Newcomers and championship debutants aside, Cavan have waited a long time to give #futureisblue a runout at senior level. Because #futureisblue was once the slogan of hope, the promise of unfulfilled potential bringing excitement to a football-mad county waiting impatiently to flourish in the big league.
The social media catchphrase washed over the county like a blue wave in the early part of this decade. Four provincial U21 titles in a row from 2011 to 2014, and an Ulster minor title to boot in 2011, suggested it was only a matter of time before the Anglo Celt would return to its natural home.
Those wide-eyed players stepped up to the senior ranks, Dara McVeety among them, believing it would happen. Yet McVeety is now in his seventh year in senior championship football and the shock win over Monaghan two weeks ago was only his second win in the Ulster SFC. The first, in 2015, was against tomorrow’s provincial semi-final opponents, Armagh.
“There has been a lot of graft put in and there hasn’t been as many wins as we’d have liked in that time,” he says. “They say there’s no such thing as an easy draw in the Ulster championship and we definitely haven’t got one.
You saw (after the Monaghan win) people going mad on the pitch afterwards and it was an absolutely unbelievable feeling, but it’s easy to get distracted by all of that. There’s still a lot of work to be done.
McVeety made his senior championship debut on the big stage. The 2013 All-Ireland quarter-final against Kerry in Croke Park was as high as Cavan climbed since losing the All-Ireland semi-final to the Kingdom in 1997 — the last time they were Ulster champions.
By that time he’d also won three Ulster U21 titles as well as an Ulster minor title in 2011, when they beat Armagh to end a 37-year wait for that particular provincial title. Killian Clarke, Conor Moynagh, Gearoid McKiernan, Ciaran Brady, Gerard Smith, and Jack Brady will be among the team-mates at Clones tomorrow who remember those happy days.
However the Crosserlough clubman isn’t so convinced that it’s the carriage carrying a glut of underage medals that’s driving the Breffni train now.
“The U21s aren’t really the backbone any more,” he insists. “Yes, we got a few players through that and we had good teams and we won Ulsters, although we didn’t get the All-Ireland.
“Some really good players didn’t come through, for whatever reason. It is a huge step up, but I suppose those that were there back then are coming of age now. The average age of those guys is 26, 26, 27, and hopefully we can push on now and perform.
“Beating Monaghan is something none of us have ever done at senior level, we did at underage, but senior is different so I hope it gives us confidence. There is potential there. Both sides will fancy it and it’s a great opportunity for both teams, but it’s all about the performance.”
To put the significance of this game in context, even Antrim, who haven’t won an Ulster title since 1951, have been in an Ulster final more recently (in 2009) than Armagh or Cavan.
Armagh’s last appearance was in the last year they won it, in 2008, while Cavan were hammered by Tyrone on their last final appearance in 2001.
“Both teams will fancy it, it’s a great opportunity for both,” admits McVeety. Our first half (against Monaghan) was a good performance, but the second wasn’t up to scratch, yet we found a way to win.
“Mickey (Graham) is a good manager and we’ve been lucky with the managers we’ve had because I know I learned a lot from Terry (Hyland) and Mattie (McGleenan), but to be honest the management can only do so much. It’s the players who take the field who will have to perform and hopefully we can go one more step anyway.”