Cavan’s minor success helps Forde build hope


You are now entering a Seanie-free zone.

Enjoy it. Drink it in. Luxuriate in the peace and quiet. In the absence of babble, hot air and invective. Come tomorrow, the saga will be thrust back at our faces. Unavoidable, unedifying and unwanted when, amidst it all, an actual football game will be played.

The little talk that hasn’t surrounded Seanie Johnston has orbited around Kildare’s quest for redemption after their shock defeat to Meath in that Leinster semi-final. Cavan? They are the hosts ignored at their own party. An afterthought at best. You can understand why.

Their glory days belong to an era of cloth caps and Woodbines. In more recent times they have resembled community theatre actors trying to rub shoulders with the Hollywood elite and the results have been frequently embarrassing.

Tomorrow they get another shot at, well, not quite Broadway but that stretch just off it where the New York literati congregate in the hope that they can report back on the Next Big Thing.

Cavan would be the first to admit they are not that, not by any stretch of the imagination, but there is hope abroad where there had been none for far too long and that is enough for now. Just ask Anthony Forde.

For much of the 2000s, Forde was a mainstay on a Cavan team that careered from one disappointment to another but as coach to Terry Hyland’s U21s he has experienced three Ulster finals, two titles, and an All-Ireland decider.

Unlike most counties, Cavan found that U21 success helped pave the way for a minor breakthrough — a provincial title in 2011 — rather than the other way round but the pathway is immaterial as long as it leads to a senior renaissance.

“The minors would be the first to admit they got great confidence from that first Ulster U21 title,” said Forde, who was a team-mate of Johnston’s with Cavan Gaels and the county.

“What that leads to are players and teams who won’t settle for second best and these guys we have with us now are intelligent men. They are all doing well in their personal lives. They are willing to do anything, they are willing to listen and learn. We had good footballers in the past but they didn’t always buy into the team ethic. These younger lads have proven the importance of the team ethic.”

And so to the seniors. The black sheep.

Last April, they said their goodbyes to yet another manager when Val Andrews lost the dressing room and stood down and, when he did, all eyes turned towards Hyland, who agreed to a four-year remit.

So, too, did Forde and, though the ambitions held are long-term and the panel flooded with men who soldiered in the U21 ranks this last three seasons, the project received a welcome short-term boost with the defeat of Fermanagh in the first round of qualifiers.

“It’s a win that we are probably not used to over the last few years. We were dead and buried at one point and it looked like Fermanagh could open up an even bigger lead on us than the one they had so it was great to pull off a 13-point turnaround.

“It showed that there has been a bit of character injected into the team. There was a lot of relief after it. It was a huge fillip. Will it be enough to turn everything around? Time will tell. It’s not been a good year. There’s no point saying otherwise, but that’s a start.”

The odds are that it will finish, for this year at least, at Kildare’s hands tomorrow. Hyland has had three months to hone his players and tactics, Kieran McGeeney has been moulding his operation for five.

Yet optimism has returned to the county. Forde knows better than most that, in Cavan, it is either feast or famine. He remembers one letter to a local paper back in January of 2011 writing about the fact that Cavan football was facing it’s Doomsday.

“Now we have people almost expecting us to win an All-Ireland every second year,” he said.

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