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Cavan aim to end the hurt by battling way to the Ulster crown

By Declan Bogue

Last year on a Clones Saturday night, Cavan felt harshly done by.

With their semi-final against Monaghan in the balance, the Oriel goalkeeper Rory Beggan was in possession and took far too many steps before dishing it off.

A Cavan free should have been signalled by referee Marty Duffy, but instead he blew the game up shortly after, Monaghan winning by a point.

That's the way of it. Monaghan went on to win an Ulster final, defeating the seemingly unbeatable Donegal, and Cavan captain Alan Clarke, who lives close to Tommy Freeman, was delighted for the Monaghan veteran.

But they will take Monaghan as their inspiration as they bid to win Ulster, starting with the clash against Armagh at the Athletic Grounds tomorrow.

"It was great to see Tommy getting on and lifting it, he played a lot of football for Monaghan and he deserved it," reflects Clarke.

"It shows that if you put in the work, if you have a system in place and you are willing to sacrifice – and they did sacrifice – then you can. I don't believe their footballers are any better than us, but when they play they work for each other and they would die for each other and that's what got them across the line."

If anyone symbolises Cavan's rise to respectability, it is their captain. Discarded by Val Andrews, the 28-year-old Kingscourt player is one of the cornerstones in organising the watertight Breffni defence.

"Val had his ideas and I had mine and that's where it went," is all he will say of his exile.

Of his role, he sees it as ever-evolving as teams counteract the sweeper.

Last year, Armagh boss Paul Grimley brought Ethan Rafferty on for Finian Moriarty to push up on Clarke, but there is more than one way to skin a cat.

"Most teams are copping on now that there is a sweeper there and don't kick the ball in on top of him. So I feel that there are certain times it would be used, certain times it wouldn't," says Clarke, who laughs at the notion it takes a clever player to play sweeper.

"I don't know about that!" he exclaims.

"With my own club, the year we won the Championship I would have been playing centre-back and dropped off. People said I wasn't fit enough to keep up with the centre-forwards but I felt that if the centre-forward got the ball out in the middle of the field, it would take a long time before he would get by me and get a goal.

"That's kind of where it came off. Joe McCarthy being a selector with Cavan and being my own clubman, he saw that and thought it might have come in handy."

This week, he feels the expectation building in the county.

Championship week, it's always the same, but he's not backing down from it.

"We can't go on another year and say well we'll do it next year. Definitely this year we would love to win an Ulster title and every supporter in Cavan is pushing for that," he says.

"They are no longer content with Cavan winning an odd game in Ulster or an odd game in the league. The supporters are looking for silverware. The number one priority is Armagh."

And if they are favourites – at least in the eyes of their own public – then Clarke is not backing down from that. If anything, he welcomes the expectation.

He says: "The pressure is off them. They were relegated, we've gone the other way. The pressure is turned back on us. We feel we are in a good position. Armagh will feel they are in a good position and it's whoever wants it more."

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