Fortune favoured the brave? At the end of an action-packed replay just dripping with character and commitment, it was a goal in the sixth minute of injury-time which booked Cavan Gaels a place in the Ulster club SFC final for the first time since 1977.
Cavan Gaels 5-7
Derrygonnelly Harps 2-15
As Gaels’ manager Jason Reilly said afterwards, no-one could have complained if a crazy semi-final at Clones had gone to extra-time for the second week running because Fermanagh champions Derrygonnelly didn’t deserve their fate — Barry Fortune tapping the ball into an empty net to snatch victory.
“We were up and we were down,” said Reilly, “I thought we were gone when we were four or five behind in the first half but both teams gave it everything.”
All day Derrygonnelly struggled to contain Paul O’Connor’s aerial threat and physical presence.
Still, they fought back from the concession of some soft goals to lead deep into stoppage time until Cavan Gaels, who are unbeaten all year in league and championship, somehow found a way.
Paul O’Connor, who completed a hat-trick early in the second half, broke the ball down for Fortune to set up a provincial final with defending champions Slaughtneil in Armagh next Sunday.
Last week’s drab drawn encounter finished 0-12 apiece after extra-time.
The contrast could not have been greater yesterday as both teams went for it and spaces opened up all over the field in a rousing second half.
The sides were level three times in a lively opening quarter before Paul Ward’s low shot across goal raised the first green flag in the 18th minute to help Derrygonnelly into a 1-5 to 0-4 lead.
But Cavan killed them on the counter-attack and O’Connor was rampant close to goal.
He stepped round the ’keeper Dermot Feely for the first of three Cavan goals in a five-minute spell, and two minutes later beat Feely at the near post to fist home Martin Dunne’s assist.
Seanie Johnston slid home a third, after Garvan McGinley’s sloppy pass out of defence, to put his team 3-5 to 1-8 up at the break.
O’Connor completed his hat-trick within a minute of the restart, Feely colliding with the post after another tussle with O’Connor, to move six points ahead.
“We should have kicked on at that stage but the final pass let us down,” admitted boss Reilly, “and Derrygonnelly threw everything at us. We’re just delighted to get through.”
Conal Jones’ spectacular goal, and a monster 50m point by magnificent skipper Ryan Jones, put Derrygonnelly back in front three minutes into stoppage time.
They restricted Cavan to just 0-2 in over 30 minutes of football until Fortune followed up Johnston’s ball across to O’Connor to tap the ball home.
Scorers for Cavan Gaels:
P O’Connor (3-0); S Johnston (1-4); B Fortune (1-0); K Meehan (0-2); D Sexton (0-1)
Scorers for Derrygonnelly Harps:
P Ward (1-2); G McKenna (0-5, 4 frees); C Jones (1-0); K Cassidy (0-3); D Cassidy, R Jones (0-2 each); M Jones (0-1)
C Flynn; L Fortune, N Murray, K Meehan; S Murray, B Fortune, D Sexton; P Graham, P Maloney-Derham; N Smith, D Meehan, A Graham; P O’Connor, S Johnston, M Dunne Subs:
V Coyle for Meehan (14), M Lyng for A Graham (50), E Fortune for P Graham (57)
D Feely; Shane McGullion, D Greene, M Jones; N Gallagher, E McHugh, G McGinley; R Jones, G Jones; K Cassidy, P Ward, D Cassidy; G McKenna, Stephen McGullion, C Jones. Subs:
J Kelly for Feely (35), L Jones for McGinley (46), A Gallagher for N Gallagher (54),G McGinley for Stephen McGullion (56)
Sean Laverty (Antrim).
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