Mickey Graham is daring to dream
By Orla Bannon
Mickey Graham can remember 1997 like it was yesterday.
The memories are vivid, Cavan people streaming onto the Clones pitch almost in disbelief as the 28-year wait for an Ulster title came to an end.
Graham was only in his second year in the panel and one of the young breed, alongside the match-winning goalscorer Jason Reilly, to come off the bench in the dramatic late win over Derry.
“I hadn't time to breathe before the place was converged upon,” he recalls.
“I turned around and I think I was hit by a herd of buffalo. I never saw a pitch fill up as quick.
“The one memory I have is that I went to grab one of my team-mates beside me but I couldn't get near him because the crowd was on so quickly.
“It was just so much joy, and I suppose, hurt. A lot of people had never seen Cavan win an Ulster title before, so it was the first time people had seen that.”
Fast forward 22 years and Graham is now in his first season as manager, attempting to end another long wait for the Anglo Celt.
Sunday's Ulster SFC final against Donegal will be their fourth game of the campaign, with the entertainment value high in both the drawn and semi-final replay win over Armagh.
They have brought a lot of fun to the summer, but they are in the serious business of trying to topple a seasoned Donegal team in its eighth final in nine years.
The occasion won't get to them – Graham must make sure Cavan can say the same.
“You definitely have to have a look at that, but I suppose myself and Dermot McCabe have experienced it twice before and we know exactly the excitement generated within the county leading up to the game.
“I think we have a bunch of mature lads who have been around a while.
“While they have more bad days than good days, I firmly believe they know they have to keep their feet on the ground and not get side-tracked by other stuff that might be going on.”
Managing Cavan was a long-held ambition for Graham, although the longer he stayed in the club scene, the more satisfaction he got out of it.
Guiding Mullinalaghta to a Longford title and then an outrageous Leinster triumph at the end of last year was a high that could never be repeated, but if he has any magic stardust left lying around the place, Cavan could be doing with it. On the other hand, who needs magic when you've got belief.
“If you don’t believe you can win it, what’s the point? You might as well sit at home,” he says.
“Why would you sacrifice so much time, effort, so much of your personal life and get to the stage where you’ve earned it and not believe you can go on and follow through with it.
“That’s the big thing. You have to believe, and you have to dream.
“I’m sure these lads have dreamed of the day they’d play in an Ulster final, or wondered would they ever play in an Ulster final.
“They’re now in an Ulster final, so the dream can become a reality if they want it to become a reality.”