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Cavan hold off Antrim in Breffni dogfight to book Ulster SFC semi-final spot

Mickey Graham’s men didn’t quite hit the heights of last weekend – but it’s a case of job done.

Cavan's Gearoid McKiernan and Declan Lynch of Antrim.
Cavan's Gearoid McKiernan and Declan Lynch of Antrim.
Image: ©INPHO

Cavan 0-13

Antrim 0-9

IT WAS A game of two halves, and by no means pretty, but Cavan booked their Ulster SFC semi-final spot with a four-point win over Antrim at Kingspan Breffni Park this afternoon.

A dogfight from start to finish, Mickey Graham’s men shook off first-half frustration and three black cards to see off a brave and stubborn Antrim challenge, which means they’ll face either Down or Fermanagh in the last four next weekend. 

Solid centre-half back Ciaran Brady led the way for Cavan while Gearóid McKiernan stepped up with several big kicks in the second half to steer the Breffni on, though Lenny Harbison’s Division 4 outfit Antrim pushed them each and every step of the way.

After their huge win over Monaghan last weekend, the Cavan team lined out similarly, though without Crosserlough star midfielder James Smith who was ruled out through injury. Ballinagh’s Cormac Timoney started in his place.

The big pre-match news for the Saffron was veteran forward Paddy Cunningham’s return to championship football after stepping away in 2014, and the 35-year-old showed his class in the first half with two excellent scores off his left boot.

Although Cavan started brightly and went 0-2 to 0-0 up — the scores coming from Stephen Smith and Oisin Kiernan — with five minutes on the clock after enjoying the lion-share of possession, Antrim soon found their groove and turned their defensive game into an offensive one. 

Dermot McAleese got them up and running with an excellent outside-of-the-boot effort, before Cunningham grabbed his first from a free. At the other end, Cavan struggled before the posts — kicking five wides and three into the assured Oisin Kerr’s hands, in all, in the first half — as Antrim set up well and frustrated the hosts.

While Patrick McCann was influential in Harbison’s forward line, the equally impressive Michael McCann and Brady exchanged scores at either end. Basic mistakes were costly for both sides, but Antrim clawed on top as they kept McKiernan quiet early on.

A Conor Murray mark had Antrim 0-4 to 0-3 up at the water break, before Cunningham stepped up once again with a beauty shortly after. After a disappointing spell, Timoney landed Cavan’s first score in 10 minutes after a turnover.

But Kevin Quinn restored Antrim’s two-point lead after a patient build-up through some scrappy proceedings. There was plenty of drama as half time approached, but Brady reduced the Cavan deficit to one off the back of confusion at Raymond Galligan’s goal, before the Breffni were reduced to 14 men as the whistle went. 

Defender Killian Brady was shown a black card for needlessly pulling McBride down after some off-the-ball coaxing. 

It may have been the push Cavan needed after a difficult first half they ended trailing 0-6 to 0-5, and again this week, the introduction of Thomas Galligan at the break provided a spark.

Killian Clarke levelled matters shortly after the restart as the hosts started better, Galligan producing an excellent save to deny Patrick Gallagher of the perfect goal chance before McKiernan nailed a free at the other end.

While there were wides from both camps, Antrim were particularly wasteful as they endured a 25-minute scoreless period either side of the second water break. Cavan substitute Thomas Edward Donoghue, who finished with 0-3, landed a mark before Kiernan made it five scores in-a-row for the hosts with a superb shot.

With the scoreboard reading 0-9 to 0-6 with 57 minutes on the clock, Cavan were again reduced to 14 after Gerry Smith was shown a black card while Tomas McCann slotted the resultant free.

McKiernan stepped up when needed most just after, fielding excellently in the middle before hitting home an inspirational point following a one-two. Donoghue added a free, while Jason McLoughlin and Pádraig Faulkner minded the house at the back. 

mick-mccann-and-killian-clarke Antrim’s Mick McCann and Killian Clarke of Cavan. Source: ©INPHO

McBride made it a three-point game in the 63rd minute, however, before Cavan went down to 13 briefly after another black-card loss, this time Kiernan making way after a collision. 

With Smith back on the pitch two minutes later, Cavan finished strong with Donoghue — who opted for the point with the goal chance on — rattling off a much-needed score.

And it was McKiernan who grabbed the insurance point in injury time to cancel out a free at the other end, and send Graham’s side marching into the Ulster semi-final for the second year in-a-row..

Scorers for Cavan: Gearóid McKiernan and Thomas Edward Donoghue, both 0-3 (0-1f), Ciaran Brady and Oisin Kiernan, both 0-2, Stephen Smith, Cormac Timoney, Killian Clarke, all 0-1.

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Antrim scorers: Patrick Cunningham (0-1f) and Conor Murray, both 0-2, Tomás McCann (0-1f) Patrick McBride (0-1f), Kevin Quinn, Dermot McAleese, Michael McCann, all 0-1.

Cavan

1. Raymond Galligan (Lacken)

2. Jason McLoughlin (Shannon Gaels)
3. Killian Clarke (Shercock)
4. Killian Brady (Mullahoran)

5. Gerard Smith (Lavey)
6. Ciaran Brady (Arva)
7. Luke Fortune (Cavan Gaels)

9. Padraig Faulkner (Kingscourt Stars)
18. Cormac Timoney (Ballinagh)

10. Martin Reilly (Killygarry)
11. Gearoid McKiernan (Cavan Gaels)
12. Oisin Kiernan (Castlerahan)

13. Oisin Pierson (Gowna)
21. Stephen Smith (Crosserlough)
15. Cormac O’Reilly (Mullahoran)

Subs:

23. Thomas Galligan for Stephen Smith (HT)
25. Thomas Edward Donoghoe for Oisin Pierson (42)
14. Chris Conroy for Killian Brady (46)
17. Niall Murray for Cormac O’Reilly (47)

Antrim

16. Oisin Kerr

2. Patrick Gallagher
3. Declan Lynch
4. Kevin O’Boyle

5. Peter Healy
6. James McAuley
7. Niall Delargy

8. Colum Duffin
9. Mick McCann

10. Kevin Quinn
11. Mark Sweeney
12. Dermot McAleese

13. Patrick Cunningham
14. Conor Murray
15. Patrick McBride

Subs:

19. Paddy McCormack for Kevin Quinn (HT)
22. Tomas McCann for Patrick Cunningham (50)
18. Odhrán Eastwood for Colum Duffin (50)
25. Marc Jordan for Dermot McAleese (53)

Referee: Paul Faloon.

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