Hyland has stepped up to steady Cavan ship
New boss is now shaping the future
It goes back to the 11th of April in Brewster Park, Enniskillen and is a tale that perfectly illustrates how ambitions in sport never fall into straight lines.
Terry Hyland was preparing his under-21 side to face Tyrone for the second successive year in the Ulster final. Meanwhile in the stands, he was already being talked about in terms of the next Cavan manager.
On their way to the ground, some caught the news bulletin on the radio that reported the Cavan senior players had held a meeting among themselves. Apparently, they wanted a change of manager.
As selector to Val Andrews, this development directly affected Hyland, but he shielded himself and his players from the speculation and retained their Ulster title in a stirring display.
Having delivered that title, he was the obvious choice to step up to become senior manager. But before he could say yes, there was a call he would have to make. To Val Andrews.
Speaking about it from this remove, Hyland recalls, “I didn’t leave the house looking for the job this year. The way it happened, from that point of view, it was a little shock to the system. In fairness, the way the thing happened with Val, Val and I have been good friends for the last 12 years.
“We chatted about it and he said: ‘You’re the natural successor for the job’ and that sort of thing. He said: ‘Go for it’ and I wasn’t going to step across anybody but he said my time had come. With Val’s blessing, I let my name go forward.”
When Andrews had his first spell as Cavan manager in the late ‘90s, Hyland was installed as his selector. The two of them also worked together at Louth, but with his extra-curricular activities of managing club sides such as Knockbride and Lavey, and the Cavan Masters team, it was only natural that the Lacken clubman should one day covet the hotseat for himself.
“If you are involved in football,” he explains, “no matter at any level... If you are involved in the junior team, you want to manage the senior team. And if you’re involved with an inter-county team you want to manage the senior team if you get that far, and you are good enough.”
On accepting the job, Hyland instantly put his stamp on things, but was vigilant against swinging changes. Anthony Forde came in as trainer, bringing a wealth of experience, yet still remaining relevant to a young panel who would have grown up admiring his courage in the blue jersey.
But with only a few weeks until the Championship, they had to move fast.
“We are a very small unit,”
Hyland says. “But we didn’t feel we needed to expand it at this stage. We thought if we kept it small and kept it tight it would be easier on the players as well, that they didn’t see this army of people coming in front of them.
“But things have gone well. Lads have responded well over the last three weeks and worked hard. You would be hoping that with the hard work, we could get some kind of result out of it.”
On Sunday, we will see the fruits of their labour, when Cavan and Donegal open this years’ Ulster Championship. Donegal might have preferred to face Cavan as they were spluttering along before the managerial chaos. Now, they must suspect there is a kick of the wounded animal in them.
The question for Hyland is how Cavan, with very little time to prepare, deal with a Donegal side who are relentlessly programmed and disciplined, defending their Ulster title?
“I would always have assumed that Donegal would evolve,” says Hyland, “that their gameplan was going to evolve into some type of attacking gameplan, rather than what they had last year. In fairness, defensively they are probably set up the best, they would be renowned as the best defensive set-up in the country.
“Their policy was maybe to hit teams on the break all the time,” he continues. “That’s the part we have to look at. Our forwards were doing quite well all year, but we leaked a bit defensively, so that’s where we have to tighten up. If we can tighten up at the back, that we don’t get hit on the break or conceded goals, I think it will give us a reasonable chance.” In his quieter moments away from football, Hyland will head to his bolt-hole in Spain. There hasn’t been a chance at all this year, and he hopes there won’t be until late September.
Sunday represents the fulfilment of a dream for him. Given how he toiled at the grassroots for so long, who could begrudge him this moment?