GAA Football

Cavan deliver early Christmas present by beating Donegal to end 23-year wait

Cavan's players celebrate at the final whistle after shocking Donegal in the Ulster SFC Final.
Picture Seamus Loughran
Kenny Archer at The Athletic Grounds

Ulster SFC Final: Cavan 1-13 Donegal (holders) 0-12

"WE'LL worry about the Dubs Tuesday."

'Conor Madden Football' is sure to be the most popular video game on every Cavan football fan's Christmas wish-list after the Gowna man delivered the perfect present for his long-suffering county.

Sure, there's an All-Ireland semi-final against all-conquering Dublin to 'look forward to' before then but Christmas came early to the Breffnimen thanks to Madden's goal in added time sealing a stunning – and fully-merited - victory over massive favourites Donegal.

The 'comeback kids' of this year's Ulster Championship came of age in style, ending a 23-year wait for senior success in the latest upset of this extraordinary year:

"I was three, a lot of the boys weren't even born in '97," commented Madden. "Those boys are folklore, no more than the teams of the Thirties, Forties, Fifties. We hadn't been dining at the top table these last few years. We wanted to get back there.

"I know it's a cliché but, genuinely, people in Cavan are absolutely football crazy. Doesn't matter who you meet, they either want to talk about your club or the county team.

"For us to put a smile on the faces of all those people sitting at home… They're not here but I imagine once we hit around Butlersbridge or the border there'll be a few bonfires."

Cavan completed the quadruple of matching the provincial winners of a century ago, on the weekend of the commemorations of 'Bloody Sunday' at Croke Park.

"It's an incredible thing to think that 100 years on it's the same four province winners. There was something maybe in the water today and the weekend that's in it, it's great to be part of that history," said Madden.

Manager Mickey Graham, the magician with the Midas touch, was understandably emotional in the immediate aftermath of this astonishing victory, with his county hit hard by Covid-19, and even a while later he still couldn't quite believe this result:

"I'm just waiting for someone to pinch me and say 'It's a dream, you have to go and play this match all again tomorrow.'"

"That spirit, I just can't emphasise enough, the spirit, the work ethic – they chased lost causes like no Cavan team I've seen doing for a long, long time. They deserve that – it's definitely the players' victory there today.

"I just have so much blue blood going through my veins. To do it with a bunch of your own men is special.

"Growing up, it was all about the Ulster Championship, people never passed much remarks on the League, it was always about Championship. Going to Omagh and Ballybofey, those were special days, and I'm glad these boys have experienced a special day."

Asked about the challenge of taking on the Dubs, Graham responded: "I'm looking forward to getting away, gathering my thoughts, and realising that this is after happening."

The anticipated Donegal completion of three-in-a-row seemed to be on course, but instead Cavan outscored them by 1-4 to one point over the final quarter.

"The score could have been a lot more favourable, but if you'd said to me before the game 'You're going to win by a point', I'd have taken hand and all off you," said Graham.

Again, he praised his players: "Credit to them, credit to them. Nobody gave them any credit… everybody wrote them off.

"Not one sinner gave them one piece of hope and they just went out and ripped up the script there. I hope people will now respect what they're after doing, because it's really special."

It certainly was. In this year of surprises, they're Cavan a laugh in the Breffni county at last.

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