Cavan through to Ulster final after amazing comeback
Ulster SFC semi-final
Paul Fitzpatrick at the Athletic Grounds
Cavan advanced to their second Ulster final in a row when they came from nine points down to defeat Down by a single point in an extraordinary comeback.
Cavan’s second-half resurgence was even more sensational considering how out of sorts they were in the opening 35 minutes, when Down ran through them with ease and looked vastly superior.
But Cavan were a different team on the restart, pinching 10 of Down’s 12 kick-outs with an effective high press in place as they advanced to a second successive Ulster final for the first time since 1969.
At half-time, Down were ahead by 1-9 to 0-4 and were not flattered by their lead. They were better than Cavan in every department and could have had two more goals in the first half, with Padraig Faulkner denying Jerome Johnston with a spectacular block and Ray Galligan saving from Caolán Mooney.
At the other end, Cavan were subdued. Down had a lot of bodies back but Cavan’s execution of basic skills was poor and they were relying on scraps throughout.
Down got off to a blistering start and were 1-5 to 0-1 ahead at the first water break. Cavan had targeted midfield as an area where they could dominate but the opposite was the case – in very difficult conditions, clean fielding was nigh on impossible and Down dominated the battle on the ground.
Johnston opened the scoring from Down’s first attack and from their second, they worked a great goal when Paul Devlin and Liam Kerr combined and Ceilium Doherty finished to the roof of the net from point blank range.
Three more points from Johnston (one mark) and a breakaway score from Paul Devlin completed Down’s first quarter scoring, with a free from Stephen Smith all that Cavan could muster in response.
Donal O’Hare and Killian Brady, who turned in a powerful shift in the engine room for Cavan, traded scores but two more from Devlin (one free) and a brilliant score from Johnston from the left wing made it 1-9 to 0-2 four minutes before half-time.
Cavan seemed dead and buried but the corpse began to twitch when Padraig Faulkner, who was immense, gathered a skewed free-kick and drove through for a point and then after a scramble in front of the Down goal, McKiernan pointed a free, Cavan went in eight points down.
On the restart, half-time sub Conor Madden, who was magnificent, sent over a brilliant point with his first touch and Cavan immediately grew in confidence, with Thomas Galligan, now at full-forward, adding another after a turnover.
Down were pinned back. They mustered a point on a rare foray forward from Donal O’Hare but the game turned when a Chris Conroy free dropped short and Down full-back Kevin McKernan handled on the ground. Martin Reilly stepped up to nail the resulting penalty and Cavan didn’t look back.
A superb point from Ciaran Brady was cancelled out by a well-struck O’Hare free to make it 1-11 to 1-7 at the second water break.
On the resumption, Madden kicked another sublime point, McKiernan – growing into the game – got a free and Madden sent over another.
Cavan’s aerial assault on the Down full-back line was paying dividends. Madden turned provider with a perfect pass which Galligan marked spectacularly to tie the game with 10 minutes to go.
Down had chances in the closing stages but registered some poor wides as Cavan kicked for home, McKiernan (free), Killian Clarke and Galligan all raising white flags.
Down pushed at the end and managed two more points but Cavan were smart in how they managed the clock and ran out winners by the minimum.
Cavan: Raymond Galligan, Jason McLoughlin, Padraig Faulkner (0-1), Luke Fortune, Gerard Smith, Ciaran Brady (0-1), Paul Graham, Killian Clarke (0-1), Killian Brady (0-1), Martin Reilly (1-0, pen), Gearoid McKiernan (0-3f), Oisin Kiernan, Oisin Pierson, Thomas Galligan (0-3, 1m), Stephen Smith (0-1f)
Subs: Chris Conroy for Graham (ht), Conor Madden (0-3) for Pierson (ht), Thomas Edward Donohoe for Smith (51), Cormac Timoney for K Brady (60), 24 for 7, Niall Murray for Reilly (69)
Down: Rory Burns, Peter Fegan, Patrick Murdock, Pierce Laverty, Gerard Collins, Kevin McKernan, Daniel Guinness, Caolán Mooney, Jonny Flynn, Barry O’Hagan, Paul Devlin (0-3, 2f), Conor Poland, Jerome Johnston (0-5, 1m), Donal O’Hare (0-4, 1f), Ceilium Doherty (1-0)
Subs: Sheelan Johnston (0-1) for Kerr (49 mins), Dylan Ward for Devlin (51), Corey Quinn for O’Hagan (57), Ryan Johnston for D Guinness (60), James Guinness for Poland (65)