When Cathal Cregg runs out for the Roscommon senior football team in 2020 he will be starting his 15th season in the Primrose and Blue. It’s doesn’t seem that long ago that he was one of the county’s best young players when he was a minor in 2005. But since making his debut in 2006, and with three Connacht senior medals in his back pocket the Western Gaels man is as enthusiastic as ever to represent his county and is looking forward to 2020.
Work and home is incredibly busy for Cathal. He is married to Lorna and has a two and half year old son Fionn, and he lives in Strokestown. Cathal was appointed as the Games Development Officer for Connacht taking over from John Tobin in April 2018, and if that wasn’t enough, he is completing a PhD (needless to say it’s in connection withGaelic Games) which he hopes to have completed in 2020
We sat down for a chat recently and we talked about Western Gaels, The Dubs, coaching and development, the new rules, oh and of course, The Rossies.
A lot of people (this writer included) would say that Cathal Cregg played the best football of his career in 2019. But he reckons that there were other good years too!
“2019 was a great year for sure. Any year you win a Connacht title is a great year because they don’t come around too often, but we have been very lucky to have won three over the past ten years, and two out of the last three. It was brilliant to beat Leitrim, Mayo in Castlebar and Galway in Pearse Stadium”
“The Super 8’s was disappointing. The Tyrone game was the one that got away. We missed two goal chances in the first half, I missed one and Enda (Smith) missed the other. If one or the two of those had gone in it might have been a different game. The Dublin game was tough but it was great to finish off with the win in Cork. It was very important for the group to get that first Super 8’s win”
“I am not sure was it my best year but it went well. I thought that in 2010 and 2015 I did fairly well too but I was in decent form this year and I played ok in the matches against Mayo and Galway which were high profile games”
When Roscommon fans look back on 2019 beating Mayo in a thrilling game in Castlebar was extra special.
“The Mayo match was special all right. To win after 33 years in Castlebar was fantastic. The enormity of the celebrations in the county afterwards was something I definitely didn’t see coming. I suppose when you are involved you don’t get caught up in that stuff. But it was a cracking game. We started well, they came back and it was a tough game and a tough night, and it was a hell of a game to win”
Playing For Roscommon
Cathal has played in all four league divisions for Roscommon in his time in the senior jersey.
“I was a minor in 2005 and I made by debut for the seniors in 2006 down in Limerick. Later in that summer I made my championship debut against New York. I am enjoying it as much as even I have to say. I was lucky that I had no injuries this year at all. I started every game, and when you get into a bit of form and you have a flow of games it’s a huge help. I find it very satisfying playing for Roscommon and especially this year”
It was rumoured that Cathal and Kevin McStay did not see eye to eye but he played that down when we spoke.
“I suppose I was out of favour with Kevin. I took a year out, and when you do that it takes a while to get back into it in terms of fitness levels etc, but I came on in almost every game and I started the Armagh game and played in the Super 8’ matches after that. I was in and out of form and in and out of favour I suppose” (laughs)
Changes in the games since he started playing in 2006
The amount of training hasn’t changed much since he started out but Cathal says that there has been a fundamental change in the lifestyle of players at the top level.
“I started with John Maughan (as manager) and in fairness to him he had a professional approach and I have had several managers since who were all very professional too, But I suppose the biggest change is the attention to detail in the backround, and the changes in lifestyle you have to have if you want to play inter-county football at the highest level.”
“Even at that stage when I started you could go out and socialise, but you just can’t do that now because if you do you will be left behind. With the volume of training that we are doing and the requirement for recovery, if you were drinking and not eating properly you just would not survive in Division 1 and Division 2. That’s probably the biggest change. We were probably training just as hard when I started but now if you don’t prepare properly you will get left at the starting gate. We had a few bad experiences the first year we were in the Super 8’s but I think we are learning from those games and getting better all the time”
A young family and demanding job ensures that Cathal has very little time to himself.
“It can be tough to juggle everything between the job training and home life. My wife (Lorna) also works and we have a two and a half year old son (Fionn) who keeps us on our toes. Work is very busy and I am finishing a PhD and I hope to complete that in 2020. It’s busy but I have so say I’m enjoying it”
The Western Gaels club is close to Cathal’s heart all the time. They have been in the shake up for honours at senior level in Roscommon over the past decade without making the breakthrough.
“The one thing that is very disappointing is that we haven’t won a senior championship. Over the past few years we haven’t even got to a quarter-final and we have a very good team. We played ok in the group stages this year but we had a poor outing against St Brigid’s and we should be doing better. We have got to finals and semi-finals over the years but never got over the line. But we are not finished yet!!
The current Roscommon set up
Cathal has been re-energised since the arrival of Anthony Cunningham as team manager and thinks that the team is improving all the time.
“The lads in the group are all very happy. Anthony (Cunningham) is a very good coach and manager. He has the pedigree in club and county, football and hurling. It’s a top class set up with Mark Dowd and Iain Daly there too who are top class guys. We are very lucky to have the three of them together and we have a very good panel of players and the aim is to push on again in 2020”
So what are the aims in 2020?
“Promotion in the league has to be an aim for 2020 but we have four very difficult away games. In Division 2 you will probably have to win every game to be certain of going up wheras in Division 1 two or three wins will keep you in the division. We will be looking to get back up to the top group because that’s where you have to be competing. When you are playing the top teams you are learning all the time. Even though we were relegated in 2019 we learned a lot in Division 1”
“In the championship Mayo will be very strong again. They won’t like the fact that we beat them. They have a very good management team. Galway have a very good team too and with Padraig Joyce there now as manager it will be a big boost to them. They have a lot of good young players coming through. It’s a very exciting championship. Remember too that Leitrim are an improving side and Nigel Dineen is with Sligo and they are sure to be getting better as well”
The New Rules
There are new rules coming in from the first of January and Cathal thinks that they will be positive for an evolving game.
“I like the idea of the black card (sin-bin) because the old system favoured the top teams as they could bring on a very strong player for one sent to the line. Now they will be down to 14 for 10 minutes. It’s much fairer.”
“I’m not 100% certain about the forward mark. We trialled it this year and I played it in the International Rules. I think that it will bring more kicking into the game which would be good. It might reduce the amount of hand passing. The new rules are definitely worth trying. As a forward I would welcome it. Let’s give it a chance and see what happens. It might bring the big full forward back into the teams. If you have a guy isolated inside like Conor Cox, and he is a good fielder it’s an almost certain score. So it will be interesting. The game must evolve”
Dublin after Gavin
The big GAA story of the winter so far has been the retirement announcement made by Dublin manager Jim Gavin. How will it affect them?
“I was surprised that he retired to be honest. Will it weaken them ? It depends if they have any more player retirements. If they retain most of the panel they have it’s hard to see them being beaten. Having said that, Gavin seemed to have a unique management style and he kept the hunger there for all those years and it will hard to replicate that”
Cathal is back to training with the new year in mind.
“I have a bit of a niggle at the moment but we are back into training. We have seven weeks before the league starts and I have to say that I am still really enjoying it all and I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t, so roll on 2020”
From The Roscommon People