For the second successive year, it was men against boys as dynamic Donegal won pulling up in a lopsided Ulster SFC tie.
The ‘you win nothing with kids’ mantra reverberated around Drumlin country afterwards as Cavan’s
medal-winning underage stars fell well short of hitting the high notes.
The man mountains from Tir Chonaill were full value for their win as they repeated the medicine Cavan were forced to swallow in their corresponding championship defeat (2-14 to 1-8) last year.
Cavan did most of their best work in the opening quarter and led by a point after 15 minutes, but their challenge nosedived afterwards.
Key to the hosts’ expansive and almost cavalier type of football early on was the form of their target man, Eugene Keating, who notched two of his side’s opening four points which gave his side a surprise early lead. He was a constant threat but a dozen wides proved to be Cavan’s ball and chain.
“We got enough possession up front to maybe get closer to them over the 70 minutes but our choice of shots and final ball wasn’t what it should have been at times,” said Keating.
“Even though that was probably my best day out in a Cavan shirt, it’s no consolation. We shot too many wides and didn’t nail down enough of the chances we created for ourselves up front and against a quality team like Donegal, that’s something you’re going pay for.”
Donegal fully recognised their opponents’ Achilles heel and seemed comfortable inviting the Breffni men onto them, leaving just McFadden and McBrearty in their own half. And game, rather than contest, was the operative word as the visitors turned around a 0-3 to 0-4 deficit into a half-time lead of 1-7 to 0-4.
Donegal used Colm McFadden’s 29th minute penalty conversion — after Paddy McBrearty was fouled by Killian Clarke — as a crutch for the contest.
In front of 12,847 sun-kissed fans, the game proved a fluid, open and sporting contest but the air of inevitability which hung over proceedings after McFadden’s penalty conversion saw a trickle of fans depart the ground from the final quarter onwards.
The recalled James Reilly kept Cavan from going nine points behind inside 90 seconds of the restart when he dived full length to push Neil Gallagher’s soccer-like shot around the post for a fruitless 45.
The cushioned lead enjoyed by Donegal was never threatened though and the visitors did indeed make it a nine point game (1-13 to 0-7) by the 56th minute when Leo McLoone’s point countered another gem from Keating.
To their credit, Cavan’s young guns failed to implode despite the unyielding physicality of their opponents who refused to take their foot off the throttle. The hosts cut their deficit with 13 minutes remaining thanks to a penalty by sub Niall McDermott after Keating was downed by the under-pressure McGee. In truth, McDermott’s major had the word ‘consolation’ stamped all over it.
Even with 15 minutes to play, Donegal were ensconced on easy street and there was simply no way back for the underdogs.
Fittingly though, Keating had the final say, taking over the mantle of the departed Seanie Johnston, with a sublime fifth point of the game in the dregs of the game.
Scorers for Cavan: E Keating 0-5, N McDermott 1-1 (1-0p, 1f), D Givney 0-2, G McKiernan, J Brady 0-1 each.
Scorers for Donegal: C McFadden 1-6 (1-0p, 5fs), R Kavanagh 0-3, M McHugh, L McLoone 0-2 each, N McGee, F McGlynn, N Gallagher 0-1 each.
Subs for Cavan: T Corr for R Maloney-Derham (ht), N McDermott for B Fitzpatrick (ht), N Smith for F Flanagan (38), K Tierney for M McKeever (54), R Galligan for J Brady (65).
Subs for Donegal: Martin O’Reilly for R Bradley (23), M McElhinney for D Walsh (65), D Molloy for N Gallagher (67).
Referee: C Reilly (Meath).
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