Report: Cavan end 23-year wait for dramatic win
at the Athletic Grounds
Cavan ended a 23-year wait for the Ulster SFC title with an extraordinary performance full of heart, determination and no little class to topple red hot favourites Donegal.
The two-time defending champions were unbackable favourites pre-match but Cavan were the better side and thoroughly deserved their win, overcoming some debatable refereeing decisions into the mix.
At half-time, Cavan were two in arrears, 0-9 to 0-7, having played against a slight wind.
In the second half, they kicked on. They led by the minimum at the second water break and a goal from Conor Madden late on put the seal on a magnificent performance and result.
The official Man of the Match award went to Thomas Galligan, one hero among a team of them.
The Blues started superbly and were 0-5 to 0-2 in front after 10 minutes.
After a good move, James Smith opened the scoring; Cavan kicked two wides before Peadar Mogan levelled it up.
Donegal pressed high on the resulting kick-out but Cavan netminder Ray Galligan went long, his cousin Thomas fielded and found Oisin Kiernan who kicked the next.
Wing-back Gerry Smith landed the next from the right wing after good work from Martin Reilly and after Conor Smith won the ball well, Ciaran Brady drove another over to make it 0-4 to 0-1 with seven and a half minutes played.
The otherwise-subdued Michael Murphy replied for Donegal but Cavan edged in front again when Kiernan sent a long ball to Thomas Galligan, who fed Conor Madden – on as a blood sub – for his first.
Cavan then suffered the misfortune of losing Killian Brady to a black card which looked very harsh and Donegal took over while they had the numerical advantage.
Two points for Paddy McBrearty, one for Niall O’Donnell and one for Ryan McHugh saw Declan Bonner’s men hit the front. They were beginning to dominate on kick-outs in this spell and although the brilliant Jason McLoughlin pointed off the left, O’Donnell and Michael Langan kicked two more to make it 0-9 to 0-6.
Crucially, though, that was the most Donegal led by. Thomas Galligan won a throw-up and was fouled – he needed to go off for treatment – and Gearoid McKiernan sent over the resulting free to leave it 0-9 to 0-7 at the break.
Donegal drew first blood on the resumption with a McBrearty free but Cavan were hunting in packs, defending like men possessed and using the ball well. A long ball to Thomas Galligan saw him point before Ciaran Brady picked James Smith out for a goal chance which he sent narrowly wide.
Smith, though, added the next when he drove at the Donegal defence and split the posts and the sense began to grow: Cavan were not going away and, if anything, were growing in belief.
McBrearty converted another free but Ciaran Brady picked out Madden and he sent over another to leave it 0-11 to 0-10 at the water break.
Cavan have finished every match strongly and with 10 minutes remaining, Killian Clarke broke the line, Martin Reilly played a one-two with James Smith and the Killygarry veteran tied it at 0-11 apiece.
From the resulting turnover, Cavan forced Donegal to over-carry; the ball was delivered towards Reilly, who was fouled, and McKiernan converted.
Caolan McGonigle sent over a super score to leave it with seven minutes of normal time remaining but Cavan hit the front again when Oisin Kiernan curled in an outrageous score from the left wing.
Cavan had another goal chance but Patton saved smartly from Reilly. Cavan had two wides as they pressed; cool heads were needed and Thomas Galligan came up with a huge mark.
And then came the score that defined the game. McKiernan delivered a long high ball to the Donegal square, Patton got a hand to it but Madden was in the right place at the right time to smash to the net.
And history was made.
Cavan: R Galligan; J McLoughlin (0-01), P Faulkner, L Fortune; G Smith (0-01), K Clarke, C Brady (0-01); J Smith (0-02), K Brady; M Reilly (0-01), G McKiernan (0-02, 2f), O Kiernan (0-02); C Conroy, T Galligan (0-01), C Smith.
Subs: C Madden (1-02) for C Smith (blood 7-15), for T Galligan (blood 27-33), for C Smith (35+1), N Murray for Conroy (56), C Smith for Reilly (73)
Donegal: S Patton; E Ban Gallagher, N McGee, B McCole; R McHugh (0-01), P Brennan, P Mogan (0-01); H McFadden, C McGonagle (0-02); E McHugh, N O’Donnell (0-02), M Langan (0-01); P McBrearty (0-04, 2f), M Murphy (0-01), J Brennan
Subs: A McClean for P Brennan (45), D O Baoill for E McHugh (56), C Thompson for McBrearty (58), J McGee for O’Donnell