The underdogs, appearing in their first ever final at this level, led for long spells and squeezed over the line with just a point to spare .
Ballinagh’s top scorer, Niall McDermott, converted seven frees to leave the Gaels playing catch-up from the 14th minute to the 53rd minute when Michael Lyng made it 0-10 apiece.
Ballinagh, thanks to a beauty from Terry Smith led 0-8 to 0-5 at the interval.
Gunning for their 13th SFC title and their first since 2011, the chasing team rang the changes and it seemed only a matter of time before they’d reel in the championship’s surprise packets.
Points from Marc Leddy, Dunne and Michael Lyng made it 0-10 apiece with seven minutes left.
The air thickened with anticipation of a Gaels surge to the finishing line but the Saffrons failed to read the script.
A gem from Thomas Moore (54) and yet another McDermott free (56) suddenly made it a two point game once more.
In a thrilling climax, Ballinagh sub Anthony Gaynor and the Gaels’ Michael Lyng were both red carded in the same incident.
Lyng’s colleagues had one last chance to pull the game out of the fire three minutes into injury-time but Johnston’s free from 17 metres was deflected over the bar and that was that.
CAVAN GAELS: M Cassidy; B Fortune, M Leddy (0-1) K Crotty; N Murray, E Reilly, L Murphy; D Reilly, C Collins; D Meehan (0-2), M Lyng (0-1), R Maloney-Derham; S Johnston (0-3), P O’Connor, M Dunne (0-4, three frees).
Subs; C McClarey for P O’Connor (inj, 11); K Meehan for D Reilly (half-time); S Reilly for K Crotty (47); N Smith for L Murphy (53); G Duffy for N Murray (59).
BALLINAGH; D Beard; Killian McBride, P Carroll, C Smith; D Finnegan, D McInerney (0-1), P Bogue; P O’Reilly (0-1), N O’Reilly (0-1); K Smith, T Moore (0-1), T Smith (0-1); C Gumley, N McDermott (0-7, all frees), E Brady.
Subs; A Gaynor for E Brady (44); E McEvoy for T Smith (56); M Ward for K Smith (59); P Galligan for C Gumley (61).
Referee: K McCarville (Cootehill Celtic).