Cavan 0-15 Wicklow 2-8
It was the Seanie Johnston show, but every Cavan player who faced Wicklow at Breffni Park was a hero.
Reduced to 13 men, and facing a seven-point deficit, Tommy Carr’s side appeared to be on their way to a bad defeat.
Johnston was on the bench, unable to start due to injury, but in the grip of a crisis, he was thrown into the action five minutes into the second half.
It was an inspired substitution. Full back Thomas Corr and midfielder Lorcan Mulvey had been sent off, and Mick O’Dwyer had two extra men to keep an eye on Johnston.
But he made a remarkable impact, hitting six glorious points, including the late winner that sent his side through to the next round of the Qualifiers.
Leighton Glynn netted a penalty in the 11th minute after midfielder JP Dalton had been fouled by full back Thomas Corr.
The Leinster men pushed further ahead with points from Nicky Mernagh and Tony Hannon, from a 48 metre free, but the home side pulled back scores through Eoin McGuigan and Gareth Smith.
James Stafford created Wicklow’s second goal, driving in the long delivery for full forward Sean Furlong to collect and finish from close range in the27th minute.
Corr, who had earlier been booked during the penalty incident, picked up a second yellow in the 32nd minute, and Wicklow led by 2-6 to 0-5 at the break.
Cavan suffered a further blow just two minutes into the second half with a straight red card to midfielder Mulvey, but Carr sprung a half-fit Johnston from the bench in a bid to rescue what looked a hopeless situation.
The Cavan Gaels star slotted over a couple of delightful scores as the Breffni men finally started to display some self-belief and determination.
Johnston squeezed over an amazing score from a seemingly impossible angle near the corner flag, and his fifth was followed by Mark McKeever’s equaliser.
Hannon ended a 20 minutes scoreless spell for Wicklow to regain the lead, but there was still time for Cavan to bounce back, with Smith converting a ’45, before Johnston swept over the winner.
Cavan: F Reilly, D Sheridan, T Corr, M Hannon, M Brides, J McCutcheon, A Clarke (0-1), C Galligan, L Mulvey, R Flanagan (0-2), G Smith (0-4, 1f, 1 ’45), E McGuigan (0-1), C Mackey, M Brennan, M Reilly.
Subs: S Johnston (0-6, 2f) for Mackey (40), M Cahill for M Reilly (45), M McKeever (0-1) for McGuigan (57), D O’Dowd for Galligan (64)
Wicklow: J Flynn, S Kelly, D O Hannaidh, A Byrne, C Hyland, B McGrath, D Hayden, J Stafford, JP Dalton, L Glynn (1-0, pen), T Hannon (0-5, 4f), N Mernagh (0-1), P Cunningham (0-1), S Furlong (1-0), P Earls (0-1).
Subs: S Canavan for Mernagh (h-t), P Dalton for McGrath (37)
Referee: C Reilly (Meath).