Cavan minors cruelly beaten on the finish line

Ulster Minor Football Championship Quarter final

Damien Donohoe

In Kingspan Breffni

Cavan exited this year’s Ulster minor football championship in heart breaking fashion as three injury-time points from Donegal snatch victory from the jaws of defeat on Saturday evening last.

When Ben Tully’s goal went into the back of the Donegal net six minutes from the end, Cavan led by six and looked to be heading back to the semi-final for the second year in a row.

In the early exchanges Donegal adopted a very defensive approach which led to neither side scoring until the ninth minute when Donegal wing back Finbar Roarty raised a white flag. Again Donegal retreated forcing Cavan to keep the ball or try a shot from outside the scoring zone until an incisive Joshua Shehu run into the scoring zone set up Darragh Noonan for a shot and point on the 13th minute.

The war of attrition continued long into the first half as it was the 19th minute before the third score of the game arrived.

Donegal wing forward Jack Hegarty gave them the lead with a well taken point on his left foot but the game remained cagey and Cavan became a little impatient when trying to break down the Donegal defence.

With six minutes remaining in the half the visitors doubled their lead with a long range point as full forward Conor McCahill landed a beauty with the outside of his right boot. Another Finbar Roarty run cut open the Cavan defence as he made the space to set up Lorcan McGee for the first of his three points.

On the 28th minute after Cavan registered their fourth wide of the half McGee cut in from the left sideline to hook over another point as Donegal created an overlap at the edge of Cavan’s scoring zone. Cavan finding themselves behind by four in first half injury time and playing into the wind in the second half needed to stop Donegal’s momentum. Dylan Edwards took the bull by the horns and drove into the Donegal defense to win a free which Ben O’Hara converted just before the short whistle sounded.

Cavan wasted no time in getting about their task of reeling in Donegal’s lead. Half-time Cavan sub Andrew Hill placed the ball on Joshua Shehu’s chest and with almost no room to get the shot away Shehu’s snapshot went straight over the bar.

Cavan pressed high on the resulting Donegal kick-out and were rewarded when they won the ball and worked it to an Éanna Ward point. With the gap back to one and momentum in Cavan favour the boys in blue went to the kill. Mid-fielder Ben Tully broke into the scoring zone and was taken down with the free converted by half-time sub-Jake Whyte.

With the sides level after just three minutes of the second half Ben Tully gave Cavan lead for the first time when he sent over a brilliant point on his left foot. That completed the comeback with a fourth Cavan point in four second half minutes.

Donegal now looking nervy hit a run of wides as the pressure of being behind appeared to be affect their decision making. They did manage to draw level on the ninth minute of the half through a Luke Clerkin point after good set up play again by Roarty.

Mid way through the second half the energetic livewire Shehu broke through on goal but was denied by a Pádraig McBride save. Cavan’s Andrew Hill should have been awarded a free two minutes later as he was blocked from gathering the ball but the foul went unnoticed by referee Diarmuid Boylan.

By this stage Donegal had registered six second half wides but crucially Lorcan McGee’s point with 12 minutes to go broke the cycle of missed chances and edged them back in front.

Cavan made their dash for the finish line a minute later when Dylan Edwards played a one two with Jake Whyte before hitting the back of the Donegal net.

Cavan now up by two extended the lead to three thanks to another impact from the bench in form of a Jamie Clarke point. Seanie Smith’s side looking the better side at this juncture were given a boost of luck when a free from the 45 by Ben Tully caught out the Donegal keeper as he allowed it to go over his head and into the back of the net giving Cavan a six-point lead with as many minutes remaining.

A point from the left foot of Donegal sub Danny Brown gave the would-be winners the impetus to play like they’d nothing to lose in the final six minutes. With a minute of ordinary time remaining Bell denied McCahill a goal but was unable to stop Oisin Scanlan’s follow up shot which left two points between the sides.

A minute into injury time Brown added a second to his tally and piled the pressure in Cavan with Donegal’s third score in the bounce. Momentum was well and truly with this years Ulster minor league winners when they won the next Cavan kick-out and centre back Darragh Hennigan sent over the equalizing score.

Coming into the game Donegal’s star forward was Shane Callaghan but the Cavan captain Aaron Shekleton had nullified his influence brilliantly. Unfortunately for Cavan Callaghan’s character came through as he made a burst to gathered the ball just inside the Cavan 45 and with a couple of solos towards the sideline he found enough space to swing his left foot and send the ball over the bar and Donegal through to the semi-final.

The final whistle sounded soon after ending Cavan’s quest for a first Ulster minor title since 2011.

The championships new format meant Cavan played four games, winning two comfortable and losing two by a single point to Tyrone and Donegal as both those side progress to the semi-final to face Monaghan and Tyrone.

Cavan team: Liam Bell, Philip Shannon, Jensen Tynan, Fiachra Brady, Luke Allison, Cormac McAvinney, Aaron Shekleton(Capt), Ben Tully(1f-1), Éanna Ward(0-1), Joshua Shehu(0-1), Ryan Nwaneri, Dylan Edwards(1-0), Odhran Madden, Ben O’Hara(0-1f), Darragh Noonan(0-1). Subs: Andrew Hill for O Madden, Jake Whyte(0-1f) for B O’Hara, Arijus Metlovas for R Nwaneri, Jamie Clarke(0-1) for D Noonan.

Donegal team: Pádraig McBride, Donal Gallagher, Jordi Gribben, Callum McCrea, Finbar Roarty(0-1), Darragh Hennigan(0-1), Luke Clerkin(0-1), Oisín Scanlan(1-0), Lorcan McGee(0-3), Jack Hegarty(0-1), Shane Callaghan(0-1), Eoghan Scott, Dylan Mulholland, Conor McCahill(0-1), Eoin Gallagher. Subs: Danny Brown(0-2) for D Mulholland, Shane Ellison for E Gallgher, Ronan Maher for E Scott.