ON a cold November morning in 2014, Cavan ladies football was reborn.
They might have been the reigning intermediate All-Ireland champions, but in their first session under new boss Conor Barry their eyes were opened.
The benchmark was a one-kilometre test, and the fastest player among them ran it in four minutes and 25 seconds. Bounce forward to winter 2015, and Cavan’s first session after bowing out of the Ulster Senior Championship to Tyrone that summer. Barry rolled out the 1k test again, only this time the fastest finisher registered three minutes and 30 seconds, and 10 players ran under the four-minute mark.
Cavan ladies football coach Conor Barry.
“They’re putting in the effort, and they’re fitter than they’ve ever been before,” admits Barry.
“They’re far more organised, far more dedicated, and far more focused, and they’re seeing the rewards. They do what’s required of them now on and off the pitch, and off the pitch is the big one to be honest.”
His side will face their toughest ever task on Saturday when they take on the reigning All-Ireland champions Cork in Birr (12.30pm, live on TG4), and should Cavan cause an upset, it will mark just their fifth ever senior championship win in the county’s history.
Having beaten the reigning Ulster champions Donegal in the provincial semi-final in June, the 34-year-old teacher’s players pulled off the biggest upset of the 2016 TG4 Senior Championship to-date. They would come within three points of Monaghan in the Ulster final, a side to whom they lost by 24 points in 2014 prior to Barry’s appointment, but self-belief is beginning to blossom brilliantly in the Breffni County.
“That’s the biggest thing about this team, belief. We left the dressing room at half-time last year against Monaghan in the championship in Kingspan Breffni Park five points down and lost.
“At the end of the year we did a review with the players and the majority of them said they didn’t believe they could win the game when they left the dressing room that day, even though they’d the wind in second half. This year in Clones it was a different story. We were five points down again and the girls were playing poorly, but with 20 minutes to go they took the shackles off and came back. There was belief this time.
“One of the girls was so gutted we lost that she didn’t leave the bed for three days, but that’s the difference, that’s what it means to them now. They know they can win an Ulster title now, and that’s why I’m so happy with them.
“You have to win something too and the semi-final this year against Donegal was huge for us. It turned our season around, it set the right tone, and they can’t get enough football now,” said the Dublin-based teacher, whose side defeated Laois two weeks ago in the qualifiers.
With Westmeath running Mayo close, and Donegal doing a similar job on Dublin last weekend in their respective quarter-finals, Cavan will be hoping that they too can perform, if not go one better and cause an upset, just like Tyrone did in the 2010 quarter-final when Cork were also bidding for six in-a-row.
“I don’t know how the game against Cork will go. It’s totally uncharted territory for us.
“I’ve to be honest with myself and say I wouldn’t know the Cork team that particularly well. Yes, you’ve see them on television, but I’ve never studied them. But in playing the best you can only get better.
“We’ve played Mayo and Galway twice this year in challenge
games and we couldn’t get those games this time last year, so it just goes to show that we are a decent side. We are getting there, but it’s going to take time, and Saturday will say a lot about where we are.”
Meanwhile, Munster runners-up Kerry will take on Ulster champions Monaghan at 2.15pm (live on TG4) following the Cork-Cavan clash in Birr at 12.30pm.
Alan O’Neill’s side will be looking to make amends and their game against Waterford a fortnight ago should ensure they’re fresher than Monaghan, who surprised many in winning the Ulster Championship given their poor showing in the league earlier in the year.
August 20, 2016