Cavan star Reilly finally getting his fair dues
By John Harrington
Martin Reilly is somewhat bemused to have become an overnight success at the age of 32.
He’s played 130 competitive matches for Cavan, scoring 11-131, yet he’s never quite created the sort of buzz on a national scale that he has this year.
Cavan supporters have always lauded his consistency and class, but on the back of his man-of-the-match display against Monaghan in the Ulster SFC quarter-final he’s belatedly earned the appreciation of a much wider audience.
“Yeah, I was discussing that with a few people and they thought it was funny enough or strange enough,” said Reilly today when he picked up his PwC GAA-GPA Footballer of the Month award for May in Dublin.
“That's the way it goes. It's nice to get these individuals awards and recognition but yeah, it's funny enough alright.
“I think I've had a few good passes in the years before [laughs]. I think I gave a couple of them before.
“I don't know, maybe because it (the match against Monaghan) was on TV and it was on SKY, a few more people noticed it.”
He’s always been a key man for Cavan, but it looks like the role he’s been given this year by newly appointed manager, Mickey Graham, is getting the best from his skill-set.
He’s the playmaker in their attack, and given the licence to drift over and back across the field so he can get on the ball as much as possible and create opportunities for others.
“Last year I was playing deeper, I’ve been playing a bit closer to our scoring goals,” said Reilly.
“Maybe that has suited me a bit more this year. I’m enjoying my football and enjoying that role now.
“We’re trying to move the ball at pace and trying to find gaps and trying to get room for lads in front of goals to get the scores.
“Throughout the league we’ve progressed and had some very good performances and we’ve shown good character in games.
“Going behind Sunday (in the drawn Ulster SFC semi-final against Armagh) and being a man down, we showed good character to keep going and it would have been easy to throw in towel and say ‘it’s not our day’.
“But we didn’t do that. We stuck to our guns, kept going and kept plugging away.
“The scores came and we got the draw. We nearly could have gotten the win. Maybe it was a fair result at the end of the day.”
What sets Reilly apart from many players is his kicking ability. He has a particular skill for angling his kicks into space and into the path of team-mates who don’t have to check their stride in order to take the ball into their grasp.
It looks like Mickey Graham has given these Cavan players a greater licence to take risks by kicking the ball rather than playing it safe with laboured hand-passing moves, and, so far at least, it’s a tactic that’s working for them.
“When you kick the ball, it’s quicker than running the ball,” said Reilly. “When the kick is on, absolutely do it because it can open up defences.
“At the weekend (against Armagh), maybe it wasn’t on as much because of the conditions and there wasn’t much space out there. It was difficult conditions with the wind and the rain.
“The Monaghan game was a different one. There were nice conditions for a game. Last Sunday was difficult for a kicking game.”
It’s no surprise that Reilly is a good kicker considering he was a professional footballer with Burnley FC for a couple of years in his youth before returning home.
Perhaps that’s also why he’s so good at linking play too, because that sort of spatial awareness is prized in soccer where the onus is always on you to recycle the ball successfully.
“To be honest, I'm not sure,” he said. "I suppose you just always have to be looking around ya, you have to know what's about ya and have an idea what's on when you get the ball.
“I suppose, all players, you need to be aware what's around ya and you need to be looking around before you get the ball to see what's around. I don't know if it's the soccer background...
“I think it definitely would have helped me over the years and stood to me, that experience.
“When I was a young lad I would have been just playing football, football, football - that was it.
“I realised the commitment that was needed to be successful, that stuck with me over the years. I tried to give that commitment and look after myself.”
The manner in which he pulled the strings for Cavan in their Ulster SFC quarter-final win over Monaghan meant it was always likely he’d be closely marked by the Armagh defence last weekend, and that’s exactly what happened.
But even if they curbed him better than Monaghan did, Reilly’s ceaseless running and showing for the ball meant he still had a big impact on the game.
“I expected to be getting lots of attention last Sunday after the Monaghan game and that,” he admitted.
“You just have to work so hard to get any ball. That’s part of it. You have to expect that. You have to keep working hard to get ball, and keep going and staying focused, keep plugging away.
“You’ll eventually get your chance, eventually get the ball and have to keep doing the right things and keep plugging away.
“You just keep doing the same thing, keep making runs and getting on the ball. Maybe making space for other people. If you’re getting more attention, you might stay out a little bit.”
He’ll be a marked man again this weekend but he doesn’t mind that, he’s simply relieved Cavan still have another chance to make it to an Ulster Final.
“Yeah, there’s a bit of relief that we’re still in it,” said Reilly. "We were a man down, four points down with ten minutes to go.
“To come back and to get the draw was great, and to be still in the Ulster Championship is brilliant. We’re looking to improve on last Sunday’s performance and hopefully come out on the right side of the result this time.”