In a fractious second round All-Ireland SFC Qualifier, Fermanagh’s challenge folded spectacularly once their go-to guy Sean Quigley (35 mins.) and chief playmaker Shane McCabe (58) were dismissed on the back of straight red and second yellow card offences respectively.
Referee Michael Duffy was the busiest man on the field and also sent off Cavan’s Martin Reilly (53) while dishing out 14 yellow cards into the bargain.
Ultimately this was a match that will be recalled for all the wrong reasons with, yet again, the performance of the referee rather than any star turns by a player coming under most scrutiny.
Under the blazing sun, tempers boiled over time and time again. Only intermittently did the football interrupt the hostilities with tensions also running high among the 8,134 sun-baked patrons both during and after the game.
After the dust had settled, Peter Canavan’s immediate future as Fermanagh boss became the hot topic of discussion. However he was keen to discuss his team in the aftermath rather than his plans.
“The fact of the matter is that I’ve had a brilliant year and have really enjoyed working with these group of players,” the Tyrone football legend declared.
“The lads have made serious progress this year in our estimation; overcoming different hardships and they’ve dealt with them in a brilliant manner. They’ve given us everything, even when we went two men down.”
Canavan was circumspect about the performance of the match officials but he did acknowledge that the players were obliged to bear some sense of personal responsibility: “I made it clear before the game to our own lads that especially when you play against a team you have already played against in the championship there was going to be an edge to the game and that it was very important to keep disciplined.
“Definitely, at times some of the tackles were careless and the lads left themselves open for bookings but some of them were very questionable. But I don’t want to go down that road.”
Alan Clarke, Cavan’s captain, seemed to suggest that the visitors were more the aggressors in a match that was clearly one to forget: “It seems to be a tactic from Fermanagh that when things are not working for them that they get physical and against a young team they hope that they lie down but this Cavan team does not lie down. I suppose knowing each other so well does lend itself to more fireworks. It was a tough battle and a lot of cards were shown by the referee but everyone knows you can’t raise your hand anymore.”
Fermanagh were their own worst enemies at times and their continuance on over-cooking their forays into the last third of the field played right into Cavan’s hands.
By contrast, Cavan brought much more directness and penetration to the table and their goal summarised their game plan.
Damien O’Reilly won Fermanagh’s kick-out, quickly found Cian Mackey and in an instant the latter’s slide-rule 30 yard pass saw Martin Dunne collect and from six yards bury the ball in the net.
Dunne’s deadly finish propelled the hosts into a 1-3 to 0-1 lead and left Fermanagh facing a task that even at that stage looked mountainous.
Fermanagh worked in dervish-like fashion but for all Shane McCabe’s foraging and Marty O’Brien’s over-lapping, the visitors continued to play second fiddle.
A brace of Sean Quigley frees gave Fermanagh a lift but when referee Duffy refused to point to the spot after Quigley had his shirt pulled, Cavan were relieved to go in at the break five points (1-7 to 0-5) ahead.
The second-half was cloaked in an air of inevitability with three unanswered Cavan points on the restart extending their advantage.
Even the subsequent dismissal of Cavan’s Reilly failed to alter the tide as Fermanagh seemed to sense the game was up. Substitute Daniel Kille went onto be Fermanagh’s top scorer as the teams shared eight points in the final 15 minutes.
Cavan were able to win pulling up. The Ernesiders were a beaten docket from a long way out and were a pale shadow of the side that jettisoned 2014 NFL Division One side Westmeath from the competition last time out.
After the major disappointment of losing out to Monaghan in the provincial semi-final, Cavan continue on the road to redemption.
CAVAN: C Gilsenan; J McLoughlin, K Clarke, R Flanagan (0-1); J McEnroe, A Clarke, D O’Reilly (0-1); T Corr, D Givney (0-2); C Mackey (0-1), M Reilly (0-1), F Flanagan (0-2); N McDermott (0-2, both frees), M Dunne (1-3, two frees), E Keating (0-1).
Subs: J Brady for N McDermott (29, inj); D McVitty for J McEnroe (58); D McKiernan for T Corr (61); K Tierney for M Dunne (65); M McKeever for J McLoughlin (68).
FERMANAGH: C Snow; J Woods, B Cox, D Kelly (0-1); D McCusker, R McCluskey, M O’Brien; E Donnelly (0-1), M McGrath; B Owens, S McCabe, R Jones; T Corrigan, S Quigley (0-3, one free), T McElroy.
Subs: J Sherry for M McGrath (45); C Quigley for D McCusker (45); D Kille (0-5, four frees) for T Corrigan (45); D Keenan for B Owens (49).
Referee: M Duffy (Sligo).