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Cavan's mental strength will prove decisive: Mattie

 

By Declan Bogue

A balmy summer's evening in Kingspan Breffni Park as Cavan get ready to launch the Ulster Championship with a trip to face Donegal.

Cavan manager Mattie McGleenan is running through his life as a footballer, coach, manager and father in one of the meeting rooms. On his wrist, and on the wrists of some of his players, is a green wristband with 'The Green Platform' message.

It comes from a book of the same name by former Cavan footballer and 1969 Ulster Championship winner Declan Coyle who, after spending 27 years as a Columban Father working amongst the slums of the Philippines, left and became an international business guru, promoting the benefits of positive thinking.

As well as advising government departments and blue chip companies, he also worked with the Kentucky Wildcats in the NBA.

It comes as little surprise that McGleenan, the man who described last year's 0-7 each slogfest in the league against Monaghan as "a fabulous game," has linked up with him.

"Ulster Championship football is mental strength now and it's a case of will," the big Eglish man says, his voice ringing with conviction.

"The skill will be important, but the will will be far more important. As the team that wills at nothing, wants at nothing."

In all his dealings, he exudes a sense of positivity. As a Tyrone player of the '90s, he spent years in a stew of jealousy, watching team-mates from his Jordanstown days going on to win All-Irelands with Down, Derry and Donegal. At one point as a student he looked around himself and counted 12 All-Ireland winners in the UUJ dressing room.

"Why did I play Gaelic football?" he asks.

"Because I dreamt of winning a Sam Maguire. That's what got me out of bed."

He talks of his admiration for his friends, adding: "Those men showed me and Tyrone the pathway. If you want to win an All-Ireland, you have to beat us, and they didn't take a beating too kindly."

After they were beaten in the 1994 Ulster final by Down, who went on to win an All-Ireland, the group came to a realisation.

"We understood at that point we weren't at the mental strength to do that," McGleenan recalls.

"At that particular point we sat down and said, 'right, one year we are going to set everything aside. Our sole objective is going to be to win and give ourselves the chance.'"

They won Ulster. McGleenan fisted the crucial goal in the final against Cavan, getting cleaned out in the process. They overcame Galway in a semi-final. Dublin awaited in the final but, having lost two of the previous three finals, their hunger overtook Tyrone's.

"But for ever and a day that was our one chance," he states.

"It took eight years before a team could come back, but I have had conversations with the likes of Stephen O'Neill. And Stephen O'Neill told me that he wanted to play county football in 1995. That was his catalyst."

He played on for another few years with Tyrone, but his coaching journey began with a coaching sideline in St Pat's Armagh, where he teaches, along with various teams in his club, Eglish.

A successful spell in Scotstown prompted Cavan chairman Gerry Brady to call him out of the blue and ask how he might fancy the seat recently vacated by Terry Hyland at the end of 2016.

The thrill is still to wear off.

"For them to have invited me down here, I still wake up in the morning and wonder that this is an unbelievable trip I am on here," he says.

"As a child, you dream of things. When I finished playing, I thought, 'right, what is your next ambition?' My ambition as a county footballer was to win an All-Ireland and I got as close as I could have.

"I just put it out there and forgot about it; 'at some point I am going to be a county manager.'"

The job consumes him. While reading a book by former San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh, 'The Score Takes Care Of Itself', he came across a specific line.

"Bill told me at that point in the book that you do not sleep any more once you start getting into football. I have my black book that is about here somewhere, and if something comes into my head at four o'clock in the morning then I will get up and write it down."

While his life is consumed by the GAA, that's how he likes it. For light relief, he and his wife Annette go for a run around the local beauty spot, the Brantry Lough.

The family spend their time travelling to matches to watch daughter Meabh, an All-Ireland winner with St Mary's, young Matthew, who is impressing in his first steps in senior football with Eglish and the county Under-20s, and Michael, who is tearing it up at present with the Tyrone minor team.

Asked if he was curious about the recent Donegal training camp in Belfast, he jokes about a piece of subterfuge involving a Donegal team of the past.

"I was up a tree in Belfast and I couldn't see anything! Me and big Lorcan (Martin, the Cavan physical trainer) were up a tree. In fact, he was the tree and I was hanging off one of the branches!" he laughs.

Then he returns to his favourite theme of mental strength. Donegal have not been beaten in Ballybofey in 20 matches, stretching back to May 2010.

"As I said to the boys, we are trying to bend reality right now," he says.

"We are looking at a team, I mean, nobody gives Cavan a pup's chance now next Sunday," he adds.

"But we are going to try to bend a bit of people's reality around the 32 counties, that this Cavan team is now a team that is on the up, we are making progress."

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