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McCavana determined to show that Saffrons belong in higher company

By Declan Bogue

Published 24/09/2016

Check mate: Geraldine McManus, left, of Longford and Jenny McCavana of Antrim with the West County Hotel Cup
Check mate: Geraldine McManus, left, of Longford and Jenny McCavana of Antrim with the West County Hotel Cup

At Tuesday's photocall between the team captains at Croke Park, they had some problems trying to get Antrim's leader, Jenny McCavana, to comply with the photographer's wishes.

"He was telling me to stop smiling, because he wanted a mean and moody picture, but I was really trying," she laughs.

"And every time I tried to give him a mean picture he was there; "Jenny, please stop smiling!"

It was a feeling that took her over since she stepped inside Croke Park. With the groundsmen giving the grass its daily trim and sun shining in that part of inner-city Dublin, the ground looked resplendent ahead of Sunday's All-Ireland junior final, when Antrim face familiar opponents Longford.

It's a place she likes to get to as much as she can, along with boyfriend Christopher Browning, himself a Glenavy player.

She enthuses: "The two of us are massive Gaels. We would go along to Antrim Championship matches Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday evening. We love it, it gets us out and he just loves watching it."

Her own career began at her father John McCavana's club of O'Donovan Rossa, where she began playing camogie. From there, she joined a number of girls who played football for St Gall's, discovering an instant aptitude for the game.

By the time she was 16, she was playing senior football for Antrim against Derry in 2008, her debut also notable because she broke her wrist.

Sandwiched in between two brothers, both are disappointed that they cannot make Sunday's decider, one having gone to live in Birmingham this week, the other taking up residence in a Country Club in Florida.

Nonetheless, her parents John and Verona will be hitching a lift on the club bus for the journey down, to see their daughter captain the Saffrons from corner back.

As McCavana points out, they have already beaten Longford in one 'must win' game this season, that coming in the Division Four league semi-final on April 17 which they won 2-11 to 0-13. However, Longford had beaten them earlier in the league and also had the upper hand in the preliminary round of this Championship.

With Antrim never having got out of the basement division, their league final defeat (a 1-10 to 4-8 surrender to Limerick) was particularly galling for all involved, believes the captain.

"Our main goal this year was to go out and be promoted. We wanted to be in Division Three and unfortunately, we didn't show up in the league final," she recalls.

"We were totally devastated about that. Shortly after that, I said, 'right, if we are not going to win the league, our next target is the All-Ireland.'

"We probably should be in Intermediate but we were downgraded this year. We need to go out and prove that we do have the players that are capable to be in Intermediate, so we have to win the Junior."

As for Longford, with the sequence of results being what they are, "It's our turn!" she says.

"The teams are quite evenly matched. I think if we can put the performance in… I think we surprised ourselves against London with the performance. We just gelled so well together.

"We thought after we were beat, we were devastated because that left us on the harder side of the draw, London and all that. But we stepped up and it has been all about us since."

While Longford definitely sapped some of the enthusiasm from them, the tail-off in numbers has been stemmed this year, according to McCavana.

"This is the best year we have had by far, because we have been able to get a full team out training. There were years we struggled to get enough for training."

Although she was beaming all week about the prospect of playing on hallowed turf, she realises that as a squad member when Antrim win this competition in 2009, it's about playing the game, and not the occasion.

"I am just hoping if we come here on Saturday night and the girls get a look around, get to walk around the side of the pitch and get to have - not their 'moment' as such - but take it all in," she reveals.

"I just hope it doesn't get to some of our girls because big occasions in the past, it has got to some key players and it hasn't been good for us."

  • Antrim v Longford, Ladies All-Ireland JFC Final: Croke Park, Sunday, 11.45am

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