Thomas Galligan of Cavan stands for a portrait at Killykeen Forest Park in Cavan during the GAA Football All Ireland Senior Championship Series National Launch. 
Thomas Galligan of Cavan stands for a portrait at Killykeen Forest Park in Cavan during the GAA Football All Ireland Senior Championship Series National Launch. 

Warrior Galligan ready to do battle again


By John Harrington

No man summed up the sheer defiance that Cavan performed with in their Ulster Final victory over Donegal more than Thomas Galligan.

The powerful attacker threw himself into every contest for possession with gusto and took considerable punishment along the way.

A stray elbow opened up a cut above his right eye that forced him to be blood-subbed twice.

But there was no way it was going to keep him off the field for long and once the team doctor had finally staunched the flow of blood Galligan tore back into the fray again.

“I didn’t realise I cut my eye til the doc told me,” says Galligan.

“I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t open my right eye. And he was like, “because it’s bleeding, that’s why.”

“So I didn’t realise that til I got inside. Once he got the stitch in and the blood stopped, there was no real reason not to go back out and do what anyone else would have done. If things hadn’t have gone well, I would have got the curly finger too.”

Considering the emotion of the occasion, Galligan spoke eloquently when interviewed after the match about what it all meant to him and his team-mates to win the county’s first Ulster title since 1997.

But he admits now he still hasn’t quite processed the enormity of the achievement.

“I think everyone was just in shock,” said Galligan. “We had all visualised what we were going to do to win, what needed to be done to get over the line, but I don’t think anybody thought of that final whistle moment, like “What do we do now?” because nobody gave us a chance.

“It was just great to win with all of the lads that you’ve trained all year with, who have put serious effort in over lockdown, people training on their own, boys getting sick – to be able to turn around at the end of the year and say

“I’ve an Ulster medal at the end of it”, it made it all worthwhile. I don’t think it will sink in for a couple of months. It’s a bit surreal at the moment."

Thomas Galligan (right) and team-mates celebrate after Cavan's win over Donegal in the Ulster SFC Final. 
Thomas Galligan (right) and team-mates celebrate after Cavan's win over Donegal in the Ulster SFC Final. 

Considering just how influential Galligan was in the Ulster Final against Donegal and the Ulster semi-final against Down, it’s hard to credit that he was limited to a substitute’s role in the earlier wins over Monaghan and Antrim.

“You’d be disappointed not to be starting but I was carrying a bit of a knock into the first few games,” he says.

“Probably a bit of game management in having it in the legs. That was Mickey’s call, to start or not start me. Just happy to be able to affect the game when I got the chance.

“Everyone on the bench has done that. Ted (Thomas Edward Donohue) came in against Antrim and made a difference.

“Conor Madden came in against Down and won the game for us. It’s great to have that strength in depth in the panel to make the difference.”

Galligan wouldn’t be inclined to quibble with team manager, Mickey Graham, anyway, who is hugely respected by the entire panel.

“He’s obviously a top-level manager, you seen what he did with Mullinalaghta with such a small pick and they won a Leinster final,” says Galligan.

“His record proves how good he is, he doesn’t really have to try and talk about how good he is - he has shown how good he is.

“He just instils a bit of belief in all of the players that we are good enough to win, and I think maybe last year we were maybe a bit cautious or shell-shocked in the final.

“But maybe this year we naturally showed that we are as good as any team in Ulster. It’s nice to get some respect back and give Mickey the credit he deserves, because he’s a top level manager.”

Cavan manager Mickey Graham after winning the Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship Final match between Cavan and Donegal at Athletic Grounds in Armagh. 
Cavan manager Mickey Graham after winning the Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship Final match between Cavan and Donegal at Athletic Grounds in Armagh. 

When Cavan last reached an All-Ireland semi-final in 1997 the hype train built up a serious head of steam in the county.

There are very few tribes as crazy about their gaelic football as Cavan supporters, and the rush for tickets and general excitement about that match against Kerry was off the charts.

This time around the fact that no supporters will be able to attend has diluted that somewhat, even if the satisfaction at winning an Ulster title is as deep now as it was back then.

Will the fact that match will be played in a Covid bubble and the players have been insulated somewhat by the hype in the county this time around make it easier for the players to fulfil their potential on the day?

“Maybe,” says Galligan. “I don’t know to be honest. I think everyone wants fans to be there.

“When the Cavan supporters are crazy as you called them but they’re passionate.

“If they were there they’d give you that extra step, make you make that extra run or put in that tackle. You can’t belittle the amount of time and effort that the fans give to the GAA and to the team.

“Realistically, that’s why we’re playing as well, to try and do them proud. It’s a blow not having them at the games but we still go about our business in the games.”

Cavan footballer, Thomas Galligan, pictured with his PwC GAA/GPA Footballer of the Month award for November. 
Cavan footballer, Thomas Galligan, pictured with his PwC GAA/GPA Footballer of the Month award for November. 

There might not be any Cavan supporters in Croke Park on Saturday, but Galligan is well aware of just how much it means to all of them to be able to watch their county compete in an All-Ireland semi-final for the first time in 23 years.

“I’m sure it has really lifted spirits,” he says. “I got messages after the Monaghan game about how things were bad and we were after getting relegated and it was all doom and gloom, but after we beat Monaghan it just lifted everyone.

“There’s been lots of messages and you meet people in shops and they are just so proud of what we have done and how it has brightened their days and they can’t wait for Sunday because it is getting them through the week. It’s nice to hear that, because it kind of makes it all worthwhile.”

So, any hope Cavan will pull off what would be the greatest ever shock in Championship football by beating Dublin on Sunday?

Galligan is making no promises, but he does feel the fact that their chances of doing so have been uniformly written off is something they can use in their favour.

“Nobody expected us to get here,” he says. “There's no pressure on us, we're going out and playing football. The favourites tag probably weighed heavy on Donegal the other night so hopefully it'll do the same to Dublin.”