Derry 0-20 Cavan 1-22 (aet)
Maybe Cavan football just needed it more.
Both they and Derry, though they wouldn’t admit it, will have spent the last week with their eyes looking beyond London to an All-Ireland quarter-final. For Cavan, it would represent a first step into that series since their 1997 semi-final with Kerry.
Derry have four times seen the last eight since then and as the blue shirts flooded the Celtic Park pitch at Maurice Deegan’s final, final whistle as dusk fell on Saturday evening, you just felt that maybe Derry wanted it and Cavan needed it.
“It’s a long time coming, but as soon as anything starts rolling, the Cavan supporters row in behind,” said goalscorer Cian Mackey as he peered through the red and white fencing at the clubhouse end of Celtic Park on to swathes of supporters from his county. “We did it as much for ourselves as we did for them. They’re ecstatic out there and it makes winning that bit sweeter.”
His goal put the finishing touches to a win that the Breffni men deserved, but almost left behind. Having started sluggishly and found themselves 0-3 to 0-0 down, they went 0-5 to 0-4 up with a Martin Reilly score that could have been a goal after 20 minutes. From then until the 72 minute of normal time, Cavan led for most of it, and were never headed.
Having struggled at midfield in the first half owing to the absence of cruciate victim PJ McCloskey and with Patsy Bradley visibly not fit, Derry went man-for-man in the second half and turned the game on its head. For the last 20 minutes, it was one Oak Leaf attack after the other. When Eoin Bradley was given a rather controversial free two minutes into stoppage time, Mark Lynch seemed to have kicked a winning score from under the Tomas Ó Maolain stand.
But Cavan refused to let it go, and worked their way up the pitch for Damien O’Reilly to swing a dramatic equaliser off his left foot with the last kick of the game.
It showed Derry’s inexperience. While Cavan youngsters Michael Argue and Darragh McVitty both impressed after coming off the bench, they should never have gotten the chance to shine in extra-time. Brian McIver’s young charges allowed Cavan to build that final attack the length of the pitch with the three minutes of injury-time played.
The sun baked the Foyleside venue, with both teams taking 20 minutes at half-time and a further 10 at the end of normal time, but to say Cavan were fitter would be unfair. It was simply that Terry Hyland’s team got the run on it in extra-time. They scored once, twice, three times in-a-row and led 0-21 to 0-18 at the interval.
From there, they were just cute. They passed the ball around in circles, finding blue shirts as the white shadows trailed after them. The ball did the work.
Eoin Bradley brought the gap back to two but it was killed off when Mackey followed up after Michael Argue hit the post to finish from the tightest of angles.
“We went ahead numerous times in the game and we’d let them back into it. We knew the game was in our own hands. In extra-time, we just played a wee bit cuter than we did during the match. We learnt from our mistakes. We kicked on and we didn’t let them back into the game in the last ten minutes,” said Cavan playmaker Mackey.
Their eyes turned straight from Celtic Park to thoughts of Croke Park, should they overcome London this weekend. It’s a long time since they played six championship games in one season, a long time since they won four out of five in that arena.
“It’s massive progress but look, we haven’t looked past our next game at any stage at all,” said Mackey, wary of not looking past Saturday’s round four game and on to the last eight. “We never looked past Armagh, Fermanagh or Monaghan. We got beat by Monaghan and we had to pick ourselves up and beat Fermanagh again, and we did that. We’ll certainly not be looking past London. We’ll prepare for them as well as we prepared for Derry.”
It leaves them face London for a Croke Park date with one of the provincial winners on the Bank Holiday weekend, a position Cavan haven’t found themselves in for a generation. They’ve waited long enough. They’ve earned it.
Scorers for Derry: M Lynch 0-8 (7f), J Kielt 0-3 (1f), Eoin Bradley 0-3 (2f), R Bell 0-2, E Lynn 0-1, E McGuckin 0-1, Emmet Bradley 0-1, A Devlin 0-1.
Scorers for Cavan: M Dunne 0-6 (5f), M Reilly 0-5 (1f), E Keating 0-3 (1f), C Mackey 1-0, M Argue 0-2, D McVitty 0-2, J Brady 0-1, D Givney 0-1, D O’Reilly 0-1, R Flanagan 0-1.
DERRY: E McNicholl; C McAtamney, C McKaigue, D McBride; C Kielt, M Lynch, A McAlynn, SL McGoldrick; P Bradley, J Kielt; B Heron, R Bell, E Lynn; Eoin Bradley, E McGuckin.
CAVAN: A O’Mara; K Clarke, R Dunne; A Clarke, J McEnroe, D O’Reilly, F Flanagan; T Corr, D Givney; R Flanagan, J Brady, C Mackey; M Reilly, E Keating, M Dunne.
Subs for Derry: D Brown for McAtamney (33), C McFaul for C Kielt (45), L Kennedy for McGuckin (46), A Devlin for Heron (56), Emmet Bradley for P Bradley (62), C Kielt for Brown (start of ET), B McCallion for Kennedy (65), E McGuckin for Devlin (72).
Subs for Cavan: K Tierney for Givney (36), M Argue for Dunne (56), D McVitty for A Clarke (57), K Brady for McEnroe (64), M McKeever for Mackey (67), N Murray for Dunne (66), C Mackey for Brady (73), D Givney for Keating (74).
Referee: M Deegan (Laois).
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