Meath's loss was Cavan's gain
November 27, 2011
Former Cavan forward Raymond Cunningham talks about his successful football and handball careers, the 'point' which decided the destination of the Anglo-Celt Cup in 1997 and his work with Cavan GAA's number one supporter, Kingspan.
Even now, 14 years later, Raymond Cunningham regularly gets asked about his 'point' that helped Cavan to a famous win over Derry in the Ulster football final.
While the 1-14 to 0-16 victory bridged a 28-year gap since the Anglo-Celt Cup's previous visit to the Breffni County and was celebrated wildly by success-starved Cavan supporters, it is still remembered by many for one of the most contentious scores in the history of the Ulster championship.
So was it a point? Not according to the man at the centre of the controversy: "As soon as I kicked it I knew it was wide. I was annoyed with myself because it was one I'd normally score. But then Ronan Carolan said to me: 'what are you giving out about the point's after being given'. In a big game like that, you'll take anything that comes you're way and the Derry players weren't complaining, so there was nothing more said about it until afterwards."
Cunningham believes there would have been a lot more made about it if it had been the winning score.
"If it had happened in the last minute, there might have been calls for a replay," he reckons.
"But because it happened after only about 10 minutes and there was still 60 minutes left to play, it didn't get anything like the sort of coverage Joe Sheridan's 'goal' got at the end of last year's Leinster final. It would have been different if it had been the last kick of the game. In fairness to Derry, they were great sportsmen and I think they accepted that we were the better team on the day. As I said, they never complained."
Forced to retire from football four years ago due to a cruciate ligament injury, the 37-year-old also attracted controversy in 1995 when he opted to play for Cavan, despite hailing from just over the border in Kilmainhamwood, Co. Meath. A key factor in his decision was his association with Kingscourt and Cavan handball, who he continues to represent to this day.
"I'm asked about how I came to play for Cavan nearly as much as I'm asked about the 'point' in the Ulster final," he laughs.
"I started playing handball in Kingscourt as a 10-year-old and that led to me playing handball for Cavan. I had won All-Ireland medals up to under 21 level and the rule was that you couldn't play handball and football for different counties. I had won a lot with Cavan in handball, they had been very good to me, so when the then Cavan football manager Martin McHugh rang me up to see if I'd be interested in joining the panel, I was happy to take him up on his offer. I didn't get the same offer from Meath, so it wasn't a hard decision really.
"It took me until 1997 to establish myself in the team and I was lucky enough to win an Ulster medal that year. It was a huge weight off the players' shoulders to win a first Ulster championship since 1969. Cavan people love their football and let's hope they won't have to wait another 28 years for the next Ulster senior title. It was great to see Cavan winning both the Ulster under 21 and minor championships this year, and that gives them something to build on over the next few years."
He continues: "From my experience, belief - or lack of it - is the biggest problem in Cavan. At the start of the year, there are only five or six teams who can realistically win the All-Ireland and Cavan don't have the same belief as those counties. We had it in 1997 when Martin McHugh got the best out of us. He was an excellent manager and I'm amazed that he hasn't managed another county since."
Following his marriage to Jean Gargan in 1998 and the birth of his eldest son Oisin two years later, Raymond was unable to give the same commitment to Cavan and decided to concentrate solely on his club career. He played for Kingscourt Stars in 1999 and 2000 (they lost the Cavan SFC final to Gowna by a point in the former year) before transferring back to his native Kilmainhamwood, who he had enjoyed tremendous success with in the mid-1990s.
With players of the calibre of Cunningham, Brian Stafford, Ray Magee and Paul Shankey in their ranks, the 'Wood contested four county finals (two IFC and two SFC) in as many years, culminating in the capture of their first Keegan Cup in 1996 at Seneschalstown's expense. They were also crowned Division 1 league champions for the first time that year.
"We had a great run between 1993 and '97," recalls Raymond, whose children Oisin (11), Odhran (10) and Seoidin (eight) have inherited his love for sport and all play underage football with Kingscourt Stars.
"We lost the 1993 intermediate final to Carnaross, but beat Simonstown the following year and also won the under 21 championship. In our first year up senior in '95, we went all the way to the final, only to lose to Dunderry. But we made amends in '96 by winning the league and championship double. We won the Feis Cup as well in '97 and if Kilmainhamwood hadn't been so successful, I might never have got the call from Cavan.
"I continued to play for the 'Wood up until the age of 33 when I did my cruciate. The injuries had caught up on me at that stage, so I decided to pack it in. Unfortunately, the good times are no longer in Kilmainhamwood and they're now a junior team. They dropped down from senior in 2007, lost the 2008 intermediate final to Oldcastle and were relegated to junior in '09. Everything comes in cycles and hopefully it won't be too long before they are back up senior again. They had phenomenal success in the 1990s and please God they'll see those days again."
Cunningham says his decision to transfer to Kingscourt Stars in 1999 was purely down to his involvement with the Cavan inter-county team.
"It was easier for me to play with them because I was playing for Cavan at the time. There was no animosity between the two clubs when I joined Kingscourt or when I re-joined Kilmainhamwood. There are only a few miles between the clubs and I have been living and working in Kingscourt for many years now," he explains.
A multiple All-Ireland handball champion, Raymond still plays the sport "casually" and would encourage anyone to take it up.
"It's a great way to keep fit and is suitable for all ages. I was lucky enough to play handball at a high level and to win All-Ireland titles up to intermediate level. I won many doubles All-Ireland titles with Kingscourt clubman Michael Finnegan and he's still at the top of the game today. I also have tremendous admiration for Paul Brady and for what he's achieved over the years. If he played any other sport, he'd be a multi-millionaire and would be known the world over."
Raymond is part of Kingspan Insulated Panel's customer service team. He has worked for the Kingscourt-based company for the past 18 years and has nothing but praise for them. Kingspan Insulation is the world's leading manufacturer of CFC/HCFC-free rigid phenolic and CFC/HCFC-free rigid urethane insulation.
"Kingspan were always good to me when I was playing football and are a great company to work for. They are also fantastic supporters of Cavan GAA, being long-time sponsors of the county teams and having the naming rights for Breffni Park. Both Cavan GAA and the town of Kingscourt would be much the poorer without them."
The Kingspan Group is a leading manufacturer of a range of sustainable products for the construction industry. The Group's principal activities comprise the manufacture of insulated panels, rigid insulation boards, raised access floors, timber frame and steel frame off-site solutions, environmental solutions for drainage, waste water treatment, rainwater harvesting and fuel storage, hot water systems and renewable energy solutions including solar collectors and heat pumps.
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