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McKeever retaining hopes of breaking Cavan silverware duck

By Declan Bogue

On February 11, Mark McKeever will celebrate his 30th birthday by taking part in a Cavan training session.

Last season after James Reilly left the panel, he became the eldest man on the squad. Twelve seasons on, he is still hunting his first medal and has a big chance tonight in the Dr McKenna Cup final.

When he looks around the dressing room, he sees young lads full of confidence from their days of winning provincial titles at under-21 and minor level. It's all very similar to Tyrone around about the 2001-2002 era. They feel they are a team ready to start accumulating honours.

Time is running out for McKeever, but he is philosophical about it when he says: "If that's this year, if it's next year, that's great. It could be a case that I am still about. If it's not, well then, best of luck to them all.

"It would be great if I can cash in or be part of a panel that wins medals, but if not I would be very happy to contribute something to some of the young lads coming through."

He uses the term cash in as if he would not be earning it for himself but that's far from the truth. McKeever has given as much, possibly more than most, in Cavan's fallow years and he is one player that neutrals would be delighted to see enjoying success late in their career.

Still, inter-county football is no place anymore for a man approaching his 30s, he says.

"There are only a few exceptional players such, as Tomás Ó Sé, who make it up to 34, 35. I can't imagine many players getting to that age any more.

The demand has got to be so high that a lot of players will be bowing out at 31, 32.

"It's a big commitment. That's one end of it. The actual fitness levels and the amount of work that you need to do outside of the training; diets, making sure you are eating the right stuff.

"You need to have that little advantage over everyone else. You work a little bit harder on that."

If anyone knows what it's like to have the enthusiasm of youth, it's the Gowna postman. He was brought in to the county senior team by his former club manager, the legendary Eamonn Coleman, and at 18 was forming a half-back line along with Anthony Forde and Peter Reilly.

Eleven years on, he subscribes to the theory that Cavan's success is a matter of 'when', rather than 'if'.

Of the younger generation, he explains: "We want to win medals and they are pushing us on, they are showing us it's very possible to do and we are heading in that direction. We were on a little bit of a roll last year and we are progressing from that, adding to it.

"I don't think anyone wants to progress and progress and not have an end-goal or a result.

"Our end-goal would be to get medals. We want to win every game we are in and that's a natural progression that Cavan – everyone in Cavan – wants. I don't think it's that far down the line."

Could be closer than he ever imagines.

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