All Ireland U21 Championship: Cavan closing in on Ulster’s third success
The Championship season has yet to swing into action and yet there is the strong possibility that in a period which will span just six weeks, a third All-Ireland football title could land in Ulster.
With Crossmaglen Rangers having already captured the All-Ireland Club crown for the fifth time and St Colman’s College, Newry retaining the All-Ireland Colleges Hogan Cup title, the seeds of optimism have been sown.
Now Cavan, a county starved of success since their last senior provincial triumph in 1997, aim to make it a hat-trick of titles for the province when they face Galway in the All-Ireland Under 21 final on Sunday.
Donegal’s achievement in winning the National Football League Division Two title in Croke Park last Sunday has further fuelled Cavan’s drive for glory and skipper Gearoid McKiernan has already made it clear his team will be flying the flag for the province and not just themselves when they take the field at Headquarters.
“It’s tremendous for us to be in this Under 21 final and we desperately want to win it for Ulster.
“We will take our lead from teams like Crossmaglen and St Colman’s who have done themselves proud in winning All-Ireland titles and from Donegal who have gained league success.
“We are very focused on what we have to do,” declares McKiernan, who displays a maturity that belies his 20 years.
Nor are Cavan likely to be fazed by their mission if McKiernan’s view of Croke Park is to be taken on board.
“We won’t let the occasion get to us. Croke Park is just a field like any other with two goalposts at either end,” he says.
At the start of this year, the pundits were decrying the standard of football in Ulster.
But the arrival already of two All-Ireland titles and the fact that Tyrone, even though they failed to gain promotion in the National League, are still ranked as fourth favourites to lift the Sam Maguire Cup indicates that Ulster is making a strong pitch for recognition.
With Tyrone and Down having served up three titanic tussles in the Ulster Under 21 quarter-final before the Red Hands eventually squeezed through to book their place in the semi-final against Monaghan, the series suddenly captured the public imagination.
And when Raymond Munroe’s side beat Monaghan to book their place in the final against Cavan, the stage was set for what proved an enthralling showdown with the Breffni boys coming out on top. Now they have the scent of All-Ireland glory in their nostrils although McKiernan acknowledges Galway will be difficult opponents.
“They beat Cork in the semi-final and that says it all. Cork had beaten Kerry by 22 points in the Munster final and had been made favourites to win the All-Ireland,” says McKiernan.
Cavan manager Terry Hyland has already responded to the call made by Galway boss Alan Mulholland for everyone in that county to get behind his side.
“I will go better than that — I would urge everyone in Ulster to support this Cavan side.
“This team has shown great strength of character so far and no little skill but the boys know that their biggest test will come on Sunday,” insists Hyland.