After a bevy of provincial underage success, classy Cavan showed signs they might be coming of age at senior level as they cruised into the semi-finals of the Ulster SFC semi-final after a dour derby duel at Kingspan Breffni.
On a day splattered by intermittent showers, the words ducks and drakes could almost be heard ricocheting off the rafters of the seated stand in the opening half as Cavan consistently beat a path to their opponents’ half.
The underdogs won the game much more easily than the final scoreboard suggests.
The writing was on the wall for Monaghan from the get-go and Cavan enjoyed a none-too flattering 1-8 to 0-4 interval lead.
In truth, scarcely has a first half in the ancient derby been so lopsided, with Monaghan playing a poor second fiddle to their cock-a-hoop hosts in front of an attendance of 13,496.
“We never got going in the first half,” admitted a desperately disappointed Monaghan manager Malachy O’Rourke.
“We were hoping to hit the ground running but we never played with energy or drive and when we did get going in the second half, we missed chances and our build-up play was too slow which left us being bottled up.”
Cavan had no such trouble extricating themselves from the starting blocks and were 1-3 to 0-0 in front after only seven minutes.
Showing all the foot skills that saw him recognised at youth level for Burnley and Ireland, Cavan schemer Martin Reilly arrowed an exocet into Conor Madden’s midriff in the 39th minute.
Madden was pushed to the ground and seconds later Reilly side-footed the resultant penalty to the net.
Predictably, the penalty award given by referee Conor Lane (Cork) got a different hearing from the two camps.
“I wasn’t close enough to see it but from what I hear it was a very dubious decision,” O’Rourke lamented.
“It gave Cavan a five-point lead. It was a massive, massive decision.”
Meanwhile, for his part, Cavan boss Mickey Graham appeared to have a clear sight of the action leading up to the penalty award.
“I thought it was a penalty. The ball was kicked in and he (Madden) was onto it but got a wee shove in the back. Some days they go for you, some days they don’t.”
Looking shell-shocked, Monaghan slowly got to their knees and converted frees from Rory Beggan and Conor McManus gave the tie a more competitive look by the 11th minute.
However, the gap was extended to five points (1-4 to 0-2) once more courtesy of a sweet Gearoid McKiernan strike on the quarter-hour.
Monaghan chiselled out a greater share of possession as the second quarter advanced but for every punch they landed, Cavan easily responded with Conor Madden firing over a gem to counter a neat McManus effort and leave the hosts 1-8 to 0-4 in front at the short whistle.
Bit by bit, Monaghan rediscovered some of the form that drove them to last year’s All-Ireland semi-final and an inspirational point from Ryan Wylie in the 55th minute cut Cavan’s lead to just three points (1-10 to 0-10).
“We knew Monaghan would come back at us and we wanted to make sure we didn’t panic and hang in there,” a jubilant Graham declared.
“We kicked some vital scores at vital times, especially in the second half when Monaghan did put it up to us.
“All I wanted was a bit heart and determination and the lads showed it today. You can have all the skills in the world but if you don’t have them basics you have nothing.”
The final 10 minutes saw excellent points from Monaghan’s Conor Boyle (61) and McKiernan (64) but the status quo remained. The script lay in shreds on the verdant Breffni sod.
A black cloud of inevitability hovered over the ground for the final five minutes as Cavan comfortably kept their opponents at bay with McKiernan composing himself before rifling over the insurance point with just six minutes left on the clock.
“This means everything to Cavan,” Graham concluded. Cavan has been too quiet for far too long and we had nothing to shout about for a long time but its days like these that makes all the hard work worthwhile.”
Meanwhile, O’Rourke bravely faced the prospect of making an early trek down the by-roads for a third year in a row: “We have to dust ourselves down now and go again, down a different route. We just have to look forward rather than look back.”
G McKiernan (0-4, 2 frees); M Reilly (1-0 pen); N Murray, C Madden (0-2 each); C Rehill, C Brady, D McVeety, P Faulkner, C Conroy (free) (0-1 each)
C McManus (0-4, 3 frees); S Carey, R Beggan (free, ‘45) (0-2 each); C Boyle, R Wylie, K Hughes (free), C McCarthy (0-1 each)
R Galligan; J McLoughlin, P Faulkner, C Moynagh; G Smith, K Clarke, C Rehill; C Brady, G McKiernan; M Reilly, D McVeety, N Murray; O Kiernan, T Galligan, C Madden.
C Brady for O Kiernan (45); C Conroy for G Smith (51); C Mackey for C Madden (53);J Brady for C Moynagh (B.C, 58); S Smith for T Galligan (64); K Brady for J McLoughlin.
R Beggan; D Wylie, C Boyle, R Wylie; K O’Connell, C Walshe, P McKenna; F Kelly, K Hughes; D Ward, D Malone, S Carey; R McAnespie, C McManus, S O’Hanlon.
C McCarthy for P McKenna (29); K Duffy for D Malone (h-t); M Bannigan for S O’Hanlon (53); O Duffy for D Ward (63); N Kearns for S Carey (65); D Mone for K O’Connell (B.C 71).
Conor Lane (Cork).
Anthony Daly, Ger Cunningham and TJ Ryan review the weekend's hurling.