By Niall Gartland
IT’S Mickey Graham’s personal touch coupled with his forensic eye to detail that sets him apart from his rivals, according to a man who tasted success under his tutelage.
Former Cavan footballer Mickey Graham was a central figure in the Drumalee team which captured the Intermediate Championship title victory with a replay victory over Ballinagh back in 2006.
Mickey Graham was the man in charge that year, and it’s worth mentioning that he also pulled off replay wins as manager of Mullinalaghta in quarter-finals against Abbeylara and Killoe, before doing likewise on Sunday with Cavan’s stunning Ulster semi-final victory against Armagh.
With that in mind, Brennan’s insight to his thoroughness behind the scenes will come to no great surprise to anyone who has tracked Mickey Graham’s managerial career.
He said: “We lost the 2005 final but Mickey Graham came in the following year and got us over the line after a replay, wouldn’t you know it. He’s very thorough and he’s very astute. He played the game at a high level himself, understood it and left no stone unturned. He’s a real players’ manager as well – authoritative but with great man-management skills as well. There was nothing between us and Ballinagh at the time. Mickey got his match-ups perfect on the second day in fairness to him, and we went on and won that game relatively comfortably.”
Cavan produced some scintillating football as they overcame Armagh by 0-23 to 0-17 in Sunday’s Ulster final replay, but Brennan says that their high-flying manager is a pragmatist at heart.
“The thing about Mickey is that he can play all styles, he’s one of these managers who can adapt, there’s a plan B and a plan C for different things that occur during a game. He pulls a rabbit out of the hat when he needs to.”
Cavan turned the screw on the home straight against Armagh and their final points were celebrated with considerable gusto by the scorers. While Graham has instilled serious pride in the jersey, Brennan believes it was relief more than anything that was behind the fist pumps as they booked their first Ulster SFC appearance in 18 years.
“I don’t know if the punching the air was due to Mickey Graham, I think it was relief. Look at the players who punched the air, Gearoid McKiernan, Cian Mackey, Martin Reilly – they’ve been around a long time and a lot has been expected of them.”
Graham only stayed a year at Drumalee. By that point in his career, he’d already won a minor league title with his native Cavan Gaels and a Junior title at Butlersbridge and Brennan’s hunch was that he was destined for bigger and better things.
“Mickey is Cavan Gaels through and through and was still playing a bit of football at the time. He left at the end of the season. He probably knew he’d brought the team has far as he could.”
Born and reared in Navan, Brennan moved to Cavan and soon fell in love with his adopted county. He says he was “moved to tears” by their victory over Armagh and expects them to give Donegal their fill of it in the final on June 23.
“Meath is where I’m from and I’m totally engrossed in Meath football but there’s a special place in my heart for Cavan, I was in tears after the game on Sunday. I couldn’t choose between the two of them though I haven’t missed a Cavan match this year.
“They’re up against All-Ireland contenders, but anything can happen in a final. We’re under no illusions, but if Mickey, Dermot [McCabe], Martin Corey and John Denning have anything to do with it you can expect the unexpected I think.”