'If we can hit form, it will take a good team to stop us'
From the outset of the 2023 Cavan Junior Championship, it was felt that whoever won it would be capable of doing well in the subsequent provincial championship.
The results of the Breffni representatives in recent years have improved sharply. In 2019, Killinkere lost after extra time in the semi-final to eventual winners Blackhill. The following year, there was no Ulster competition but in 2021, Denn won it and last year, Drumlane came from the preliminary round and ended up losing the final in a penalty shoot-out against a Stewartstown side who would reach the All-Ireland final.
As it turned out, Arva claimed the Sean Leddy Cup and they head into Ulster this Sunday when they take on Derry champions Ballymaguigan (throw-in 2pm, Owenbeg).
The celebrations are well wrapped up at this stage and the Arva squad has very much pressed the reset button, manager Finbar O’Reilly told the Anglo-Celt.
“It (celebrations) definitely didn’t drag on too long, well not that I know of!” O’Reilly laughed.
“Look, the number one goal I guess was to win the championship and get back up to intermediate and there was a big sense of relief when we did that. Without a doubt, the lads let their hair down for a day or two, they had a couple of good nights but we were back the following Friday.
“We gave them a couple of days off just to recuperate and relax and then get back to work – and that’s what we did.”
Ballymaguigan, home club of former Cavan manager Eamonn Coleman, generally compete at intermediate level but found themselves in junior and won it fairly comfortably, seeing off Moneymore in the final.
That game took place a week after the Cavan final, which allowed some of the Arva camp to attend.
“Ballymaguigan won handsomely, they won by 10 points-plus in the end,” stated Lacken clubman O’Reilly.
“They are a typical Derry team, very, very big up the middle. They have two huge midfielders, two big guys who get around the field. They have a good keeper, their centre half-back is a good footballer, their centre-forward, their full-forward, are really good, competent ball-players.
“They are going to be a formidable enough outfit but if we can bring the same level of quality and the same level the same level of performance that we brought to the final here in Cavan, I think we’ll take a bit of beating.
“But’s it’s an Ulster Club game up in Derry, it doesn’t get much tougher really, so it’s going to take us being at our best.
“We’re relishing it, we’re not over-awed with where we are. We are where we somewhat planned to be so it’s just an extension of the season, it’s not a case of there being a surprise factor, there’s not. We’re quite content with where we are and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
In the county championship, Arva aimed to peak for the latter stages but Ulster is knock-out, with an element of the unknown thrown in as well. This won’t, however, mean any major alterations are required in terms of match preparation.
“It won’t really, to be honest, since we went into the knock-out stages in Cavan, even though we were red hot favourites in the quarter-final and semi-final in Cavan, we treated it as this is huge, this is knock-out, if we lose this our season’s over. So that has been the way since the quarter-final in Cavan, into the semi-final, into the final, and we are just now going into a higher grade and we know that if we lose, that’s the season gone.
“So that really has been our mindset for the last five to six weeks. We won’t prepare much differently.
“We had a lot of injuries in the early part and the middle part of the season but luckily we have got all those boys back, they just seemed to come back just at the right time and we feel we have been gathering good momentum and feel we’re physically in good condition. We’re just looking forward to this challenge of going into Ulster – there’s just something different about getting out of your county.
“The county championship tends to be a little claustrophobic, everyone knows everyone, plays and managers know each other, and it’s just good to get away from that and get out of the county borders and up into Ulster and take on a completely different challenge. And we’re really relishing that now.”
Arva and Knockbride were expected to clash for all the marbles – so long as the draw kept them apart in the semi-finals - and so it came to pass. Watching the plan come together in fine style in the final has given the Arva men great confidence ahead of this big test on Sunday.
“Make no mistake, from a long way out we definitely viewed Knockbride as a serious, serious threat. They were flying in Division 2 and beat a really good Cuchulainns team in the Division 2 league final so I think as soon as we saw those results rolling in, we thought, ‘Christ, we really need to get our house in order for these boys if we come across them’.
“And we knew if we did our business and they did their business, we’d most likely meet in a final and that’s the way it panned out. And we had a lot of work done in preparation for Knockbride, there’s no getting away from that, and I think it probably showed on the day.
“A lot of work went into shutting down their real strengths and allowing our boys to play. And without a doubt, we have taken huge confidence from that and it’s on to the next step now.”
Arva county man Johnny McCabe mentioned immediately after the match that, in his time, the team have had two cracks at Ulster (Junior in 2013, Intermediate in 2016) and didn’t do themselves justice and that they hoped to put that right this year. O’Reilly admitted that he has detected that ambition in the group from a long way out.
“I probably got that sense last winter when we met up for the first time and had a little bit of a review on 2022 and how that ended and you’re then goal-setting for 2023. Drumlane pipped Arva in the final last year and went on then to lose the Ulster Club final on penalties and I think that sort of maybe sparked something in the Arva fellas, got them thinking ‘if we can get through Cavan, maybe we can go on a similar run’.
“Now Drumlane played four matches, won three games to get to a final, and we’ve a lot of work to do to match that. But we are where we sort of half-planned to be and we’re not over-awed, we’re looking forward to it. “We know we’ve a good team, we know we’re good in key places and we’ve lots of mobility and pace and we feel that if we can hit form at a high level, it will take a good team to stop us.”
O’Reilly hopes to have a full complement to choose from, with wing-back Thomas Brady, who went off injured at half-time against Knockbride, the only doubt. Incidentally, Ballymaguigan have their own Tomás Brady, who scored 1-5 from play in the county final and won a penalty.
Among their other key men is Ciaran McIvor, who played for the Derry Masters team this year.