Former Cavan selector Aidan McCabe steered Monaghan outfit Blackhill to AIB Ulster Junior Football Championship glory in 2019.
Former Cavan selector Aidan McCabe steered Monaghan outfit Blackhill to AIB Ulster Junior Football Championship glory in 2019.

McCabe enjoying Blackhill role

By Cian O’Connell

“My work is football and my break from work is football too,” Blackhill manager Aidan McCabe laughs as Saturday’s AIB All Ireland Club Junior Football Championship Semi-Final against Rathgarogue-Cushinstown edges closer.

McCabe works as a Gaelic Development Officer for the Cavan County Board, but is relishing being involved with Blackhill, who returned to prominence in 2019, claiming Ulster glory.

“It is great, it is fantastic,” McCabe adds. “I absolutely love both ends of it. You get to work with primary schools, secondary schools, Academy squads, and club teams too. You are getting to see all ends of the spectrum, it is very exciting, and I love it.”

On this exact week one year ago McCabe was planning and plotting. Blackhill had endured a tough year suffering relegation, but McCabe, a Cavan selector under Mattie McGleenan, was keen to make an impact.

“It is my first campaign with them and funnily enough it was this time last year when we started on January 13 on the Sunday,” McCabe says.

“I didn't think we would be playing the same season one year later. I'm sure not all first years are like this, but it is great.

“There is a buzz around, it is fantastic. You are training in December and it is Championship training. There aren't too many clubs who can say that or get the opportunity to do that. What is seldom is wonderful so we are looking forward to it surely.”

Aware of Blackhill’s potential, McCabe acknowledges some difficult moments were endured in the Monaghan League before eventually launching a successful journey.

“Blackhill won the Monaghan Junior Championship in 2016 and got to the Ulster Final where they were beaten by Rock from Tyrone by a point after extra-time,” McCabe explains.

“They were Intermediate for two years, but were relegated in 2018. So they would have been talked about, but probably wouldn't have been the favourites not until the Championship kicked off because the League hadn't gone very well for us.

“We were probably not giving a true reflection of ourselves, but once it progressed we were improving our standing slightly.”

Aidan McCabe managed the Cavan Ladies Football team in 2017.
Aidan McCabe managed the Cavan Ladies Football team in 2017.

Previously involved with Cavan’s men’s and ladies senior inter-county teams, McCabe’s coaching CV is interesting.

“Yeah, you'd wonder at times what does that mean,” McCabe chuckles. “I was with the Cavan Ladies for three years, one of them as manager and was lucky enough to be with the Cavan seniors in 2018 with Mattie when we got promotion. At times that experience stands to you, but at the same time every day is different.”

That means significant pleasure is derived from the day job with Cavan’s Ulster Under 21 burst of provincial glory between 2011 and 2014 illustrates what can be achieved with a wide range of clubs supplying players.

“Absolutely, there was a fair representation of clubs in those Under 21 teams,” McCabe acknowledges. “Maybe our turnover of players isn't great, but there were a couple of different panels of players getting Cavan out of Division Three and Division Two twice. Please God they will get back to Division One again.

“We do a little bit of everything through national schools to secondary schools, Academy squad work and coach education courses and workshops. We work in the clubs too, there is a good variety to it.”

In the evenings, though, McCabe has forged a solid connection with Blackhill. It is his first time working outside of his native county and experience has been acquired. Ultimately McCabe believes Blackhill have prospered outside of Monaghan. Playing in these type of encounters against unfamiliar opponents is a task that needs to be embraced.

“100 per cent, there is no baggage and it is very hard to judge standards from one county to the next and from one province to the next,” McCabe replies.

“You are wondering about how it stacks up. At the end of the day they have a provincial medal in their pockets, the same as we do. So you are trying to find out about the other team as much as you can, to hopefully negate some of their strengths while never moving too far from your own strengths.

“At the end of the day you don't know this team as much as you'd know a team in the Monaghan Championship. There is that bit of novelty and less baggage coming into it.

“So it is about whichever team can perform as close to its best and react to different things that happen whether it is conditions or adjusting to a team play that you aren't used to, whatever a match can throw up.”

McCabe has found the necessary solutions. The next test, though, is all that matters now with a Croke Park appearance the sweet and satisfying prize for whoever prevails at St Conleth’s Park in Newbridge.