The winner-take-all duel to decide who would join Tyrone in the Allianz Division Two decider lived up to its pre-match billing with a huge crowd treated to an exciting clash played at near championship-like pace.
The winners recorded an unhealthy 14 wides on the day but Galway were shot-shy in the extreme and too laboured in their approach work to snatch the win which would have ended their long spell in the second flight. Kevin Walsh’s men had four wides in total over the 70-plus minutes, none in the first-half. Worse, they failed to muster a single meaningful attack for half an hour of that opening half.
After a tentative opening quarter, Cavan turned on the after burners in the second quarter to forge a 1-8 to 1-5 lead at the interval. Inspired by man-of-the-match Gearóid McKiernan, Cavan notched six unanswered points after Gary Sice’s free (15) had edged Galway into a 1-5 to 1-2 lead.
In front of Cavan’s biggest NFL crowd for many years, Galway failed dismally to build on the Patrick Sweeney’s 12th minute goal.
Sweeney’s major had come as the perfect reposte to David Givney’s opportunist goal for the hosts in the 8th minute when the visiting defence paid the price for ball watching.
Cavan were also better able to cope with the poor underfoot conditions and looked hungrier when scrapping for ‘dirty ball’ spawned by the greasy and muddy sod. Using the twin towers of Givney and Argue under the high ball close to goal – and supported by McKiernan – the Ulstermen said no to intermittent Galway comeback attempts by calling on their infamous blanket.
The hosts introduced an extra defender, Niall Murray, with 30 minutes remaining as Galway began to offer more going forward and a misplaced Cavan pass allowed Eamon Brannigan to make it a 1-11 to 1-9 game after 43 minutes. Cavan refused to panic and they stuck to what they know best with their mass defence being complimented by fast-paced counter-attacks which consistently steered Galway onto their heels.
The Tribesmen enjoyed the lion’s share of possession in the latter stages but a beautiful brace from impressive Cavan substitute Eugene Keating was greeted with delight by the home fans
Galway’s management rang the changes in the final stages in a desperate bid to claim victory. A Shane Walsh free (66) made it a two point game (1-13 to 1-11) and Galway looked to have the whip hand.
The Connacht men had a gilt-edged chance in the 68th minute to hoist one foot into the winner’s enclosure but Cavan corner-back Jason McLoughlin stuck out a leg to deflect Damien Comer’s daisycutter out for a 45.
Cavan’s inability to convert hard-won possession into the coinage of a second goal meant that Galway’s forays up the field continued to keep the big home support on tenterhooks until the final whistle. But there was to be no way back for the visitors with injury-time points from the peerless McKiernan (72) and super-sub Murray (74).
R Galligan (0-2, ‘ 45, ‘45; P Faulkner, K Clarke (0-1), J McLaughlin; C Brady, C Moynagh, K Brady; T Corr, L Buchanan (0-1); D McVeety (0-1), G McKiernan (0-5), M Reilly; D Givney (1-1), M Argue, J Brady (0-2, 2f).
N Murray (0-1) for M Argue (41); A Varley for P Sweeney (43); E Keating (0-2) for J Brady (56); C Mackey for M Reilly (60); R Dunne for L Buchanan (63, B.C); C Conroy for T Corr(71)
M Breathnach; D Wynne (0-1), D Kyne, C Sweeney; L Silke, G O’Donnell, G Bradshaw; T Flynn, P Conroy; E Brannigan (0-2), P Sweeney (1-0), G Sice (0-3,3f); S Walsh (0-4,1f, ‘45), D Cummins (0-1), D Comer (0-1).
J Heaney for D Cummins (48); S Denvir for G Sice (61); E Hoare for E Brannigan (70).
E Kinsella (Laois)