Donegal and Cavan will keep the faith
The theory that the careers of county players are now of much shorter duration will certainly be thrust onto the back burner on Sunday when two of the longest-serving goalkeepers in the country as a whole find themselves at the opposite ends of the pitch when the Ulster Championship blasts off.
And the suggestion that custodians could come under more intense physical pressure now that the square ball rule has been relaxed will not cause Cavan’s James Reilly or Donegal’s Paul Durcan the slightest flutter of worry.
Both are solid, commanding figures, clinically adept in coping with one-on-one situations, well versed in varying their kick-outs and possessing a lithe athleticism their respective frames might belie.
Apart from taking a break to build a new home and get married in 2010, Reilly has been a fixture in the Cavan side for over a decade having succeeded Paul O’Dowd, an Ulster Championship medal-winner in 2007, and has represented Ulster with distinction in the Railway Cup on numerous occasions.
The Drung clubman’s enthusiasm for the Ulster Championship is unbridled, his desire to see Cavan flourish palpable.
“It’s brilliant to be still involved with this team. We have new guys in who really hold the future of the county in their hands and under Terry Hyland I think that we will be able to give a good account of ourselves,” insists bricklayer Reilly.
A two-time Allstar nominee, Reilly’s ongoing commitment to the Cavan cause is even hailed by a high-profile member from Sunday’s ‘enemy’ camp — former Donegal All-Ireland winning boss Brian McEniff.
“When I was Ulster manager, it was always a pleasure to write in James Reilly as the first name in my team sheet,” says McEniff.
“His consistency and attitude have been superb throughout his career.”
Like Reilly, Durcan has been a defensive pillar for many years having initially vied with the talented Michael Boyle for the No1 shirt.
And as he inches ever closer to making his 100th competitive appearance for his county, Durcan’s loyalty and desire remain as strong as ever.
An Ulster championship medal last year has merely whetted his appetite for more honours and when he steps out against Cavan on Sunday he will be acutely aware that the square ball ‘relaxation’ could perhaps lead to more goals.
“This is maybe seen as putting pressure on keepers but there is always pressure of one form or other.
“I think if you have a good understanding with your defence and remain alert you can cope with most situations but obviously there is an intensity level in championship matches that is not in other games,” observes the mild-mannered, quiet-spoken Durcan.
He won an All Ireland Vocational Schools medal in 2002 and his footballing skills are certainly not confined to guarding the Donegal net.
In the county senior football championship last year he scored ten points from the full-forward position for his club Four Masters against Bundoran thus underlining his expansive versatility.
He will certainly be aware of the hunger and determination on the part of the Cavan forwards to come up with scores in front of their own supporters.
“I know when I play outfield for my club I like to score when I can so I can certainly relate to what the Cavan forwards will be trying to do on Sunday.
“All teams in the Championship especially do not want to concede a goal or worse still goals — if we can manage that, we think we would be in with a decent chance,” says quantity surveyor Durcan.
Durcan will confront a Cavan side that includes five Championship debutants in Kevin Meehan, Robert Maloney-Derham, Niall Smith, Jack Brady and Brendan Fitzpatrick.
Cavan: J Reilly; P O’Reilly, D Reilly, R Flanagan; K Meehan, J McCutcheon, R Maloney-Derham; D Givney, G McKiernan; F Flanagan, M McKeever, N Smith; J Brady, E Keating, B Fitzpatrick.