Cavan were staring at another lame exit from the qualifiers with 50 minutes on the clock in Brewster Park when they trailed by 0-13 to 0-7 against a rampant Fermanagh side.
Then came the announcement, loud and clear, over the PA system that Kildare and their new recruit Seanie Johnston had been beaten in Croke Park.
It looked like that was the only bit of good news the Cavan supporters were going to get yesterday, but whether the players heard the result or not, they suddenly set about proving that there is life in the county without their former star.
From the moment Gearoid McKiernan hit the net in the 51st minute, this first round qualifier was turned on its head.
Cavan hit 2-2 in a devastating four-minute spell, McKiernan having a hand in the second goal by Niall McDermott.
Daniel Kille hit nine points for Fermanagh, eight from frees, and one of those efforts on the hour mark appeared to stop the rot after the concession of an unanswered 2-3 in the previous 10 minutes.
There was still plenty of time for Fermanagh to steady themselves, and they only trailed by three. Yet within 20 seconds, the ball was in the back of their net for a third time. Eugene Keating, the man who scored 0-5 from play against Donegal last time out, drilled a third goal past Ronan Gallagher to seal an astonishing comeback for Cavan.
So was it a coincidence that the tide started to turn against Fermanagh just after it was announced that Kildare had been beaten at Croke Park?
“It was strange,’’ admitted losing manager Peter Canavan.
“I’d like to think that was the only reason that cost us, but it wasn’t. For 50, 55 minutes we played beautiful football and you couldn’t see them hurting us. But we started giving away cheap possession around the middle and the first goal ignited them. I’m not sure if the players even heard the announcement, but no, it didn’t help.’’
Cavan’s 3-3 in an incredible 10 minute spell gave them their first win in the championship since beating Wicklow in the qualifiers in 2010.
If they were going to win anywhere, it was going to be in Brewster Park — the scene of both their Ulster U21 final victories in the past two seasons. Many of those underage stars were on the field yesterday, McKiernan and Jack Brady leading the fight while substitute Jason McLoughlin also shone.
The brilliance of Cavan’s comeback, however, must be measured against Fermanagh’s response to it.
After the first goal went in, Cavan’s players visibly grew in self-belief but Fermanagh went into their shells.
Cavan boss Terry Hyland insisted he hadn’t heard the Kildare result being announced. As far as he was concerned, his team started taking chances they had been missing earlier. The stats did back up that argument to some extent, but Cavan had had a lot of possession, kicking 15 wides to Fermanagh’s five.
The loss of David Givney towards the end of the first-half looked like it was another blow they were going to have to absorb, but once the first goal went in, their body language changed. And so did their accuracy.
The Fermanagh defence parted straight down the middle. Kevin Tierney could have hit them for a fourth goal late on only for a good save by Ronan Gallagher, who couldn’t be faulted for any of the three goals he did concede.
Everything that could go wrong for Fermanagh, did. That allowed Cavan to attack them in waves, McKiernan powering through from midfield and setting up the goals for McDermott and Keating, as well as scoring the all-important first himself.
Scorers for Cavan: J Brady (0-5, 2f), G McKiernan (1-1), E Keating (1-1), N McDermott (1-1, 1f), D Reilly, N Smith, T Corr, K Tierney, D McKiernan 0-1 each.
Scorers for Fermanagh: D Kille (0-9, 8f), T Corrigan (0-3), P Ward (0-2, 1f), R Jones 0-1.
Subs for Fermanagh: D McCusker for McElroy, 52; M McGrath for Cox, 54; Sean Quigley for Ward, 63; M Jones for C Quigley, 63; P Cosgrove for Mulrone, 68.
Subs for Cavan: K Tierney for Givney, 35; J McLoughlin for Clarke, ht; D McKiernan for McKeever, 46; K Meehan for Smith, 67.
Referee: Barry Cassidy (Derry).