The five point margin at the end of 70 plus minutes may flatter Cavan slightly as there was no doubt which captain was going to raise the Anglo Celt cup at the end of the contest. Stephen Murray’s 75th minute goal took the bad look off the score as Donegal cruised through the game for long periods.
Donegal’s danger men were on top form with the trio of Brennan, Murphy and McBrearty converting 1-13 of their sides overall tally. Of course there were others all over the park that enhanced their reputations such as goalkeeper Shaun Gallon, whose kick outs catapulted many Donegal attacks while Paddy McGrath gave a master class of man marking on Cavan star man Dara McVeety in the first period.
McVeety got away from McGraths grasp with better success in the second half to knock over three points while Gearoid McKiernan never stopped chasing Cavan’s cause and top scored for the Breffni men with 0-6 while his driving runs caused some problems for the Donegal rear guard. But it was Donegal’s pace and direct running that really caught the eye and assured Donegal retained their Ulster crown.
Donegal’s shot selection was also a sight to behold as they always seemed to work the ball to the right man in the shooting zone. This was clear early on as their first three scores in the opening 10 minutes from McBrearty, Eoin Ban Gallagher and Ryan McHugh all came in around the ‘D’ area. Conor Brady’s drive through the Donegal defence was Cavan’s only score in this period before Hugh McFadden and Michael Murphy made the score 0-5 to 0-1.
It was point for point in the next 10 minutes as Gearoid McKiernan and Conor Moynagh’s scores were matched by Ciaran Thompson and Jamie Brennan. The game could have been dead and buried in the 23rd minute when Hugh McFadden’s gallop through the defence saw a brilliant goal chance fall to Paddy McGrath with the corner back’s shot going agonisingly close but the ball was called back by for a free which was easily tapped over by Murphy.
The game was arguably put to bed in the next phase of play as Cavan were the ones with a brilliant goal chance this time, Conor Rehill finding himself in front of goal only for his shot to skim the post and go wide. Donegal upped the intensity and Jason McGee scored straight from the resulting kick out prior to Ciaran Thompson and Jamie Brennan points. Had Rehill hit the net the Cavan men would have trailed by two, instead of eight behind and struggling.
Oisin Pierson struck Cavan’s first score in 10 minutes which was cancelled out by Niall O’Donnell as Michael Murphy’s quick 45 found O’Donnell on his own. McKiernan and Brennan traded scores to see out the half where Donegal lead by 0-13 to 0-5 and were well on their way to capturing their 10th Ulster title.
A recurring theme in the opening period was Donegal’s ability to surround Cavan’s main threats and deny space for Cavan’s fast moving football. Cavan likewise tried to flood the defence but Donegal’s pace and power was so superior that the men in blue and white were chasing shadows all afternoon.
Murphy and McKiernan both converted dead balls at the beginning of the second half while McBrearty stretched the Donegal lead to nine. McVeety hit his side’s 7th while McBrearty then turned provider to allow Michael Langan to hit his first. McKiernan continued to fight for his team with three points while McBrearty was on fire at the other end, splitting the posts on another two occasions.
McKiernan sparked the possibility of a Cavan revival and with points from substitute Cian Mackey and McVeety; Cavan narrowed the gap to just 6 with 15 minutes left on the clock. The game was put beyond doubt with Donegal’s next attack however as Brennan picked the ball up 45 metres from goal and drove towards the Cavan net before letting fly and firing his team into a commanding 9 point lead with the first three pointer of the day.
Caoimhin O’Reilly pulled one back but his point was cancelled out by the Kilcar sharpshooter McBrearty with his powerful shot flying over the crossbar. Cavan refused to lie down and brilliant work from Mackey saw the ball transferred to Conor Madden who tapped the ball home for a goal to leave and interesting final few minutes.
Jason McGee tried to dampen Cavan spirits with a point but McVeety was again on target to give Cavan a hope of an upset. Gallon fisted over after a wonderful Michael Langan take in the centre of the park while Jamie Brennan also knocked over a point to bring his personal tally to 1-4 over the course of the game.
Cavan had a chance to raise another green flag as Conor Moynagh struck a brilliant, defence splitting pass to Dara McVeety but his effort was blocked by the diving Paddy McGrath to put the ball safely out for a 45. Conor Madden did pull one back but Daire O’Baoill fisted over the top while Jack Brady scored after being introduced.
Moynagh’s kicking again saw Cavan strike for goal, with Stephen Murray palming past Shaun Gallon to put four between them with time almost home. Murphy pointed the final chance of the day which deservingly saw the big Glenswilly man raise the Anglo Celt above his head for the second year running.
It’s back to the drawing board for the Breffni Blues while Donegal now find themselves in the Super 8s with an eye firmly placed on bigger days further into the summer. With their pace and strength its clear Donegal are a match for another while they could have got a few more goals on the day had the game been tighter.
Donegal: Shaun Patton, Paddy McGrath, Neil McGee, Stephen McMenamin, Ryan McHugh (0-1), Niall O’Donnell (0-1), Eoghan Ban Gallagher (0-1), Hugh McFadden (0-1), Jason McGee (0-2), Ciaran Thompson (0-2), Odhran McFadden Ferry, Jamie Brennan (1-4), Patrick McBrearty (0-5), Michael Murphy (0-4), Michael Langan (0-1). Subs: Daire O’Baoill (0-1) for N. O’Donnell, Frank McGlynn for N. McGee, Oisin Gallen (0-1) for C. Thompson, Leo McLoone for M. Langan, Caolan Ward for S. McMenamin
Cavan: Raymond Galligan, Jason McLoughlin, Padraig Faulkner, Conor Moynagh (0-1), Martin Reilly Killian Clarke, Conor Rehill, Conor Brady (0-1), Gearoid McKiernan (0-6), Oisin Kiernan, Dara McVeety (0-3), Niall Murray, Gerard Smith, Oisin Pierson (0-1), Ciaran Brady. Subs: Stephen Murray (1-0) for Niall Murray, Cian Mackey (0-1) for Kiernan, Conor Madden (1-1) for G. Smith, Thomas Galligan for Conor Brady, Caoimhin O’Reilly (0-1) for O. Pierson, Jack Brady (0-1) for C. Rehill.