Cavan have all the tools required to rule Ulster, says Clarke
When Armagh 2002 All-Ireland winner Ronan Clarke was approached to take over the reins of the ambitious Cavan Gaels club, he little thought that he would encounter a sporting mindset that was "quite frightening".
The Gaels outfit was to prove just the tip of the iceberg in a voyage of discovery that has encouraged, enlightened and captivated the former Orchard County full-forward, who collected the Young Player of the Year award to place alongside his Celtic Cross 17 years ago.
While the GAA world marvelled at Cavan's eclipse of Monaghan in the quarter-final of the Ulster Championship, and was subsequently thunderstruck when they sent Clarke's native county packing from the provincial series, the man who initially learned his trade with the Primatial City's Pearse Og club emitted little if any surprise.
Now his current club colleague Mickey Graham has steered Cavan into a mouth-watering Ulster decider against Donegal on Sunday, Clarke is optimistic that the final act of what has been a spectacular sporting odyssey will yield unimagined glory for the Breffni Blues.
Not bombastic proclamations relative to his early vision of Cavan's progress - that would be completely out of character - but rather a studied, informative appraisal of a team's surge from nowhere to a lead role in what is undoubtedly a showpiece final.
"From the day I set foot in Cavan to start my role with the Gaels club, I could not help but take on board the passion, fervour and utter dedication that football generates," revealed Clarke.
"I believe that the Ulster Championship this year has been the shop window of all the provinces and Cavan have played a big part in making it so.
"I honestly thought that they would get the better of Monaghan and I have to be honest and say that I thought this result would provide the momentum for them to get over Armagh, even though it took a replay to achieve this."
It's Cavan's capacity to press forward while at the same time not leaving the back door unlocked that has most impressed Clarke in their spectacular drive into the decider.
"I think Mickey Graham has got them playing to a system with which they are comfortable. They got 23 points against Armagh in another of this year's Ulster matches which rendered Pat Spillane's infamous description of 'puke football' not so much outdated as laughable," insisted Clarke.
But while Clarke lauds Cavan's rise from the ashes - and that's what it has been in a Championship context - he is also very keen to keep everything in perspective, stressing: "If you look at the bigger picture, Donegal had their homework done on Tyrone and they carried out their game plan with efficiency, and you can be sure they will be ready for anything that Cavan will throw at them.
"At the same time, you have to take on board that Cavan played in Division One this year and they obviously absorbed lessons from their games against top sides like Dublin, Kerry, Mayo and Tyrone.
"This knowledge has stood to them and it didn't altogether surprise me that Cavan have made it into Sunday's final. I always thought that the manager had a good deck from which to deal. Even before the game against Monaghan, there was feeling of confidence within Cavan.
"I met many people in the county who were very upbeat and I have to say that I shared their outlook. Monaghan might have been missing a couple of big players but Cavan did their homework and came up trumps."