A goal from Gearóid McKiernan that crowned a crucial run of 1-3 without reply from Cavan at the start of the second half proved to be decisive at Bord na Móna O’Connor Park in Tullamore this evening, as the visiting Ulster county held off Offaly in a Round 1B qualifier ties that was more than a little short of the intensity and conviction that we saw from these counties during phases of their brief provincial campaigns, writes Kevin Egan.
Cavan were arguably the side with more momentum coming into this contest as they pushed Monaghan hard in the closing stages of their Ulster quarter final defeat, while they also had an extra week to recover from the tie.
After the game their manager Mattie McGleenan highlighted how Offaly were impeded by having to compete three weekends in a row, particularly in the light of their demoralising defeat to Westmeath just eight days ago.
However despite this, Offaly looked marginally the better side in the early stages and with Nigel Dunne very prominent up front, they moved into an 0-4 to 0-2 lead.
This was despite playing into a deceptively significant breeze, blowing from the Arden Road end of the ground.
Defensively they struggled however as almost every Cavan attack seemed to end with an attempt on goal and while some inaccurate shooting from the Ulster county’s forwards kept Offaly in the game, the brilliance of Gearóid McKiernan ensured that Cavan never went more than five minutes without raising a flag in that opening half.
The Swanlinbar man fired over four points from play in the opening half in the midst of an otherwise toothless forward line.
Niall McDermott was the only other Cavan forward to score from play, but he too was guilty of some terrible misses, particularly early in the tie when a mix up in the Offaly defence allowed Dara McVeety to sneak in and take possession and put McDermott through on goal with just Alan Mulhall to beat.
As they did in the Leinster championship at the same venue, Offaly showed some good patience into the breeze and picked off nice points through Graham Guilfoyle (twice) and Nigel Dunne, but a quickfire brace from McDermott and Ciarán Brady gave the Breffni men a narrow interval advantage.
With the Faithful County entitled to feel moderately confident at that position with 35 minutes of wind-assisted play to come, Cavan needed a fast start and they got it when Gerard Smith showed real leadership to drive forward with a wonderful run and then convert the score of the game with a magnificent arcing kick off his right boot.
McDermott and Buchanan added points before another pacey run, this time from Dara McVeety, helped to set up McKiernan for the game’s only goal in the 42 nd minute.
McVeety and Buchanan linked up to feed the big Swanlinbar player and he had the power to hold off a tight tackle, swivel and shoot in the one movement, beating Alan Mulhall with a superb strike.
Cavan failed to build on that platform however and while Offaly never looked like getting the goal they needed to really ignite a comeback – this defeat means that they’ve ended their 2017 championship without raising a green flag – the Faithful county were able to pick off occasional scores in the final quarter, gradually eroding the lead while Cavan missed the target repeatedly.
Ryan Connolly had a wonderful chance to wrap up the win with a late goal chance while James McEnroe will also be a little disappointed to have picked up a second yellow card late in the tie, but there was never any reason for the 3,039 supporters in the ground to get unduly excited as Cavan always had a couple of scores in hand and so kept their season alive for another fortnight at least.
Offaly Scorers: N Dunne 0-5 (0-2f), B Allen & G Guilfoyle 0-2 each, S Doyle, R McNamee, M Brazil, B Darby, P Cunningham, R Allen & N McNamee 0-1 each.
Cavan Scorers: G McKiernan 1-4, N McDermott 0-4 (0-2f), S Johnston (0-2f), R Connolly (0-2f) & L Buchanan 0-2 each, C Moynagh, G Smith & C Brady 0-1 each.
Offaly: A Mulhall; B Darby, E Rigney, S Pender; D Hanlon, P Cunningham, C Donohoe; G Guilfoyle, C McNamee; S Doyle, R McNamee, M Brazil; R Allen, N Dunne, B Allen.
Subs: J Lalor for Pender (37), D Brady for Rigney (46), J O’Connor for Doyle (48), J Moloney for Allen (51), N McNamee for C McNamee (55), A Sullivan for R McNamee (63)
Cavan: R Galligan; P Faulkner, J McEnroe, J McLoughlin; G Smith, C Moynagh, C Brady; L Buchanan, M Reilly; C Mackey, G McKiernan, D McVeety; N Clerkin, S Johnston, N McDermott.
Subs: R Connolly for Johnston (22), N Murray for Moynagh (34), K Clarke for Smith (42), T Corr for Buchanan (55), T Galligan for Corr (56 - bc), J Dillon for McDermott (69)
Referee: Derek O’Mahoney (Tipperary)