From the archive: O'Reilly saves Cavan in '92
From the archive
“Sunday next is the day of reckoning for the Cavan senior fooball team when they meet Donegal in the first round of the Ulster Senior Championship at Breffni Park,” opened the preview in the Anglo-Celt on May 18, 1992.
“A crowd of over 12,000 is expected with the bulk of the fans from Cavan. They will be anticipating a reversal of the form which has resulted in three consecutive Donegal victories since 1989.
“While Cavan’s tradition in Ulster may be a fading memory, there is still pride and devotion to the blue jersey and the twin aims of a win at the first hurdle and eventual claim to the title are legitimate objectives.”
Cavan had endured a lean time but hopes were high going into the match that “victory over Donegal could be the detonator for a big comeback.”
“Breffni Park will be under the glare of the national media when both BBC television and RTE will be relaying the game. Cavan county board has undertaken a number of improvements at the grounds and with the acquisition of additional turnstiles, this will make access to the grounds much easier.”
Cavan had played eventual champions Derry in the National League quarter-final and Down in the McKenna Cup final and although the Breffni men had lost both, a win over the Mourne men, defending All-Ireland champions, in a challenge game provided a confidence boost, as did Damien O’Reilly, Stephen King and Bernard Morris overcoming injury scares.
Donegal had been in the three previous Ulster finals, beating Armagh by a point in the 1990 decider and losing to Tyrone in a replay in 1989 and were a force to be reckoned with.
However, as per the norm, Cavan supporters were anticipating a return to the glory days. “The build-up to this game has been as exciting and tension-filled as if it were an Ulster final,” noted the Celt.
Said Cavan manager Eamon Curley: “We don’t have a big squad of players and we cannot afford to have may injuries. Our hope would be to take Donegal at home and then we would have a realistic chance of reaching the final.”
His opposite number, Brian McEniff, was expecting a stern test: “We have trained harder for this game than we have ever trained before.. People expect us to win against Cavan but it is not as simple as that. We are not looking beyond the Cavan game.”
As for the national press, opinion was split.
The headline on Donal Keenan’s preview in the Irish Independent, on the eve of the match, read simply “Cavan to beat bogey”.
“Cavan’s ambition to prevent a Donegal four-timer will ensure that this develops into a tremendous battle,” reckoned Raymond Smith in the Sunday Independent.
“Donegal’s fans last year were convinced that they would not alone win Ulster but go all the way to the All-Ireland final,” he wrote.
“It got to the team. This year they have a far different attitude. The incentive for them is that if they get over this obstacle, the Ulster final beckons as they should be capable of disposing of Antrim or Fermanagh.”
In the Irish Press, Peadar O’Brien cast doubts on whether Cavan could “absorb the championship pressure that will cloud Breffni Park” and tipped Donegal to “ease through”.
In the end, the predictions of an Ulster Championship classic proved correct as the teams served up a thrilling 1-15 apiece draw in sunny conditions.
“The uncertainty and tensions of an Ulster Championship match were very much in evidence when this titanic first round clash ended in a dramatic draw with the game well into injury time,” reported the Celt.
”Cavan’s chances of remaining in the competition looked hopeless as Donegal held a one-point lead with one minute of normal time remaining.
“As referee Jim Curran (Tyrone) played additional time for injuries and stoppages, Cavan’s cause looked a forlorn one. Then into the breach stepped centre half-forward Damien O’Reilly, who had been a doubtful starter with a knee injury. He scored a point with an almost impossible angle from on the left-hand side of the post when he drew on the ball and miraculously curled over the bar for the equaliser in the 71st minute.
“There was more drama to come as Martin McHugh edged Donegal in front one minute later. But there was still time for Cavan to save the game as O’Reilly once again showed his versatility ad coolness under pressure when he shot the equalising score three minutes into injury time.
Cavan were ahead by 1-4 to 0-4 after 20 minutes, with Fintan Cahill bagging 1-2 of that.
“Cahill wasn’t far behind Man of the Match Damien O’Reilly for his ability and fleetness of foot which had the Donegal defence in tatters every time he gained possession.”
McHugh and Cahill traded points early (Cahill’s was a “banana shot”, reckoned the Celt, who likened it to a shot from Pele!) before Cahill latched on to a pass from Stephen King and found the net.
By 23 minutes, it was 1-6 to 0-4 but McHugh set Tony Boyle up for a goal a Donegal were back in it.
Another point from Boyle and further scores from Barry Cunningham, Tommy Ryan and Joyce McMullen, with Ronan Carolan and Cahill on the mark at the other end, levelled it at 1-8 each at the short whistle.
Tommy Ryan, playing well, pointed on the resumption but two points from Ronan Carolan and one from Michael Fegan saw Cavan lead by two entering the final quarter.
McHugh, Boyle and Carolan all registered before Noel Hegarty came up from corner-back to level the scores again and, with a minute to go, Boyle kicked what looked like the winner.
Then came the late drama, O’Reilly’s never-to-be-forgotten volley (“Breffni comes alive again!” exclaimed Adrian Logan on the commentary), McHugh’s 55-metre free and then Cavan captain O’Reilly’s equaliser with the final kick.
Asked after he game about the “magic moment which will go down in GAA folklore”, O’Reilly said: “I remember the ball was going wide and it bounced up high. I was in front of my marker and the first thing I thought of was that it was going to go out over the line. I saw my chance and pulled on it. It was a magic moment it see it going between the posts, I was lucky but they all count.”
Cavan chairman Peter Brady opined: “It has put Cavan football back where it should be and we showed we can play football at a high standard and that the guts and heart is in the team to come back.”
“Donegal were hit hard in the first 20 minutes which left us with a psychological advantage,” said Cahill.
“Donegal are a very good team and they held their heads and put in a tremendous performance.
“Cavan have always had problems with the second half down through the years and we proved in injury time that we are capable of keeping our cool and getting the scores that matter.”
Donal Reid, who came on for Donegal, said: “Either team could have won it but I would say that both teams are happy that they are still there. It was a tough game and there was no place for the weary of heart. It was a good game and very enjoyable to play in.”
Unfortunately for Cavan, Donegal would run out comfortable winners in the replay in Ballybofey a week later but they had some consolation when the Tír Chonnail men went on to win the Anglo-Celt Cup and, for the first time, the Sam Maguire.
Cavan: B McCormack; A Watters, G Sheridan, J Donnellan; P Smith, B Morris, J Reilly; S King (0-1), V Dowd (0-1); C Brady, D O’Reilly (0-3), R Carolan (0-5); J Brady, F Cahill (1-4), M Fegan (0-1)
Subs: P Faulkner (for B Morris), S Gannon (for J Brady).
Donegal: G Walsh; J Cunningham, P Carr, M Gallagher; N Hegarty (0-1), M Gavigan, M Shovlin; A Molloy, B Cunningham (0-1); D Bonner, T Ryan (0-3), J McMullan (0-2); M McHugh (0-5), T Boyle (1-3), M Boyle
Subs: D. Reid (for P Carr), M Gallagher (for M Boyle), C Mulgrew (For D Bonner)
Main pic: The Cavan team who drew with Donegal in the first round of the 1992 Ulster SFC. Front (from left): Aidan Watters, John Brady, Fintan Cahill, Damien O’Reilly, Stephen King, John Donnellan, Philip Smith. Back: Bernard Morris, Gerry Sheridan, Michael Fegan, Vivian Dowd, Brendan McCormack, Ronan Carolan, Jim Reilly, Ciaran Brady.