Belfast Telegraph

Cavan's patient path to success a shining example for quick-fix rivals

By Declan Bogue

Consider this for a second. The last three Ulster senior titles have been carved up by Donegal and Monaghan.

The last five Ulster under-21 Championships have been the preserve of Cavan with the last four, and Donegal in 2010.

Monaghan are the reigning Minor champions.

They took over from Tyrone, but the year before that, Cavan bridged a gap back to 1974 when they captured the province at that level.

It is a curious cycle of success for the three counties of Ulster the other side of the border.

Taken in isolation, it is worth examining why these three have come along to assume superiority at this time.

There has never been any cast-iron guarantees or assurances of future success arising out of successful underage sides.

Of course there is the example of the Tyrone teams that Mickey Harte took to minor and Under-21 All-Irelands to consider, but the flipside of that remains the successful underage Laois sides just prior to Tyrone's arrival.

It is in this vacuum of uncertainty that Ger Loughnane's view of the optimum outcome for underage teams; beaten finalists – gains currency.

The lessons they learn in defeat, so the principle goes, teaches players that nothing is won easily and the pain of defeat will always spur them on.

Looking at Cavan, they seem to be the only county that have made a concerted effort to grow their structures from the bottom up.

Concentrating on the under-21 teams, they allow that group their own time and do not force any precocious talents into the senior team before their time.

This makes for harmonious camps and a collective focus that has brought rewards. They also have the foresight to have a full-time employee looking after their strength and conditioning.

The other two, if this makes sense, are outliers. Donegal always had fine players but could not glue it all together until Jim McGuinness arrived. Once everything came together they achieved something that stands apart in the sport.

Monaghan are similar. In 22 competitive games over 2011 and 2012, Eamonn McEneaney blooded a new breed of players.

Malachy O'Rourke was able to come along and blend them with the likes of veterans Darren Hughes, Dick Clerkin and Tommy Freeman to win an Ulster title, despite having played their league football in Division Three that spring.

Spells of success are cyclical, but as an example of how to build from the ground up, many counties would do well to heed the example that has been set Cavan.

And if they don't, then they better hope they can find a Jim McGuinness or Malachy O'Rourke within their midst.

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