Opinion: Cavan should embrace Tailteann Cup opportunity


Damien Donohoe

Disappointment was the over-riding emotion I felt on Sunday evening because there’s no doubt Cavan are good enough to compete with the best teams in Ulster - and with a bit of luck with them instead of against them, they can beat the best teams in Ulster. But the scoreboard doesn’t lie and no differently than on numerous occasions in the past, being close is still not a win. And a win is ultimately what Cavan wanted.

This Cavan group are now in a different place than a lot of the previous Cavan teams. A lot of them have stayed the course, with a number of them part of the panel since the early part of the last decade and it shows in their performance.

I’ve been commentating on Cavan games for Northern Sound since 2014 and in those eight years and nine seasons, Cavan have played 18 games and won seven, drawn two in the Ulster championship. They’ve lost half the games they’ve played in Ulster which may not sound great, but it was an improvement on what had gone before.

Starting in 2013 and working back, it took Cavan 12 years to play 18 games and only once in those years did Cavan win two games in the Ulster Championship, reaching a semi-final in 2013. The point being, it’s hard to win games in any Ulster championship and Cavan have got better under Mickey Graham at doing so.

When you come up against the top teams a lot more must go right rather than wrong for you to even be competitive. Cavan got more right than wrong against Donegal on Sunday but it wasn’t enough on the day and the dream of a third Ulster final in four years is now gone.

So what next? Well, like it or not, Cavan now head into the Tailteann Cup with Antrim, Down, Fermanagh, Longford, Offaly, Laois, Carlow, Wicklow, Wexford, Waterford, Sligo, Leitrim, London and New York. Plus Westmeath and Tipperary ,unless they win respective provincial semi-finals - so that’s half the teams in the country competing for silverware.

Some people are questioning the importance of the competition and asking what can Cavan gain from it. For me there is loads to gain from it because if you make it to the final, it’s at least four more games this year. It leads to extra elite training deeper into the calendar which can only be of benefit to the players' development.

The likes of Dublin, Kerry and Mayo have been widening the gap between them and the counties in the lower divisions each year because they have two months' extra training most years.

I want to see players in the blue of Cavan who wear the jersey with pride and put in their best effort every time they pull the jersey on. The Tailteann Cup is another opportunity to represent Cavan so it should be given 100pc effort.

I don’t think when Mickey Harte was putting out strong Tyrone teams to try and win the McKenna Cup, too many people asked what was to be gained. The desire to win should be and is always there in the very best players regardless of the opposition or the prize on offer. The fear or hatred of losing is a hugely motivating factor with most successful people too.

There are a lot of questions about the competition being put out there like, why is the draw for the first round and the quarter final on a geographical basis? I would think this is in an attempt to increase the number of spectators going to the games. We saw how few Cavan supporters went to Corrigan Park for the Antrim game so imagine how many would travel to Waterford, for example, if we drew them.

Why hasn’t the draw been made yet? Simple. The line-up of who is in the competition hasn’t been confirmed yet so a draw can’t take place until after Tipperary play Limerick and Westmeath play Kildare in the provincial semi-finals this weekend. The will take place either Sunday or Monday morning of next week.

"It's nearly too late to market it well now," Mickey Harte told BBC NI on Sunday but I don’t agree. The GAA may yet fail to market it well but I can’t see how they can market an event (ie the games) before they know who’s playing or where or when exactly it’s going to be.

The preliminary round, first round and quarter-finals will all be either home or away venues so they can’t play them as curtain raisers to All-Ireland qualifier games. A good suggestion to help market the games would be reduced ticket prices or even have the games free in for the early rounds. It would take away one barrier for people thinking about attending.

The semi-finals of the Tailteann Cup will be in neutral venues and should be before a qualifier game but they should also be live on TV. You would hope that with at least two wins under their belt, the GAA public would have got behind their team by this stage.

I think the fact that it has its own All-Stars – not confirmed but understood to be happening - is a great incentive for players. Imagine one of Cavan’s three All-Stars being picked as a first ever Tailteann Cup All-Star and getting to attend the All-Star tour.

It would make for a nice pub quiz question in years to come. I can also imagine a lot of Cavan players without All-Stars would be looking at this as chance for some national recognition for their talents. I presume the All-Star tour will return post-Covid and see the two All-Star teams go head to head.

At the end of the day, for me, real competitors don’t walk away from a chance to compete, and real fans support their team in all competitions. Cavan must go and win the inaugural Tailteann Cup regardless of how it’s perceived elsewhere. The performance on Sunday says they’re good enough to win it so there’s no excuses.