his appeared to be a day tailor-made for Cavan to make a significant breakthrough at senior level against one of the big guns on the back of all that U21 success. They led by four points midway through the second-half of this Ulster quarter-final in their own back yard.
The sun was shining and a buzzing crowd of 18,541 made for a fitting audience for what was a captivating local get-to in this beautifully appointed little ground that nestles snugly into a tidy little dip of land just off the Dublin Road in the main county town.
But then Monaghan remembered themselves.
Somewhat subdued for most of the game, the Farney men awakened. Two provincial finals and one title in the last two summers were drawn upon and the identity of their scorers alone in that last quarter spoke volumes for the knowledge bank and abilities they bring.
Conor McManus. Darren Hughes. Dick Clerkin. Dessie Mone. Colin Walshe. How many summer campaigns have that quintet alone served on now? Clerkin and Walshe were reservists this day, called off the bench along with Stephen Gollogly to steer Monaghan home to safety.
“That played a big part,” said manager Malachy O’Rourke of the elder brigade.
“A lot of those fellas have played in a lot of championship games and been in situations like that before. When we were in that difficult patch those experienced guys held up their hands.
“Dessie [Mone] kicked a great score from out on the wing, but it was more that we started using the ball well again. We weren’t running up blind alleys or getting turned over as well. We started getting the ball into the likes of [McManus].”
McManus was, again, sublime. His last point, kicked from play from wide on the right as he flirted with the chalky sideline and the advances of a defender, was little short of genius. Double-marked for much of his career in the north, he refuses to be blotted out.
So, too, Monaghan.
They had reeled off six of the previous seven points and kept Cavan scoreless for 13 minutes at one stage near the end by the time Martin Dunne sent over a 73rd-minute free to leave us with the final scoreline, harnessing the wind at their backs to good effect as they did so.
This will be difficult to swallow for Cavan. They are left with an identical losing margin from their meeting with the same opponents and rivals from two years ago and similar regrets in the fact that this was a game they could have won. They probably didn’t deserve to lose.
Terry Hyland threw a few curveballs before throw-in by dropping forward Martin Dunne and picking his club-mate Raymond Galligan in goal. Galligan had never played there before, but had seemingly scored 10 points for his county in a league tie in the recent past.
If he was picked for his free-taking abilities then it didn’t pay off as he was guilty of a handful of wayward long-range efforts.
Cavan, it must be said, entered double digits for wides on the day and they conceded twice the number of frees to their opponents.
Cavan prospered for long stretches, using midfielder Michael Argue in the Donaghy role on the edge of the square to some effect while aping Monaghan by playing deep with a sweeper and trying to attack at speed on the counter.
It was captivating enough, if hardly thrilling in that 11 of the first-half’s 16 points came courtesy of frees and yet Cavan’s two-point interval lead was enough to earn them a standing ovation from a section of the home support on the way off.
Monaghan looked to be in some trouble when Argue tipped over his second point of the day with 47 minutes played.
But the Farney were only getting started.
With Fermanagh or Antrim to come in the semi-final, O’Rourke and his men should already be able to taste the flavour of another Ulster final day in Clones. Not that another title is likely if they make things as difficult again as they did here.
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).
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).
C Brady for McEnroe (38); M Dunne for O’Reilly (52); M Lyng for Reilly (57); T Hayes for Mackey (64).
S Gollogly for Malone (40); D Clerkin for Finlay (50); C McGuinness for McAnespie (54).
: P Hughes (Armagh).