MAY DAY, 1988 will be etched in the memory of Cavan's football fans when the Under-21 team made the breakthrough at provincial level at the expense of Antrim by 3-10 to 0-6 in the Ulster final at Pairc an Uir, Newry.
This success ended years of disappointment and frustration and was the fifth attempt in their efforts to succeed at this level in Ulster, having previously lost in 1965, 1969, 1977 and 1978. It was a triumph for the then team manager Paddy Maguire (Redhills) who despite the pessimism before the start of the competition, and in particular, when faced by the reigning All-Ireland champions Donegal in the opening round, he had faith in his team and as it turned out justifiably so.
There was no denying Cavan's rightful claims to the title. Antrim came into the game with a big reputation and as side to be treated with respect. In the opening minutes, Antrim looked threatening but once Cavan got two early goals in the opening quarter from Vincent Kelly and Dessie Brady from the penalty spot. These scores had a settling effect on the players and even at this early stage the title was destined to end up in the Breifne county. Fintan Cahill with then third goal merely emphasised Cavan's total dominance.
A number of Cavan players took the major share of the honours, notably Damian Reilly at full-back, Ronan Carolan at midfield and Vincent Kelly on the 40. Overall, there was hardly a weak link in the Cavan team from defence right up to the full-forward line.
The defence was solid with goalkeeper Jimmy Reilly secure. Daimen Reilly produced another top-class display at full-back with Brendan Sweeney providing good support. Pat Sharkey and John Donnellan made the biggest impact in the half-back line with good support from Shay Smith and David McDonnell.
Ronan Carolan produced a confident display since his switch to midfield while Michael Fegan also showed up well in the centre-field area and joined up with the attack whenever possible.
The attack, and in particular Vincent Kelly, and in the second-half Fintan Cahill, who between them scored 2-4 made the biggest impact. Good support came from Seamus Donohoe, Dessie Brady, Vivien Dowd and Francis Mooney.
The next challenge was against Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final at Pairc Sean MacDiarmada, Carrick-on-Shannon on the following Sunday.
The victorious Cavan team was; Jimmy Reilly; Shay Smith, Damien Reilly, Brendan Sweeney; John Donnellan, David McDonnell, Pat Sharkey; Ronan Carolan (0-3), Michael Fegan (0-1); Fintan Cahill (1-2), Vincent Kelly (1-2), Dessie Brady (1-0); Francis Mooney, Vivien Dowd (0-1), Seamus Donohoe (0-1).
Antrim -Brendan Devlin; Gerard Kelly, Pearse McCotter, James McQuillan; Stephen Lynn (0-1), John McAleese, Locky McCurdy; Ciaran O'Neill (0-1), Chris Murphy; Conal Heatley (0-3), Tim Connolly, Francis Scullion; John McElroy, Oran Gribben, Nigel Elliott (0-1). Sub, Sean Grieve for Chris Murphy.
Referee, Michael Cranney, Down.
There was little time for celebration as they prepared to face Connacht champions Galway in seven days time. The Western county had won their third consecutive provincial title when proving too strong for Roscommon. Galway had previously won the All-Ireland title in this grade in 1972, a year when they completed the hurling and football double.
The road to the glittering prize of an All-Ireland Under-21 title got a little nearer following this comprehensive win. Ninety five per cent of the 3,000 spectators were from Cavan and their trip was duly rewarded with a scintillating display of power-packed football, allied to a resurgence in the county's interest in this grade of football.
The game was almost beyond reach of Galway by half-time when they trailed by eight points at half-time. It became an impossible task when Cavan's only second attack minutes into the second-half, saw a shot from Dessie Brady slip through goalkeeper, Peter Smith's hands into the net for the coup-de-grace.
It could hardly be described as a contest in the true sense, as it was a one -sided exhibition such was the dominance which Cavan enjoyed. It was difficult to imagine a Galway side simply capitulating and from a team, which included eight survivors from the previous year's semi-final defeat by Kerry, and no less than twelve of the minor team which had won the All-Ireland title in 1986, making the majority of the team eligible for the U-2 grade again in 1989.
Cavan continued to grow in stature in the course of the competition and regardless of the flaws inherent in the opposition, the merits of Cavan's successive victories couldn't be lightly dismissed.
It is a remarkable statistic from the game that despite the Cavan forwards shooting twelve wides, eight in the first-half, as against three for Galway, Cavan were never in danger of defeat. Taking a 0-3 to 0-0 lead by the seventh minute the course was set for another victory.
Although Galway team captain and highly-rated midfielder John Joyce set his team on a brief offensive with two points in the space of a minute and Michael Tarpey and Norman Costello adding one point each to lead by 0-4 to 0-3 after thirteen minutes, their spell of dominance was short-lived and they failed to score again until eight minutes into the second-half, a gap of twenty five minutes before they got on target. However by that stage, Cavan were firmly in control.
Cavan relished the challenge and with Ronan Carolan and Michael Fegan doing well at midfield and Dessie Brady leading by example in attack it was the signal for a spate of scores from Cavan which yielded nine points in the remaining fifteen minutes of the half, and left Galway trailing by 0-12 to 0-4 at the interval.
During this onslaught the Cavan forwards were allowed acres of room and made the most of it, Ronan Carolan (three), Vivien Dowd (two) and one each from Vincent Kelly, Dessie Brady, Michael Fegan and Fintan Cahill piling on the misery for the Galway side.
Galway, with a slight breeze in their favour in the second-half, needed quick scores to retain any hope of a successful come-back. Unfortunately for them disaster struck after only two minutes when a speculative shot from Dessie Brady looked to be comfortably secure in the hands of goalkeeper Peter Smith but the Salthill man allowed the ball slip through his hands and into the net for a score which ensured Cavan's place in the final.
Galway battled back with a series of points from Thomas Kilcommons, Herman Costello, Tommy Finnerty and Diarmuid Leen to reduce the defecit to seven points entering the final quarter. Cavan were aroused from their slumbers to break a sixteen minute gap without a score, when a move involving Pat Sharkey, Dessie Brady and Seamus Donohoe saw the Lavey player shooting a point.
The only worrying aspect from Cavan's viewpoint at this stage was a fade-out for a brief period early in the second-half, but that could have been put down to a little relaxation as the players felt they had done more than enough to ensure victory.
There was hardly a weak link in the Cavan team, even if the players were not under any real pressure for much of the second-half. The defence was solid with Damian Reilly again outstanding at full-back and Pat Sharkey not far behind at left-half back. Goalkeeper Jimmy Reilly got little to do, thanks to a solid rearguard in which Shay Smith, John Donnellan, Brendan Sweeney and David McDonnell worked tremendously hard.
Michael Fegan and Ronan Carolan were effective at midfield, mainly in the first-half, Carolan finishing top scorer with six points, five from frees, his partner Michael Fegan completely blotted out the threat from Galway minor and team captain John Joyce.
Dessie Brady had his best game to date in the competition on the left wing of the attack, where he and Seamus Donohoe caused endless problems to the Galway defence. Fintan Cahill and Vivien Dowd along with Vincent Kelly worked solidly, while Francis Mooney featured on a wing which didn't see much of the ball.
There were those in the Galway camp who didn't feel all that confident about the outcome, given their mediocre displays in the Connacht championship and how right they were. For a team of such vast experience in this grade of football, it was a pretty poor effort.
The Galway defence had been regarded as competent going into the game, but apart from Seamus O'Rainne, Gerry O'Farrell and Alan Mullholland in defence, Michael Tarpey at midfield and Norman Costello and Diarmuid Leen in attack, it was a case of too few able to match a more determined Cavan side.
Cavan: Jimmy Reilly; Shay Smith, Damian O'Reilly, Brendan Sweeney; John Donnellan, David McDonnell, Pat Sharkey; Ronan Carolan (0-6, five frees), Michael Fagan (0-1); Fintan Cahill, Vincent Kelly, Dessie Brady(Capt) 1-1; Francis Mooney, Vivien Dowd (0-1), Seamus Donohoe (0-1). Sub. Cian Murtagh for Francis Mooney
Galway: Peter Smith; Bosco Walsh, Seamus O'Rainne, Gerry O'Farrell; Brian Silke, Alan Mulholland, Francis McWalter; John Joyce (0-2), Kevin Walsh; Norman Costello (0-2), Fergal O'Neill, Thomas Kilcommins (0-3, frees); Michael Tarpey (0-1), Diarmuid Leen (0-1), Tommy Finnerty (0-1). Subs. Enda Geraghty for Silke, Enda Hurley for Finnerty, Mark McDonagh for Walsh.
Referee, Carthage Conlon, Westmeath.
Offaly provided tough opposition in the All-Ireland final played in Pearse Park, Longford. Despite a battling performance by Cavan, the Leinster side emerged winners by 0-11 to 0-9.
This was the first appearance in an All-Ireland final by any Cavan team since the juniors bid for honours in 1962, and one had to go back to 1952 for the last time an All-Ireland title had come to the county when the seniors overcame Meath after a re-play.
There was literally only a kick of a ball between the teams and while Cavan missed the experience of the injured Ronan Carolan and were also forced to make a late change due to an injury to centre-half back David McDonnell the team battled bravely enough but in the final analysis had to give way to a much more physically superior side.
Cavan's lack of physical strength was apparent throughout but still enjoyed the best of the exchanges in the early stages and led by 0-2 to 0-0 after four minutes through Francis Mooney and Seamus Donohoe.
Offaly fought back and turned the defecit into a 0-4 t 0-2 lead. However Cavan regained the initiative and at half-time led by 0-8 to 0-5.
The game was in the balance at this stage but when Cavan extended their lead to three points through Dessie Brady and Michael Fegan, it seemed that the game was gradually turning in Cavan's favour.
Cavan had a let-off soon after when goalkeeper Jimmy Reilly saved a penalty from James Stewart. However Offaly kept up the pressure and enjoyed an inspired period shooting fur points in eight minutes and were never subsequently headed.
Cavan: Jimmy Reilly; Shay Smith, Damien O'Reilly, Brendan Sweeney; John Donnellan, Joe Brady, Pat Sharkey; Laurence Brady, Michael Fegan (0-2); Fintan Cahill (0-1), Seamus Donohoe (0-3), Dessie Brady (0-1); Vincent Kelly (0-1), Vivien Dowd, Francis Mooney (0-1). Sub. Cian Murtagh for Laurence Brady.
Offaly: Donal O'Neill; Padraig Moran, Garrett O'Brien,Tom Coffey; James Stewart, Aiden Bracken, Phil O'Reilly; Mark Plunkett (0-2), Ken Kelleghan; Gary Daly, Derek Claffey (0-2), Niall O'Shea (0-2); Michael Casey (0-1), James Mullen, Brendan Flynn (0-3). Subs. Ronan Scully (0-1) for Gary Daly, Pat Daly for Derek Claffey.
Referee, Tommy Sugrue, Kerry.
CAVAN had to wait eight years for another opportunity to claim their first All-Ireland Under-21 football title, having failed to Offaly in the 1988 final. Facing Kerry in an All-Ireland final is always a difficult task in whatever grade they are involved and this one in 1996 proved to be no exception.
Cavan humbled a strong Derry team in the Ulster final by 1-11 to 1-5 in Clones against a Derry side buoyed up by the success of St Patrick's Maghera at colleges' level and the strong track record of their minor and U-21 county teams in the nineties.
Cavan led by 0-7 to 0-2 at half-time but that lead was scant reward for their efforts. They almost paid the price when Derry got through for a goal in the eighth minute of the second-half from midfielder Mark Diamond to reduce Cavan's lead to three points.. But it was just the spur Cavan needed and Cavan went on to take control hlped by a goal from David McCann.
It took two games to decide who played Kerry in the All-Ireland final. Cavan met old rivals and near neighbours Meath in the All-Ireland semi-final in Hyde Park, Roscommon. Cavan looked to be on the way out of the competition when they trailed by a point as the game moved into injury-time. However a foul on sub Frankie Lovett in what proved to be Cavan's last attack led to the converted free by Roy Brennan two minutes into that additional time and ensured a replay.
Over 5,000 fans attended that game, the majority from the Breifne county.
Passion and pride in replay
There was a sense of pride and passion amidst the euphoria which surrounded Cavan's emphatic victory over the Royal county in the replay at Hyde Park.
If Cavan had been deemed fortunate to have scrambled a draw in the previous meeting, there was no doubt as to which was the better side on this occasion. While the first-half was scrappy and lacked quality football the tempo increased in the second period. Cavan looked much more confident and even the quick repost of a goal from Ollie Murphy to level the scores after twelve minutes -after Jason Reilly had found the net minutes earlier- failed to upset Cavan's momentum.
The vital scores in the closing minutes came from Anthony Forde, Dermot McCabe, Roy Brennan and Mickey Graham as Cavan stamped their authority on the exchanges.
Now it was Cavan and Kerry in the final, bring memories of famous clashes when the senior teams met in a number of All-Ireland finals in the thirties and forties.
Cavan battled to the end but in vain in a thrilling All-Ireland final at Semple Stadium, Thurles on Sunday 8th September before an attendance of 35,000.
In a gripping finish a point from Mickey Graham gave Cavan a one point lead with four minutes of normal time remaining, but then in the next eight minutes which included four minutes of injury time-Kerry took control, scoring five points without reply in the face of a tired Cavan team, who had fought bravely, but missed opportunities at critical stages. In the end it was a case of so near and yet so far.
Cavan led by 1-6 to 1-5 at half-time, Cavan's goal coming from Jason Reilly. Just as Cavan fans were celebrating a six point advantage at the end of the half, Kerry hit back with a point from Mark McGauran in the 27th minute followed by another from Michael Francis Russell. Then right on the 30th minute mark a free by Dara O'Cinneide went high into the square, and as brothers Michael and Peter Reilly collided as each went for the ball, John Brennan got possession and shot through a crowd of players to the Cavan net.
This was a shattering blow to Cavan and the opening minutes of the second-half belonged to Kerry as they set about eliminating Cavan's slender lead. After Dara O'Cinneide levelled the scores, Liam Hassett gave the Kingdom side the lead.
Cavan wasted a number of chances which would prove to be the turning point. Roy Brennan and Larry Reilly with points levelled the scores again after thirteen minutes. Kerry's ability to respond to any type of pressure saw them come back with points from John Brennan, Dara O'Se and James O'Shea for a 1-11 to 1-8 lead with ten minutes remaining.
If Cavan heads were low at this stage then Mickey Graham's goal thirty seconds later lifted spirits.
The teams were tied again before Michael Francis Russell pointed but the game was still in the melting pot as Roy Brennan's free levelled the scores again and eight minutes remaining of normal time.
A Cavan win still looked on the cards when Mickey Graham fisted a point but Dara O'Cinneide scored at the other end. Russell shot the lead point for Kerry at the end of normal time, and there was time for Eamonn Fitzmaurice to score in injury time.
Cavan trailed by two points but Willie Kirby and Liam Hassett punished a tired Cavan defence with a point each as four minutes of injury time was completed. It was a disappoint end to Cavan's title hopes, where at one stage victory looked a distinct possibility with a draw the next best outcome. However those injury time scores were cruel blows.
Cavan: Aaron Donohoe; Paul Murphy, Michael Reilly, Conor McCarey; Paul Brady, Peter Reilly, Mark McGauran (0-1); Dermot McCabe (0-3), Terry Farrelly; David Fegan, Roy Brennan (0-2), Anthony Forde; Jason Reilly (1-1), Larry Reilly (0-2), Mickey Graham (1-1). Sub. Brian Mulvany for David Fegan
Kerry: Diarmuid Murphy; Kieran O'Driscoll, Brian McCarthy, Morgan O'Shea; Kieran Burns, Chris Drummond, Eamonn Fitzmaurice (0-1); Dara O'Se (0-2), Willie Kirby (0-1); Denis O'Dwyer (0-1), Liam Hassett (0-2), Dara O'Cinneide (0-3); James O'Shea (0-1), Brian Clarke (0-1), M. F. Russell (0-3). Subs. John Brennan (1-2) for Brian Clarke, Rory O'Rahilly for John Brennan.
Referee, Pat Casserly, Westmeath.
Having overcome Tyrone in a tremendous performance in the Ulster final, Cavan had just three days before taking on Wexford in the semi-final at Parnell Park. They showed some signs of fatigue early on but finished strongly to continue their 100% record in U21 All Ireland semi-finals.
The Breffnimen took control in the second half to set up a final date with Galway.
They started brightly with Niall McDermott and wing back Michael Brady posting early scores, but a brace of Conor Carty points and a long-range free from midfielder Michael O'Regan had Wexford ahead coming up to half-time. However, Barry Reilly replied with a free to leave the sides level on 0-4 apiece at the break.
McDermott struck for the only goal three minutes after the restart, only for Wexford to hit back with two Carty frees which left the minimum in it. But with Packie Leddy to the fore, Cavan put in a strong final quarter which yielded match-winning points from Gearoid McKiernan and Jack Brady (three).
Scorers - Cavan: N McDermott 1-2, J Brady 0-3 (1f), B Reilly 0-2 (2f), G McKernan, N Smith, M Brady 0-1 each. Wexford: C Carty 0-5 (3f), M O'Regan (f), K Kehoe, D Murphy 0-1 each.
Cavan: A O'Mara; F Flanagan, O Minagh, D Tighe; K Meehan, D Barkey, M Brady; G McKiernan, M Leddy; N Smith, N Murray, B Reilly; J Brady, N McDermott, P Leddy. Subs: P King for M Leddy, T Mooney for M Brady, C McClarey for Smith, K Tierney for Reilly, C Smith for P Leddy
Wexford: R Farrell; M Furlong, S Gaule, J Breen; D Butler, J Leacy, C Carty; M O'Hanlon, M O'Regan; L McGovern, E Kent, P Kelly; K O'Grady, K Kehoe, B Halpin. Subs: D Murphy for Halpin, J Boggan for Kelly, B O'Gorman for Kent
Referee: P O'Sullivan (Kerry).