Mickey Graham pleased with his players' display today.

Classy second half sees Cavan ease past Antrim

Ulster Senior Football Championship QF

Cavan 1-20

Antrim 0-10

Cavan hit 1-13 in the second half as they eased into the Ulster semi-final against a disappointing Antrim, writes Paul Fitzpatrick at Corrigan Park.

After the disappointment of the narrow U20 final defeat last night, this win provided a great tonic for supporters as Cavan delivered an excellent second-half performance. Having misfired in the first, they really put Antrim to the sword with a display of mature, aggressive football which sets Cavan up well for an Ulster assault.

While the furore over the venue some weeks back threatened to add some spice to this game, in the end, Cavan proved vastly superior and won pulling up against an Antrim side who have endured a sharp decline since the early rounds of the National League.

The winners came into this one as favourites but mired in uncertainty, too. Mickey Graham’s side won this championship from the preliminary round in the 2020 winter lockdown but have been tumbling down the divisions in the league, a classic Breffni boom to bust state of affairs.

Results in Division 4 this year – seven wins from eight, including the final – was solid but performances were unconvincing and despite their eight most experienced starters averaging over 90 senior appearances, doubts persisted coming in.

By half-time, nothing had changed in that regard but by full-time, everything had as Cavan racked up their joint highest Ulster SFC tally since 1968, easing into the semi-final with their best performance of the season.

Cavan completely dominated the first 15 minutes but registered just one point, from wing-forward Gerry Smith, from their first seven shots, with Antrim goalkeeper Michael Byrne smothering an effort on goal from Cormac O’Reilly.

James Smith, lining out close to goal, fired over Cavan’s second and after a high tackle on Luke Fortune, Gearoid McKiernan tacked on a free to make it 0-3 to 0-0. A very strong, swirling cross-field wind was making things very difficult for both attacks, with 20 wides in total.

The missed chances continued to rack up for the visitors, Paddy Lynch hitting the upright, before Antrim belatedly opened their account with a great strike from Ryan Murray in the 24th minute.

In the 10 minutes before half-time, things opened up. Lynch, who bagged 4-26 in his maiden full league campaign, knocked over two frees either side of a Dermot McAleese point from play.

By now, Antrim were sensing some vulnerabilities and growing in confidence, registering back to back points for the first time through Conor Stewart and veteran midfielder Michael McCann.

A strong break from Gearoid McKiernan created an opening for Cormac O’Reilly to fire over but it was tit for tat at this stage as Antrim responded through Paddy McAleer.

A mark from Man of the Match Lynch was cancelled out by a terrific score from Ryan Murray, the home side’s best player on the day, to leave the minimum between them at the interval and when Conor Murray converted a free on the resumption, the sides were level.

But, assisted by the wind, Cavan responded in style. Their middle eight controlled proceedings, with Killian Clarke, Gerry Smith and Conor Moynagh to the fore and Antrim were soon scrambling to stay in the game.

Two from Gerry Smith, who was excellent, and one from James Smith, operating between full-forward and midfield, afforded the away side some breathing space and a Lynch free put four between them for the first time with 25 minutes remaining.

Kevin Small and Ray Galligan (50-metre free) traded scores but Antrim were out of ideas, and gas, as Cavan accelerated away.

A well-taken goal from McKiernan with 10 minutes on the clock and a beauty from Lynch from the sideline helped the Breffni men over the finish line, with Ciaran Brady coming off the bench for his first appearance since sustaining a cruciate ligament injury 12 months ago.

Graham’s Ulster record now reads played 10, won seven, drew one, lost two – but bigger challenges await as he seeks a third Ulster final in four years.

Cavan: R Galligan (0-1f), J McLoughlin (0-1), P Faulkner (0-1), Killian Brady, L Fortune, K Clarke, Conor Brady, T Galligan, J Smith (0-1), G Smith (0-3), G McKiernan (1-2, 1f), C Moynagh, Cormac O’Reilly (0-1), P Lynch (0-8, 5f, 1m), Cian Madden

Subs: C Conroy for K Brady (55 mins), M Reilly (0-2) for Cormac O’Reilly (57), Caoimhin O’Reilly for Madden (64), Ciaran Brady for Conor Brady (67), R O’Neill for Lynch (69)

Antrim: M Byrne, E McCabe, P Healy, C Stewart (0-1), P McAleer (0-1), J Laverty, D McAleese (0-1), K Small (0-1), M McCann (0-1), R Murray (0-3), M Jordan, R McCann, O Eastwood, C Murray (0-1f), T McCann

Subs: Jamie Gribbon (0-1) for R McCann (13 mins), Patrick McBride for Eastwood (ht), Declan Lynch for T McCann (ht), P McCormick for McCabe (63), B McCormick for Laverty (63)

Ref: J Henry (Mayo)