With the respective sets of supporters in full voice in the packed stand at Kingspan Breffni Park in the closing minutes, it was a veritable siege of epic proportions as wave after wave of Cavan attacks battered the resolutely steadfast Derry defence.
It was an absorbing and nerve racking finale to what had been a riveting encounter in most testing conditions, Cavan with the advantage of the gale force wind in the first half, Derry enjoying the elements in the second, with both teams enduring a glue-pot of a pitch for the 70 plus minutes.
Mark Lynch stroked over his third point of the second half from a 64th minute free to put Derry 1-12 to 1-11 ahead.
That proved the winning score but Derry had to survive a relentless attacking onslaught from the Breffni men in the final 10 minutes of playing time.
Indeed in the final minutes, after Derry had spurned a couple of scoring chances to relieve the pressure, Karl McKaigue and Mark Craig were among the defensive heroes as five ’block tackles’ denied Cavan at least a draw and possibly a match-winning goal.
Amidst this barrage of shots there was a foot block that could have drawn a free from the referee and the final whistle was signal for a sustained cacophony of boos.
This was a fantastic performance by the team. I’m really delighted for them. They showed a real togetherness when we needed it.Damian Barton
For all that however Cavan can have few complaints as they racked up nine first half wides when favoured with the gale, more often than not building laborious attacks with 11 and 12 players behind the ball!
With Mark Craig operating as ‘sweeper’ in the first half Derry did well to restrict Cavan to a 0-06 to 0-05 interval lead.
Lynch and the impressive Ciaran McFaul gave Derry an early lead and after 21 minutes the Oak Leafers were 0-04 to 0-02 ahead, McFaul and James Kielt (from a free) responding to points from Dara McVeety and Eugene Keating.
Five minutes later Gearóid Kiernan cut the lead to 0-04 to 0-03 but then Fergal Flanagan was booked for a foul on Christopher ‘Sammy’ Bradley in the goalmouth and Derry were awarded a penalty.
However Ryan Bell tried to outsmart keeper Raymond Galligan with a little ‘shimmy’ as he approached the ball but he then chipped it straight at the keeper who saved comfortably.
That save inspired Cavan and points from Paul Connor, Tomas Corr and Gearóid Kiernan in the space of three minutes took Cavan to a 0-06 to 0-05 interval lead.
The fans had scarcely taken their second half seats at the bitterly cold Kingspan Breffni Park when a series of accurate, high speed passes set up Cailean O’Boyle to palm the ball to the net for 1-05 to 0-06.
Benny Heron put Derry three ahead in the 47th minute, as did Heavron in response to a Givney point.
In the 55th minute Joshua Hayes broke forward but strong defence forced him to lose possession about 25m from goal. However before a Derry defender could react to the loose ball Michael Argue lashed it to the roof of the net.
From that to the end it was nip and tuck, Derry’s never-say-die spirit proved too much for a Cavan side that lacked the composure to create and take a scoring chance in the last 10 minutes.
“Brilliant” was how a delighted Derry manager Damian Barton summed up the performance, adding, “It was a great show of character. You know we should have had the penalty. You can’t afford to miss them. We came back and got a goal. They came back and got a goal – a slight mistake by the defender who more than made up for it.
“It just showed the character of the team. It was difficult in that first half playing into that breeze.
“We were a bit flat footed and I think when the boys came out they were a bit more positive. The boys that came in made a positive contribution. It’s a 20-man game now. There were a couple of boys introduced that hadn’t played in a few weeks.
“But, no, great. This was a fantastic performance by the team. I’m really delighted for them. They showed a real togetherness when we needed it.”
On the commitment and passion showed by the players he added, “I think it’s there. They’ve just got to respect each other, believe in each other and fight for each other. And any day you come to Cavan and beat a Cavan team, with the history of Cavan football and Breffni Park, I think whenever they reflect on it they will see it was a significant victory.”
On the penalty miss Barton remarked, “It was a big swing but we were one down at half-time and I would have taken a point of a deficit.
“I said that to them at half-time. ‘You know we gave four balls away – over-carrying the ball’, silly things but we dug in and I just think that the siege mentality at the end and the denial of those five shots that would have maybe won the game for Cavan (or certainly drawn the game), I think it showed an awful lot about the team.
“We’re going into a break and we’ve finished on a high.”
Cavan scorers: Joshua Hayes (1-00), Gearóid Kiernan (0-03, 1f), Seanie Johnston (0-1f), Tomas Corr (0-1), Martin Reilly (0-1), David Givney (0-1), Eugene Keating (0-1), Paul ’Connor (0-1) and Dara McVeety (0-1)
Derry scorers: Cailean O’Boyle (1-00), Mark Lynch (0-03, 3f), Ciaran McFaul (0-02), James Kielt (0-02, 1f), Mark Craig (0-1), Daniel Heavron (0-1), Benny Heron (0-1), Emmett Bradley (0-1) and Shane Heavron (0-01).
Derry: Eoin McNicholl; Karl McKaigue, Chrissy McKaigue, Ciaran Mullan; Gareth McKinless, Mark Craig, Daniel Heavron; Emmett Bradley, Mark Lynch; Benny Heron, Ciaran McFaul, Christopher Bradley; Cailean O’Boyle, Ryan Bell, James Kielt. (Subs) Emmett McGuckin for C O’Boyle 46 mins; Niall Loughlin for R Bell 50 mins; Shane Heavron for B Heron 57 mins; Conor McAtamney for E Bradley 68 mins; Daniel McKinless for C Bradley 70 mins; Neil Forester for G McKinless 72 mins
Cavan: Raymond Galligan; Padraig Faulkner, Killian Clarke, Killian Brady; Ciaran Brady, Conor Moynagh, Fergal Flanagan; Tomas Corr, Gearóid Kiernan; Martin Reilly, David Givney, Dara McVeety; Cian Mackey, Eugene Keating , Paul O’Connor. (Subs) Michael Argue for K Brady 47 mins; Joshua Hayes for D McVeety; Seanie Johnston for C Mackey 54 mins; Tom Hayes for E Keating 59 mins; Chris Conway for C Brady 65 mins.
Referee: Paddy Neilan (Roscommon)