Cavan go down - but still go up!

NFL Division 3 Round 6

Antrim 1-17

Cavan 2-12

Paul Fitzpatrick at Corrigan Park

Cavan slipped to their first defeat of the campaign after coming out the wrong side of a helter skelter finale in this dramatic clash in Belfast – but the Blues are promoted regardless with one game to spare.

Fermanagh’s win over Westmeath means Cavan are certain to finish in the top two, regardless of the result against the Erne men in round seven.

Cavan trailed here by 10, 1-11 to 0-4, five minutes into the second half but summoned up a comeback to cut the gap to one, only for the home side to close it out with a point from the excellent Paddy McBride.

Cavan started slowly – for the third time in this league campaign, they conceded a goal in the first five minutes and they trailed for the remainder of the half, never looking comfortable – and got worse and it was only on the home stretch, as Antrim got jittery, that they showed the sort of urgency which has typified their play in the five earlier matches.

While Cavan were playing against the wind and found it tough to get to grips with the slippery underfoot conditions, a physical Antrim were very much up for the game and brought a level of intensity Cavan, perhaps understandably given the relative stakes for the two teams, were unable to match.

Cavan missed quite a few chances (four wides, three dropped short) in the opening 35 minutes too, taking the wrong option at times and executing poorly on other occasions, and luck went against them, with debutant Jack McKenna hitting the post and the crossbar.

By half-time, Antrim were leading 1-7 to 0-4, having kicked a succession of quality points and punished Cavan errors.

Sleepy defending saw Antrim create the opening chance which resulted in Ruairi McCann (Creggan) knocking over a free.

Cian Madden showed a deft feint to race in along the end-line and fist over the equaliser but even at this early stage, it was clear Antrim – who were beaten by 30 points last time out against Westmeath – were belying the pre-match predictions.

In the fourth minute, a high ball over the top from Eoghan McCabe eluded Padraig Faulkner and found full-forward Ruairi McCann (Naomh Mhuire), who gathered well and found the net.

Paddy Lynch fisted a point and Cian Madden, in a pocket of space, added another but the pacey Mark Jordan added another for Antrim, who combined running the ball with route one to McCann.

Dominic McEnhill pointed from the wing; Cavan’s Jack McKenna palmed inches over with a goal gaping and Antrim kicked on, Odhran Eastwood and McBride knocking over two well-taken points apiece to make it 1-7 to 0-4 at the break.

Cavan needed a fast start to the second half and manager Mickey Graham introduced James Smith and Gearoid McKiernan at the break but it was Andy McEntee’s men who took charge. Cavan weren’t able to handle McBride when he ran at them and his finishing was exemplary; he opened the second-half scoring, added another quality effort and when Eastwood registered, it was 1-10 to 0-4.

A high ball wasn’t dealt with and Patrick McCormack pounced to extend Antrim’s lead to 10 in the 40th minute. Cavan ended a 26-minute spell without a score when Ray Galligan sent over a 45 but Eastwood immediately cancelled that one out.

Cavan showed that some vital signs were still present when sub Conor Madden pointed off the left and Gearoid McKiernan converted a free but Seamus McGarry sent over at the other end after a good run from Peter Healy.

David Brady, who made an impact off the bench, broke down a long delivery for Cian Madden to leave it 1-13 to 0-8. Full-forward Ruairi McCann responded – and then, something suddenly changed.

Nearing the finish line, Antrim started to panic and, sensing it, Cavan went for it. McKiernan and Galligan (from the 45-metre line) landed frees, Conor Madden scored again and then landed a brilliant goal.

Lynch forced a turnover in defence, Tiarnan and Cian Madden combined and in a flash, Conor had won the ball, held off a defender and tucked away from 15 metres.

Cavan won the resulting kick-out and fit-again Conor Smith tore through for his first score since round one of the league last year.

McBride, subbed back on, hit two frees either side of a black card for Conor Moynagh. Cavan almost had a second goal but James Smith totally mishit his shot from what seemed an unmissable position at the back post.

Seconds later, though, clubmate Lynch did rattle the net. By now, it was mayhem but Antrim managed to get their hands on the ball a couple of times. Cavan seemed to have turned them over but the ref penalised them for a throw-ball, it was worked short and that man McBride knocked over the insurance score.

Cavan: Raymond Galligan (0-2, 45, 1f), Killian Brady, Padraig Faulkner, Conor Moynagh, Ciaran Brady, Cian Reilly, Tiarnan Madden, Jack McKenna (0-1), Killian Clarke, Gerard Smith, Cian Madden (0-3), Jonathan McCabe, Brandon Boylan, Paddy Lynch (1-1), Ryan O’Neill

Subs: Gearoid McKiernan (0-2f) for B Boylan, James Smith for K Brady (both ht), David Brady for J McKenna, Conor Madden (1-2) for R O’Neill (both 45), Conor Smith (0-1) for G Smith (63)

Antrim: Michael Byrne, Eoghan McCabe, Declan Lynch, James McAuley, Patrick McCormick (0-1), Joseph Finnegan, Marc Jordan (0-1), Colm McLarnon, Jack Dowling, Patrick Finnegan, Ruairi McCann (Creggan), Patrick McBride (0-5), Dominic McEnhill (0-1), Ruairi McCann (Aghagallon, 1-0), Odhran Eastwood (0-6, 2f)

Subs: Peter Healy for P Finnegan (52), Seamus McGarry (0-1) for P McBride (54), Barry McCormick for Joseph Finnegan (67), P McBride for D McEnhill (68)