A quick glance around the club dressing-rooms of Cavan tells Micheal Lyng all he needs to know about the value of what’s on offer in Sunday’s AIB Ulster club SFC final.
It is 40 years since Cavan Gaels last made it to a provincial decider, losing to Antrim side St John’s. Kingscourt and Bailieboro have tried since, but the Ulster championship has pretty much been a barren wasteland for Breffni clubs.
Lyng, who hopes to captain the side against Slaughtneil, fitness permitting, senses this is a once-in-a-career opportunity.
“We talked about it earlier in the year, that when you go into other dressing rooms in the county they’ve got pictures on the walls of their county winners. Everyone has got county winners, but not one club in Cavan has got an Ulster senior title, so for us to be the first ever team in Cavan would be historic.
“We had never even won back-to-back games in Ulster in the 15 years that I’ve been playing with the Gaels until this year. We lost about four semi-finals before this, so it was really good to get over that hurdle.
“Some of the club stalwarts around the place remember 1977, but for most of us this is all new and it’s brilliant.”
Injury disrupted his stint with the county, which he brought to a premature end in 2010, and is bothering him again. He deserves better for the biggest day of his club career, but a hamstring problem, picked up the Friday night before the drawn semi-final with Derrygonnelly, has meant he only played a few minutes in both games.
“The first game came too soon, but I got it scanned and they said it was a 10-day thing and Sunday was 10 days, so I was on course to come back, anyway. I got a bit more game time in the replay and hopefully I’ll see a bit more time on Sunday, but it is hard to get back into a winning team.”
Lyng is a PE teacher in St Bricin’s College in Belturbet, the hometown of his manager and former Cavan team-mate Jason Reilly. In his first year in charge, Reilly, the goal-scoring hero of Cavan’s last Anglo Celtic triumph in 1997, has completely turned things around for the Gaels.
They’ve gone from scrapping in a relegation final last year to winning every league and championship game in 2017. Ulster champions Slaughtneil will still be big favourites, but that sort of form is worthy of consideration.
Lyng said: “At different times in the year, we had tight games and we always seemed to come out the right side of it.
“Winning 19, 20 games in a row helps you dig games out in the last few minutes, like we did on Sunday.
“Jason is a great fella, he is all about the simple things and doing the simple things well. That is his coaching philosophy.”
Reilly isn’t the only ‘blow-in’ in the Gaels set-up.
Even Lyng himself, with nine county SFC medals for the club to his name, can’t claim to be a born-and-bred townie.
That goes some way to explaining why he ‘only’ has the nine medals, while his long-time sparring partner Seanie Johnston has 10.
“I wasn’t in the club when Seanie won his first one in 2001, so I have a bit of catching up to do.
“We moved into Cavan town from Crosserlough (Cavan’s first representatives in an Ulster final in 1969) when I was 17.
“Then we won three-in-a-row in 2003-2005 and then again in 2007-2009.
“We have come back with a whole new team, apart from me and Seanie.
“There’s a whole crop of lads with two or three championships and they’re driving the whole thing on.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved