win in the eyes of the initiated.
Team-manager Bellew admits that injury problems affecting “two or three players” isn’t ideal ahead of this weekend’s do or die game but the feeling abroad is that if Cavan can limit the number of scoreable frees they concede and keep a clean sheet against Louth then a visit to‘Dreamland’ can become a reality for the Breffni blues.