By Niall Gartland
GERARD Smith is revelling in a more attacking role for Cavan and that’s one of the many reasons why the team as a whole is having an excellent season.
The Lavey clubman chipped in with four points from play in their high-scoring semi-final win over Sligo, but that doesn’t tell the full story of his contribution as three of those scores came in the closing stages of a game that went right down to the wire.
Speaking ahead of Saturday’s Tailteann Cup showdown, the in-form half forward commented on his scoring exploits: “I don’t mind it, I started out as a forward but moved my way back.
“The half-back line is very competitive, so from the start of the year I’ve been lining out in half-forward and I’ve grown into it a bit more and getting on the scoreboard. I’m enjoying the role and it’s going well so far.”
Cavan are a well-oiled outfit at this stage, reaching back-to-back Ulster Championship finals in 2019 and 2020, famously winning the latter contest behind closed doors against Donegal at the Athletic Grounds. That’s not to mention their winning streak at U-21 level a decade ago, so they’ll be determined to add more silverware to the trophy cabinet this weekend.
“A lot of our players have underage medals and we picked up an Ulster Championship in 2020,” said Smith. “We play in Ulster every year in front of big crowds, we’re a very experienced group and hopefully we can harness that on the weekend.
“After we lost to Donegal, we had one or two days off and then we had a meeting before our first training session back where we talked about how this was a chance to get a bit of silverware.
“We were in the competition whether we liked it or not, and we were probably pegged as one of the favourites, so we decided we’d all row in behind it. We knew Down was going to be a really competitive test in the first-round and I think our performance that day showed how the group and management were approaching the competition.”
Cavan are also well-versed in the ways of Croke Park at this stage. It isn’t quite so enjoyable when the stadium is largely empty, but there should be a decent crowd at the historic first-ever final this Saturday, especially as it’s played as the curtain-raiser to the blockbuster All-Ireland semi-final between Derry and Galway.
“It’s a huge stadium and there was an eerie atmosphere in some of the games with no crowds two or three years ago, it’s an 80,000 capacity staidum and there was no-one in it.
“Come the end of the semi-final against Sligo there was a huge crowd there and there was a great buzz. It makes it difficult to hear calls from the team but it’s still where you want to play. On the big days it’s the best stadium in Ireland so you want to enjoy the experience at the same time.”
The Breffni County, if they were being honest, would rather be competing for the Sam Maguire, but at the same time any form of silverware isn’t to be sniffed at and Smith hopes victory this weekend could act as the perfect launchpad for the 2023 season.
“That’s the idea, we’re still quite a young group, there’s a good blend in the team. We’ve been a bit inconsistent in the last two years but I think we’ve probably steadied that ship. We got out of Division Four and if we win this weekend and end the season on a really positive note we can hopefully use that as a springboard for next year.
“We’ll be looking for another promotion and then we’d be in the race for Sam, it’ll be another huge 12 months in this group’s journey.”
Both semi-finals were high scoring affairs (Cavan defeated Sligo by 0-20 to 1-14 while Westmeath claimed a 3-22 to 2-16 win over Offaly). Smith isn’t sure whether both sides will be so gung ho this weekend.
“Finals can start off a bit cagey, you don’t want to concede goals early on. The semi-finals were very open so I’d say both teams will want to tighten things up in defence.”