Cavan die wondering as Darragh Canavan’s brilliance maintains Tyrone’s 41-year unbeaten run

Breffnimen come from eight down to force extra-time but fall short in the end

Darragh Canavan clenches his fist to celebrate a crucial score during his superb display that helped Tyrone edge past Cavan in extra-time. Picture: Mark Marlow
Darragh Canavan clenches his fist to celebrate a crucial score during his superb display that helped Tyrone edge past Cavan in extra-time. Picture: Mark Marlow
Ulster SFC quarter-final
Cavan 3-16 Tyrone 1-23 (after extra-time)

CAVAN’S 41-year wait for a championship victory over Tyrone goes on, and they’ll get few better chances than this.

Not that it seemed that way for the first 50 minutes. The Red Hands looked to be cruising into a semi-final at the expense of a home side that had been meek and standoffish.

Even when Padraig Hampsey was given a black card, Brian Dooher’s side kicked the next scores to lead by eight.

Then Padraig Faulkner lashed home a goal from close range. A minute later, Brian O’Connell won the first ball they’d won off Darragh Canavan all day. Cavan broke, Oisin Brady pointed and the concrete beneath old Breffni began to shake.

The sun stayed about to drench a larger-than-expected crowd of 9,952. They went home thoroughly entertained, capping a weekend that the Donegal side of the watching Jim McGuinness had lit fire to on Saturday evening.

Just taking in the 70 minutes of normal time, the footballers of Cavan and Tyrone (46 points) outscored the hurlers of Clare and Limerick (45 points).

But in the end, Tyrone deserved it.

They were 1-16 to 1-8 to the good and would have justified queries over the black card for Hampsey that turned the game.

He had, granted, been in Paddy Lynch’s ear all day. And was again when Lynch reacted. But the Crosserlough man turfed Ruairi Canavan over the body before Hampsey stepped in and the pair ended up wrestling on the turf.

Cavan scored 2-1 while he was off the pitch.

Even by that point, the introduction of James Smith was having an impact. Tyrone didn’t quite know what do with him on the edge of the square.

It wasn’t that he was wreaking havoc but they were concerned enough about his height that it started to draw men back towards him trying to protect Conall Devlin, and that created space in front.

Cavan had hit just 1-4 in the first half. Smith was brought on just before the break and then moved to full-forward on the restart. Raymond Galligan’s side added four points in the first seven minutes of the second half, before the black card, and would go on to score 2-10 in the second period.

Tyrone got out of it, with which they’ll be pleased. They got another masterful display out of Darragh Canavan, a really fine return to the side for Michael McKernan, moments from Darren McCurry and 70 solid minutes into Mattie Donnelly.

Even when Cavan came strong and hauled themselves level three times towards the end of normal time, Tyrone never fell behind.

That was crucial. Breffni had gone from a cot to a cauldron, and there was a very real danger that the visitors would slip under.

But as has been their way, somewhat worryingly, there was a serious degree of individual brilliance about their victory.

Darragh Canavan was immense. His movement, the speed with which his body would shift from left to right, to show, to dip in behind, the Cavan defence just could not deal with it.

They tried just about everyone. Brian O’Connell was chiefly tasked but they gave spells to Jason McLoughlin, Padraig Faulkner and Niall Carolan as well.

A word on Faulkner. If Cavan could breed a few more of him, they’d be alright. Playing at midfield, where they probably didn’t really want him to have to play, he was the one man in the first half that brought the level of physicality they badly needed to bring.

He’d break lines and bump off men and annoy them and Cavan just didn’t do enough of that for too long.

Cian Madden’s early goal was a bun to an elephant. Tyrone were already beginning to overwhelm them, led by Michael McKernan, who had two points and an assist inside ten minutes.

They’d quickly cancelled the goal and then Darren McCurry slipped in through the back door to make the key play in a debut goal for Liam Gray.

Cavan were giving them the kickout but, unlike against Monaghan, they weren’t getting away with it. Tyrone were working the ball in and punishing them.

It was 1-10 to 1-4 at the interval. On the calmest of sunny afternoons, there was very little for the home support to cling to at that point.

There were six of the ten black card minutes gone and six points in it when James Smith’s half-blocked shot spun nicely to allow Ciarán Brady to sneak in behind. He squared for Conor Brady who shovelled it to Faulkner, who closed his eyes and drove it at a sea of men on the line. It found a way in.

Mattie Donnelly makes a brilliant early block to deny Ciaran Brady. Picture: Mark Marlow
Mattie Donnelly makes a brilliant early block to deny Ciaran Brady. Picture: Mark Marlow (" ")

Four minutes later, Niall Morgan’s punch to clear Jason McLoughlin’s cross fell right in the lap of Niall Carolan. Eyes closed, head down, same result. Then Oisin Brady pointed and somehow, it was 3-10 to 1-16 and Cavan looked like they might win the thing.

Darragh Canavan was the flat Coke in the operation, settling the stomachs. Cathal McShane had done well to engineer a free on the first of the Errigal Ciaran dynamo’s two quick points.

But Cavan were in this now and as much as Tyrone shook their leg at them, Paddy Lynch’s couple of frees were the claws and teeth by which they allowed Brian O’Connell – who had a brilliant last 15 minutes of normal time – to pop up and fist an equaliser.

Twice in the previous 41 years, Cavan had snatched draws with Tyrone. This felt a whole lot like 2016, when it was 3-7 to 0-16 in the first game. This time, it ended 3-14 to 1-20, but instead of another day, they got another 20 minutes.

Tyrone got the first two scores, and held the aces from there. Cavan tried, God they tried, but they were chasing cars with tired legs. Tyrone’s bench brought freshness, with Lorcan McGarrity, Nathan McCarron, Michael O’Neill, Ben Cullen and Tiarnan Quinn all having small little impacts that added up.

And in the end, what it added up to was the same thing it has each time since 1983 – a Tyrone win over Cavan.

The home side had a half call for a penalty ignored on their last score under the new cynical foul rule, before creating one last chance.

With David Coldrick letting the clock run, Paddy Lynch passed up a half-opportunity to get the shot away. He passed the ball backwards. The final whistle blew.

Cavan died wondering.

Cavan: G O’Rourke; C Reilly, B O’Connell (0-2), L Fortune (0-1); K Brady (0-1), O Kiernan (Denn), Ciarán Brady, N Carolan (1-0); P Faulkner (1-0), Conor Brady; O Kiernan (C’rahan), G Smith (0-1), Cian Madden (1-1); P Lynch (0-5, 0-3 frees), O Brady (0-3)
Subs: J Smith for O Kiernan (Denn, 32), T Madden (0-2) for O Kiernan (C’rahan, HT), J McLoughlin for Fortune (HT), Cormac O’Reilly for C Madden (48), K Clarke for K Brady (65), C Rehill for Carolan (78), R Donohoe for Faulkner (79), T Noack-Hoffman for Ciarán Brady (82)
Tyrone: N Morgan; C Devlin, P Hampsey, M McKernan (0-3); K McGeary, M Donnelly (0-1), N Devlin (0-1); B Kennedy (0-1), A Donaghy; C Daly (0-1), S O’Donnell, L Gray (1-0); D McCurry (0-4, 0-2 frees), D Canavan (0-7, 0-3 frees), R Canavan (0-2)
Subs: B Cullen (0-1) for McGeary (53), J Oguz for Donaghy (60), M O’Neill for Gray (65), C McShane for R Canavan (57), L McGarrity for Kennedy (start of ET), T Quinn for McCurry (77), C Cush for D Canavan (82), N McCarron for C Devlin (86)
Referee: D Coldrick (Meath)
Attendance: 9,952