Cavan come good to claim Division Three crown
Allianz Football League Division Three final: Fermanagh 1-7 Cavan 0-16
THERE was something about Cavan’s demeanour at the start of the second half that said they’d had enough. Trailing by a point, and lulled into a soul-sucking staring contest in the opening 35, a few home truths were required.
Sure, a second consecutive promotion was long since secured, the Breffnimen brilliant as they breezed to five straight wins, setting an early pace no-one else could match.
But after a passive first half performance in Croke Park followed back-to-back defeats against Antrim and Fermanagh at the close of the League campaign, the danger of completely killing momentum ahead of Championship suddenly felt very real.
They sensed it too.
Congratulations to Cavan! - 2023 Division 3 Allianz Football League Champions. pic.twitter.com/oqdsdRbb6H— The GAA (@officialgaa) April 1, 2023
A different side emerged from the break, the urgency so glaringly absent rediscovered as, after a monster score from James Smith set the tone, Cavan put the boot down to claim the Division Three crown.
“Coming off the back of two defeats, people were probably questioning the position we found ourselves in after the first five and wondering had we lost our edge, but it was a good response there from the lads,” said Breffni boss Mickey Graham, whose side face the winners of next weekend’s Ulster opener between Antrim and Armagh on April 22.
“A lot of it was forced on us with the injuries and knocks we had. We didn’t want to take a risk with a few players going into that last League game against Fermanagh - we decided to hold onto them for tonight and thankfully it paid off.”
Dara McVeety and Killian Clarke arrived and left Croke Park in moon boots, either side of giving 70-plus minutes to the Cavan cause. Clarke also played against the Ernemen six days earlier but, for McVeety, it was a first appearance since victory over Down a month ago.
Forward Paddy Lynch had been held in reserve last week but his clever movement offered a focal point, even when things weren’t quite clicking in the first half. If Cavan were forced to mix and match in recent weeks, this was a return to their strongest suit.
Lessons had been learnt too. Ultan Kelm was Fermanagh’s main man in a dramatic final quarter the previous weekend, but on Saturday night he was successfully kept under lock and key by the wily Padraig Faulkner.
When Kelm went inside, Faulkner was there. When second half sub Sean Quigley went into the square and the Erne Gaels man roamed out to the wing, the 2020 Allstar followed him there too.
With his threat nullified, Fermanagh sorely lacked any penetration, sespecially once Cavan also got to grips with Ryan Lyons after half-time.
“It’s a tough one for Ultan,” said Erne boss Kieran Donnelly, “he comes in there and he’s been built up.
“Look he’s been excellent for us all year and today he was well shackled, but it wasn’t from a lack of effort from Ultan. He kept showing and working hard, but that happens to a lot of players.”
Given how brave Fermanagh have been on the ball through the League, an overly cautious approach – perhaps influenced by the slippery conditions - proved costly in the end.
It wasn’t until the 22nd minute that they got their first score, with Lyons’s well-timed bursts from deep a feature of the first half. Cavan were hardly shooting the lights out either but frees from McKiernan and Lynch saw them seize the initiative, only for the Ernemen to grab a goal out of nowhere eight minutes before half-time.
With the Breffnimen caught dozing, a Johnny Cassidy pass unleashed Luke Flanagan. Darragh McGurn was screaming for the ball in the square, Cassidy’s pass just about escaped Killian Clarke’s clutches and McGurn left Clarke on the turf as he side-stepped the Shercock man before slotting past Ray Galligan.
When goalkeeper Sean McNally sent over a raking free from 48 metres just before the break, it was Fermanagh who had the edge - but Cavan were in no mood for messing when they ran out for the second half.
Greater aggression saw the turnover count go through the roof as Fermanagh found themselves penned in, and when Cavan started to speed up their attacks the Ernemen struggled to cope.
The dead ball expertise of Galligan eased them into the lead, a McVeety score putting the Breffnimen four ahead going into the final quarter.
Comebacks against Down and Antrim, even last weekend in Cavan, were foremost in minds as a brief purple patch saw Ryan Jones and Lyons close the gap to a point heading into the last 10, but this was when the Breffnimen really took the game by the scruff - Gearoid McKiernan and subs Conor Smith, Conor Brady and Conor Madden all popping over as Fermanagh failed to add to their tally.
A bad night at the office, and it doesn’t get any easier with former boss Rory Gallagher and his reigning Ulster kingpins Derry up in a fortnight’s time, yet the Ernemen leave this League campaign with so much good to take.
Cavan, meanwhile, can sit back and enjoy the action in Armagh next Saturday, knowing they will be ready when their time comes.
Cavan: R Galligan (0-4, 0-2 frees, 0-2 45s); K Clarke, P Faulkner, C Brady; D McVeety (0-1), N Carolan, C Madden; J McKenna, J Smith (0-1); G Smith, G McKiernan (0-2, 0-1 free), J McCabe; O Brady (0-2), P Lynch (0-3, 0-2 frees), R O'Neill (0-1). Subs: C Brady for McKenna (19), J McLoughlin for Carolan (HT), C Smith (0-1) for O'Neill (46), C Madden (0-1) for McKiernan (63), T Madden for McCabe (66)
Yellow cards: J McKenna (16), D McVeety (67)
Fermanagh: S McNally (0-1, free); L Cullen, J Cassidy; C McManus; L Flanagan, C Cullen, S McGullion, R McCaffrey; R Jones (0-1), B Horan; J Largo-Ellis, R Lyons (0-2, 0-2 frees), A Breen (0-1); U Kelm, D McGurn (1-0). Subs: S Quigley (0-1) for Breen (42), D McCusker for McManus (42), C McShea for Largo-Ellis (52), G Jones for McGurn (59), C McGee for Horan (70+2)
Referee: A Nolan (Wicklow)