Mickey Graham: More than a trophy in the Tailteann final


For all the measurements and performance metrics by which modern Gaelic gaming management likes to live and die, silverware remains the most tangible and recognizable currency.

ickey Graham has developed a nice habit for successful trophy hunting as a manager.

There was that gigantic act with Mullinalaghta in 2018 as they won the Leinster Club title and then with Cavan, an Ulster title in their first Covid year that few saw coming.

This year there was an Allianz Division 4 title and now a pursuit of the first-ever Tailteann Cup.

Those two awards reflect where Cavan stands after falling through the divisions, but they are awards nonetheless. And for Graham there is a clear parallel.

“It’s a bit like the FA Cup in England, Liverpool and Man City in the early stages of the competition. They might throw out half their reserve squad, but once they reach an FA Cup semi-final or final, you can see all the first-team players coming back,” Graham said.

“The reality is there’s a trophy up there and then they take it seriously,” he added.

“It’s the same in the European Cup. When the big teams are eliminated from the Champions League, the focus is on the next competition. Playing at Croke Park, winning silver, even home players who might be in the U-20 squad think there’s a chance for us, it just whets the appetite to put on the Cavan shirt.”

In Cavan’s case, the FA Cup comparison probably isn’t that accurate. From the start they had their strongest team and a big buy-in that saw them past Down, Fermanagh and then Sligo in the semi-finals. They were favorites from the start, not a position Cavan teams have always been entirely comfortable with. So this was really new territory and an interesting experience for their group.

“We’ve come into the game as favorites in all of our games (in the Division 4 league) and we’ve had to put up with that. We’re used to it now,” Graham said. What has pleased him most is their attitude towards the young competition, their acceptance and their vision of Cavan, possibly beyond this year.

“It wasn’t a big sale because the players knew it wasn’t about this weekend or the Tailteann Cup, it was about the future of Cavan in the years to come and laying the right foundation and making sure the players mindset The next few years aren’t just about the Ulster Championship, they’re about the development and progression of Cavan football,” said Graham.

“It would have been very easy to shut down tools after the Donegal game. Probably teams in the past for Cavan after an Ulster Championship defeat generally didn’t go into the qualifiers with that attitude to see where we could end up, whereas the lads did after this year when we were beaten by Donegal , felt that there was a lot of work that went into the season and it would be a great shame if we didn’t try to finish it and get as far as we could in the competition,” added the Cavan man Gaels added.

“I just think the way they’ve approached it has been a breath of fresh air and gives the county and fans something to look forward to.

“There was a great buy-in from the fans, even more so from the younger generation. You have the opportunity to endorse Cavan three times in one year. It’s unheard of.”

It has put them in the unusual position of standing at the bottom of a competition and knowing that for the first time since their All-Ireland win in 1952, the last of the five in the county, they will be stuck.

It’s quite special, he says, “to play football into July and go into the last game of the season and know that it doesn’t matter, it’s over and that training next Thursday night is the final training session session of the year.

“Some guys will never come back as a group or will never be in the same dressing room again knowing this game is the end of the season and there is something to play for.

“The one thing about Cavan is if you can string a few wins together to see the guys are doing their best, the fans will have their backs.

“There seems to be a real feel-good factor.” Mickey Graham: More than a trophy in the Tailteann final

Fry Electronics Team

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