at Kingspan Breffni
As Allianz League matches go, this was not a bad one. It had, in fact, everything the home supporters came to see - brilliant scores, big hits, excellent fielding and tempers lost at times, too.
More than anything, though, the result was the important thing and while at times it wasn't pretty, Cavan did enough to extend their unbeaten run to five matches. Key to it was the form of the outstanding Gearoid McKiernan and also a tremendous late surge which saw Cavan muster some high quality scores in injury time to seal the deal.
At half-time, the Mourne men led by the odd point in 13 after a helter skelter 35 minutes.
Down, coming off the back of a disappointing home loss to Clare, were the better side in that opening half when, backed by the wind, they soaked up a lot of Cavan pressure and broke out of defence at pace, with pacey ball-carrier Ryan Johnston and target man Connaire Harrison prominent.
For Cavan, McKiernan, making his first start of the campaign, was the Breffni side’s go-to man. He kicked the opening point after four minutes and youngster Caoimhin O’Reilly booted over a second but the next four fell to Down.
Donal O’Hare landed the first and the lively Harrison levelled matters before Anthony Doherty came up from the half-back line – where he was marking Dara McVeety – to boom over a 50-metre free from the ground.
And when Harrison sent over an exquisite score after a nice dummy, the visitors were two up and humming.
Cavan, to their credit, hauled themselves back into the contest and after sub Cian Mackey and O’Hare (with a wonderful free from the sideline) traded points, O’Reilly (free) and McKiernan tied the game again on the half-hour mark.
Bryan Magee, with a long-range free, nudged Cavan in front again but Down had the final say in the first half with Ryan Johnston blazing through for his first and O’Hara adding another free from the hands.
Tempers flared at the break, with referee Padraig O’Sullivan speaking to mentors; Down manager Eamonn Burns did not re-appear on the sideline for the second half.
The attritional nature of proceedings continued on the restart. With the wind at their backs, Cavan began brightly, sub Adrian Cole teeing Conor Moynagh up for a well-taken score.
A long-range Doherty free was cancelled out by a superb point from veteran Mackey, now in his 14th season with the Blues, and when McKiernan drove over a huge score from outside the 45, Cavan sensed they could kick on.
Down, though, had other ideas and hung in there stubbornly. Shay Millar clipped in to level the teams yet again in the 48th minute but Cavan finally put some daylight between them with three points in five minutes from O’Reilly (free), sub Conor Bradley and Oisin Kiernan.
The home side were living dangerously, though. Raymond Galligan was called into action and saved smartly and Down looked to be in for a certain goal only for Milar, who had to be helped off afterwards, to be upended.
O’Hare and Man of the Match McKiernan – with a massive score from the wing – both raised white flags but Down wouldn’t go away and they were soon on level terms again with points from Caolan Mooney, Kevin McKernan and Ruairi Wells.
Entering the tension-filled last five minutes, there was nothing between them but Cavan would out-score their opponents by 0-4 to 0-1 when it mattered most.
Sub Sean Johnston conjured a beauty, Dara McVeety did likewise and goalkeeper Ray Galligan converted a 45 deep in injury time.
Harrison hit back with a free but Cavan had one final break out of defence and newcomer Conor Bradley made it count, fisting over the insurance point to seal a hard-earned win for Mattie McGleenan’s men.
Cavan: Raymond Galligan (0-1, 45), Jason McLoughlin, Padraig Faulkner, Conor Brady, Martin Reilly, Ciaran Brady, Enda Flanagan, Stephen Murray, Bryan Magee (0-1f), Dara McVeety (0-1f), Conor Moynagh(0-1f), Oisin Kiernan (0-1f), Niall Clerkin, Gearoid McKiernan (0-4), Caoimhin O’Reilly (0-3, 2f)
Subs: Cian Mackey (0-2) for Conor Brady (25 mins), Adrian Cole for Clerkin (h/t), Conor Bradley (0-2) for Moynagh (45), Sean Johnston (0-1) for Flanagan (65), Killian Clarke for Murray (68)
Down: Marc Reid, Colm Flanagan, Brendan McArdle, Anthony Doherty (0-2f), Ruairi Wells (0-1), Niall McParland, Caolan Mooney (0-1), Peter Turley, Niall Donnelly, Conor Francis, Conor Maginn, Shay Millar (0-1), Connaire Harrison (0-3, 1f), Donal O’Hare (0-4, 3f), Ryan Johnston (0-1)
Subs: Kevin McKernan (0-1) for Francis (45), David McKibbin for Millar (57), Conor Poland for Donnelly, Ronan Millar for O’Hare (68)
Ref: Padraig O’Sullivan (Kerry)