Recalling the minors of 1974
March 01, 2010
July 20 is a red-letter date for any supporter of Cavan football. That was the day, of course, when Martin McHugh guided the Breffni senior team to an historic Ulster Senior Football Championship title - our 39th - back in 1997.
Grown men spilt tears in the rock hard Clones turf on that afternoon, with the 28-year famine over; sadly, a new famine, 13 years and counting, has ensued.
Talk of famines brings us along neatly to another sad drought in Cavan football and back to that date of July 20 - that date this summer will mark 37 long years since Cavan were last crowned Ulster Minor Football champions.
It's an amazing statistic for a county with such a proud tradition and, historically, little in the way of competing sports, ensuring a constant supply of young footballers.
Over the past decade in particular, this county has produced quality underage sides by the bucketload but has been unable to make the breakthrough at minor level, despite being sprinkled with top-class, talented individuals.
That's not to say that there was any shortage of talent back in '74 - far from it.
Cavan began their Ulster Minor Football Championship campaign with a one-point victory over Armagh in the Athletic Grounds on Sunday June 30.
"Cavan minor footballers begin their quest for honours when they meet Armagh in the first round of the Ulster Championship next Sunday at Armagh," noted The Anglo-Celt of Friday June 28 1974.
"There were hopes that the team could have captured the league title but they lost to Tyrone in the semi-final at Clones earlier this month after at one stage looking odds-on winners.
"In last year's championship, Cavan defeated Armagh by 3-8 to 2-4 but lost in the semi-final to Down. The selectors are confident that they can repeat their first round success, even at an away venue."
Prophetic words indeed, and as the campaign transpired it became clear that Cavan were truly in with an excellent shout of going all the way in the provincial campaign.
The selectors had used the Ulster Minor League to experiment and made a number of positional and personnel changes to their side for the first round of the championship.
With a strong line-up including two sets of brothers (Tony and Sean Brady of Castlerahan and Templeport's Owen and Pauric Martin), a gutsy Cavan side came through a tough encounter with a hard-earned 2-7 to 2-6 win over the Orchard men.
The 1974 management team consisted of a strong unit. Seamus Morris of Arva was involved, as was Maghera's Eamon Sheridan. The chairman of the Cavan minor board was Cavan Gaels clubman Tom Kelly while the secretary and treasurer was Benny Brady.
The team selectors were Gerry Barry of Bailieborough Shamrocks and a man who went on to carve out a huge reputation in another sphere - Laragh native and Cavan football fanatic Fr (later to become Cardinal) Sean Brady.
Times were different back in 1974, and not just in the obvious ways. The past, as they say, truly is a different country and the contrast with the playing gear and behind the scenes preparations of minor sides today was a stark one. As Tony Brady, a popular county board coach, father of well-known footballer Sean and corner-forward on the '74 side has noted, "your pass into matches in those days was your football boots"! At the gates in Clones, noted Tony, the officials let you in once you had your boots with you.
So, onwards Cavan marched, boots in hand no doubt, towards the Ulster semi-final and the feeling in the squad was that there was a real chance of ending the drought and landing the Ulster crown.
For the second time in the Ulster Championship that year, Cavan were victorious and for the second time, the winning margin was the minimum of a single point. This time Down were the losers but the important thing was that Cavan were back in the decider.
Standing between the young Breffni lads and the provincial title was Derry. The Oak Leaf County was very much on the up and featured several players who would go on to make their mark at senior level, including current Derry manager Paddy Crozier, in the 1970's but, on July 20, 1974, their minors were no match for a fired up and totally composed Cavan squad.
Cavan came through by 11 points with a convincing 3-9 to 1-4 win which was every bit as comfortable as the score-line suggests.
The Cavan players which lined-out that day were as follows:
Francie McGuire, Christy McCutcheon, Damian Sheridan, Ray Cullivan, Robbie McDermott, Matt Rudden, Martin Brady, Gerry Brady, Paddy McNamee, Sean Brady, Owen Martin, Padraig Martin, Philip Finnegan, Bernard Donoghue, Tony Brady.
Subs used on the day were Hubert Conaty and Sean Carney.
Finally, Cavan had entered the Promised Land and taken the Ulster Minor Football title after a 15-year wait.
Next up was the Exiles of London. In an era of high emigration, London were no poor outfit at minor level but Cavan came through convincingly at Croke Park to book their place in the last four of the All-Ireland race against Connaught champions Mayo.
However, the All-Ireland semi-final proved to be a bridge too far and Cavan went down to the Westerners.
That defeat didn't mark the end of the Cavan side though. Member of the panel have since gone on to make a remarkable impact on football in the Breffni County at all levels.
A brief glance through the resumes of some of the side show that Christy McCutcheon, Ray Cullivan, Tony Brady and the aforementioned Damien Sheridan all had sons who played inter-county football at senior level.
Martin Brady and Robbie McDermott carved out careers as respected referees while the likes of Paddy McNamee, Cullivan, Gerry Brady, well-known Cavan Gaels PRO Philip Finnegan and practically every other member of the side went on to contribute greatly to the association as players, coaches, administrators and supporters.
Two members of the team, both called Sean Brady, have since sadly passed away. The captain of the Cavan side in 1974 was Templeport's Owen Martin.
Incidentally, Eamon Sheridan's son Damian played full-back on the team. Damian went on to enjoy a stellar playing career and has been hugely successful as a manager in Royal County club circles also, leading adopted club Seneschalstown (including son and highly-rated forward Joe) to the Meath Senior Football Championship title as recently as 2009.
Under former county footballer Mickey Graham, Cavan have come close in the past two seasons at minor level. In 2008, Tyrone wriggled off the rack in Clones and went on to win the All-Ireland in some style, while just last year on a sweltering day in Armagh, Down, who had reached the All-Ireland Under 21 final a month previous only to be foiled by a late Cork goal, edged Cavan by a single point.
Hopes are high that, with plenty of hard work, Graham's young men can finally their county's hoodoo in 2010.
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