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Cavan Gaels prove much too strong for Lamh Dhearg

Kevin Meehan (Cavan Gaels) and Ben Rice (Lamh Dhearg) during Sunday's AIB Ulster Club Senior Football Championship quarter-final at Kingspan Breffini Picture by Seamus Loughran
Neil Loughran at Kingspan Breffni

AIB Ulster Club Senior Football Championship quarter-final: Cavan Gaels (Cavan) 1-19 Lamh Dhearg (Antrim) 0-10

CAVAN Gaels became the first club from the county to win an Ulster championship game since 2008 with a demolition job on Lamh Dhearg at Kingspan Breffni yesterday.

The Hannahstown men came into the game having ended their long wait for an Antrim title two weeks ago but were brought crashing back to earth as the Cavan champions started like a steam train and didn’t let up until the men in white were but a dot in the distance.

Twelve points separated the sides at the final whistle and, had it not been for four top drawer saves from goalkeeper John Finucane, that gap would have been stretched to the point of embarrassment.

Robert Maloney-Derham set the tone with the opening score just 13 seconds in, and in that crucial opening quarter Lamh Dhearg just could not win a ball as the Gaels pushed forward and gobbled up everything going.

By the 17 minute mark they led 1-8 to 0-1, Maloney-Derham and Paul Graham lording it at midfield while the forward line of Paul O’Connor, Martin Dunne and Seanie Johnston – prompted by the evergreen Michael Lyng – were combining beautifully.

Indeed, it was captain Lyng who got the Cavan Gaels goal after a quarter of an hour, finishing off a superb move started by Maloney-Derham and involving Johnston and Dunne to leave the west Belfast men facing a huge uphill battle.

“We realised they would try and get off to a flyer, we suspected they thought that was a weakness we had, and as it turned out they got the start they wanted,” admitted Stephen Lynch, a member of the Lamh Dhearg management team.

“We didn’t have a gameplan to shut anybody down in particular, we just wanted to solidify our defence, hold it steady for a while and build from that but it didn’t materialise.

“Those guys were just too good for us today.”

It was the forward class of the Gaels ranks that made the real difference, with the impressive Johnston roving in and out of the inside line – one minute acting as playmaker, spraying inch-perfect balls over Lamh Dhearg heads, the next demonstrating his killer instinct by splitting the posts off either foot.

That said, life was also made far too easy for the Gaels, with 1-17 of their 1-19 tally coming from play.

Time and again they found acres of space in the final third – meat and drink for the likes of Lyng, Johnston and Dunne, who finished up with 1-12 between them, and could have had more but for the brilliance of Finucane.

“They’ve been there before,” said Gaels boss Jason O’Reilly of his elder statesmen.

“The young fellas haven’t, they’re new to it. They’re enjoying the experience, the older fellas who have been there have brought them along as well, but the young fellas there fear no-one and that’s the key to it.”

Having been overrun in those early exchanges, Lamh Dhearg pushed Domhnall Nugent up to the full-forward line and attempted to close the space around the centre.

And Nugent spurned a gilt-edged goal chance three minutes before half-time, lashing wide from eight yards out. Had he scored, the difference would have been cut to five points, but it was unlikely to have stopped the Cavan Gaels charge.

Indeed, by that stage the Breffni kingpins could – and should – have rattled the net four times, with Finucane denying Dunne and Kevin Meehan from close range either side of the crossbar denying Johnston.

Those opportunities all came before Lyng fisted home the game’s only major.

Despite trailing 1-11 to 0-5 at half-time, the Lamh Dhearg players were roared in and out of the dressing room by a vocal travelling support, and they responded with a much better showing after the break.

Paddy Cunningham’s free-taking was as reliable as we have come to expect and he kept the scoreboard ticking over, while Ryan Murray scored two superb late points to give the Hannahstown faithful something to shout about.

With one foot already in the semi-final, Cavan Gaels took their foot off the gas but still produced some fabulous football at times.

Finucane was forced into another save 41 minutes in when he smothered an O’Connor shot after the Gaels forward had been found on the edge of the square with a perfectly-weighted Johnston pass.

And Dunne showed his class by turning Michael Herron inside out before slotting over as the Cavan champions coasted across the finish line, a date with surprise package Derrygonnelly promising a stiffer challenge in a fortnight’s time.

“Both teams will be going into that game confident,” said former Cavan forward O’Reilly.

“I saw Derrygonnelly last night and they played very well, a lot of big fellas and they work hard. They’ve big men in the key positions and they’ve good scoring forwards.

“They’re probably a bit like ourselves, young and old in the team and they work well together.”

Cavan Gaels: C Flynn; L Fortune, N Murray, K Meehan (0-1); D Sexton, B Fortune (0-1), L Murphy (0-1); P Graham, R Maloney-Derham (0-2); N Smith, M Lyng (1-2), A Graham; P O’Connor, S Johnston (0-5, 0-1 free), M Dunne (0-6, 0-1 free).

Subs: D Meehan for A Graham (43), V Coyle for Smith (52), D Graham (0-1) for Lyng (57), K Donohoe for P Graham (57), S Higgins for K Meehan (59), J Fortune for Sexton (62)

Yellow card: P O’Connor (38)

Lamh Dhearg: J Finucane; P Mervyn, A McAufield, M McGarry; D Lynch, M Herron, B McComb; P Fitzsimons, D Nugent; E McKeown (0-1), C Flaherty, C Murray; P Cunningham (0-6, 0-5 frees), R Murray (0-3), K Quinn.

Subs: C Nolan for McGarry (34), B Rice for Nugent (46), G Slane for McComb (51), S Tully for McKeown (57)

Black card: P Fitzsimons replaced by P Larkin (42)

Referee: B Cassidy (Derry)

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