By Brendan O’Brien, Kingspan Breffni Park
Cavan 0-15 Monaghan 0-16
Monaghan are through to another Ulster football semi-final and, with either Fermanagh or Antrim awaiting them there, a third provincial final in three seasons beckons after this narrowest of wins away to Cavan in their summer opener.
Conor McManus was the main man for the Farney, as he so often has been before, with five points from frees and two more from open play on a day when Malachy O’Rourke’s men didn’t play their best but used all their nous and experience to grind through.
These two had only met twice in the previous 20 summers, but local rivalries have a tendency to simmer despite the fixture list’s best efforts to keep things off the boil, and this one bristled with intent from the off at a sunny Kingspan Breffni Park.
A more than healthy crowd of 18,540 took in an intriguing first-half which saw Cavan trot into a four points to one lead inside the first 15 minutes and, though Monaghan fought back to keep the spirit bubble level for a time, the half ended with Cavan edging two points in front with the last two scores.
It was a performance worthy enough to merit a standing ovation from large sections of the home crowd though, while the game demanded close attention, it was by no means a classic with 11 of the 16 points earned in that half coming from frees.
The Breffni men still looked well-placed midway through the second-half when holding a 0-13 to 0-9 lead but they then went 19 minutes without scoring again while Monaghan, upping their game visibly with the wind at their backs, began to turn the screw.
Monaghan claimed five points on the trot in that span to take the lead for the first time in 37 minutes - and coming within a whisker of two goals in the process – and with each having had a man shown the line via a black card in that second spell.
It was McManus who kicked Monaghan ahead with a wonder-point from wide on the right while under pressure and Colin Walshe stretched the gap to two before Martin Dunne responded with an injury-time free that proved to be too little too late.
Scorers for Cavan: C Mackey (0-3, 2 frees); N McDermott (0-3 frees); G McKiernan and M Argue (both 0-2); M Dunne (0-2, 1 free); C Gilsenan (0-1 free); N Murray and R Flanagan (both 0-1).
Scorers for Monaghan: C McManus (0-7, 5 frees); P Finlay (0-3 frees); K Hughes (0-1 free); K O’Connell, D Hughes, D Clerkin, C Walshe and D Mone (all 0-1).
Cavan: R Galligan; F Flanagan, D O’Reilly, M Reilly; D McVeety, R Dunne, J McLoughlin; G McKiernan, T Corr; C Mackey, N Murray, R Flanagan; J McEnroe, M Argue, N McDermott. Subs: C Brady for McEnroe (38); M Dunne for O’Reilly (52); M Lyng for Reilly (57); T Hayes for Mackey (64).
Monaghan: R Beggan; D Mone, D Wylie, R Wylie; F Kelly, V Corey, K O’Connell; N McAdam, K Hughes; P Finlay, D Malone, S Carey; R McAnespie, D Hughes, C McManus. Subs: S Gollogly for Malone (40); D Clerkin for Finlay (50); C McGuinness for McAnespie (54).
Referee: P Hughes (Armagh).