Cavan didn’t exactly have it all their own way in their Ulster Football Championship semi-final draw with Armagh in Clones on Sunday.
The Breffni county had to deal with a black card to Padraig Faulkner in the 26th minute before they were reduced to 14-men when Ciaran Brady received a straight red card.
Key forward Martin Reilly’s influence was also curbed by the marking of Armagh’s Aidan Forker.
However, there seems to be a steely determination with Cavan now under the guidance of Mickey Graham and the introduction of Cian Mackey proved a masterstroke as the veteran kicked two crucial equalisers, one to force extra-time and another to bring the two teams together once again for a replay.
Reilly, who is the recipient of the PWC GAA/GPA Footballer of the Month award, says that his side refused to throw in the towel when there was so much going against them in Clones.
“Going behind Sunday and being a man down, we showed good character to keep going and it would have been easy to throw in towel and say ‘it’s not our day’,” Reilly said.
“But we didn’t do that. We stuck to our guns, kept going and kept plugging away. The scores came and we got the draw. We nearly could have gotten the win. Maybe it was a fair result at the end of the day.”
The forward admits there was a bit of relief among the playing group to come out of that contest and still be in the Ulster championship.
“There’s a bit of relief that we’re still in it. We were a man down, four points down with ten minutes to go. To come back and to get the draw was great, and to be still in the Ulster Championship is brilliant. We’re looking to improve on last Sunday’s performance and hopefully come out on the right side of the result this time.”
Graham’s decision to introduce Mackey and Stephen Murray proved crucial in the end and Reilly says that for any team to be successful they need to have strength in depth.
“For any team to be successful, you have to have lads coming in off the bench, making an impact. Look at any successful team over the years, you have lads coming off the bench and making a difference.
“Cian [Mackey] and Stephen [Murray] were the difference I thought, the other day coming on, the experience and class of Cian and the pace of Stephen enabled us to break lines, it was key.”
It can be argued that the type of game on Sunday which saw Cavan snatch a draw from the jaws of defeat would have been one which they would have lost in the past.
Reilly finds it difficult to pinpoint the reason for this new resolve but it could have something to do with Graham now being the man in charge.
“It’s hard to pinpoint what’s different. We’re just showing good character. It’s hard to say why. Mickey [Graham] is doing good work. We’re sticking to the plan, plugging away even if things aren’t going well. We’re sticking to our guns and it’ll start going right for us again. That’s all we can do. Keep doing the right things, hoping things will turn around and they will eventually.”
The Mullinalaghta St.Columba’s manager’s influence on the Cavan players is clear to see and Reilly reveals that his positivity and communication skills are well received by the panel.
“He’s very positive and he speaks very well. He’s one of these managers that when he speaks, you listen. He just doesn’t talk for the sake of talking. He gets his point across well and you enjoy listening to him.”
Cavan are just 70 minutes away from reaching their first Ulster championship final since 2001 but are they any closer to finally breaking the glass ceiling and competing with the country’s best sides?
“I think so. I think we’re starting to make progress under Mickey. We’re trying hard and we’re hoping now we can get the win on Sunday and reach an Ulster final. That would be huge for us if we could get over this Sunday, which won’t be easy. That’s a big step for us in our progress and hopes for the future.”
“PwC GAA/GPA Players of the Month for May, footballer Martin Reilly (Cavan), and hurler, Patrick Horgan (Cork), were at PwC offices in Dublin today to pick up their respective awards.
The players were joined by PwC Managing Partner, Feargal O’Rourke, Uachtarán Chumann Lúthcleas Gael, John Horan, and GPA Chief Executive, Paul Flynn.”