Cavan 2-11, Derry 1-16
Derry will meet Limerick for a place in next season's Allianz Division Two after overcoming Ulster champions, Cavan in a thrilling encounter at Kingspan Breffni Park on Saturday.
Shane McGuigan took his personal tally to 2-20 in three league games as Derry fought their way to a two point win that makes it three wins from three and sees them top Division Three North. In the southern section, Limerick defeated Wicklow to secure second spot behind Offaly with the venue for the June 12th/13 play-off to be decided by a coin toss if the two counties do no accept a neutral venue.
If the result was a similar story to the Oak Leafers' first two games, the match itself was anything but with Derry forced to dig deep on several occasions against a home side who knew only victory would give them a chance of a last four spot.
Indeed, it took McGuigan's audacious free from wide out along the touchline, three minutes into injury time to finally settle Oak Leaf nerves in a game played with championship intensity.
Derry made one change to the starting 15 that had ran riot against both Longford and Fermanagh, Slaughtneil's Paul McNeill coming in for club mate Padraig Cassidy and the Oak Leafers picked up where they had left off in that Erne rout by racing into an early five point lead.
Indeed it took only 14 seconds for the visitors to signal their intent as Gareth McKinless raced away from the throw in to tee up McGuigan for the game's opening score. If there is one man who typifies Derry's transformation this year it's McKinless. Anyone who knows the Derry club scene will tell you, the Ballinderry man has been one of the county's top performers for years without ever translating that form to the inter-county scene.
However, three matches into this season and it's now difficult to imagine a Derry county side without the marauding half-back who has added pace and power to Oak Leafers' transitional game, a vital ingredient in unlocking the mass defences of the of modern game.
His value to the team was highlighted in one breath-taking move that should have brought McKinless a goal all of his own making. Derry were meandering around their own '65 line in front of a massed Cavan defence. Little looked on but in one wonderful movement, McKinless spun away with a change of pace that took four Cavan players out of the game. His acceleration accounted for another two and after swapping passes with Ciaran McFaul, he had the goal in his sights only for Raymond Galligan to turn his low shot behind for a 45.
That typified a frantic, brilliant half of football that swung on way, then the the other as Derry asserted control Cavan wrestled it back and eventually Derry regained their composure to lead by a point at 1-7 to 1-6.
After McGuigan's opener, he added another free before the impressive Emmett Bradley scored the first of his three excellent points, with Niall Loughlin scored a free and a '45 for a 0-5 to no score lead by the ninth minute.
If Derry thought they were in for another victory procession they were very much mistaken. McGuigan had already seen Galligan save one goal chance and Derry were made to pay for their missed chances as Cavan roared back into the game.
The home side took charge of midfield, winning a number of Derry kick-outs to help turn the screw with points from Caoimhan McGovern, Oisin Kiernan, keeper Galligan and Luke Fortune bringing it back to 0-4 to 0-5 after 15 minutes.
McGuigan stemmed the tide but back came Cavan through Niall Murray and better was to follow when Martin Reilly high centre from a side-line ball saw Gearoid McKiernan get up above Odhran Lynch to fist home Cavan's opening goal for two point lead.
If Derry hadn't been questioned against Longford and Fermanagh, they were being now but less than 60 seconds, Cavan had their response through a superb Niall Loughlin goal. The Greenlough forward took a short hand pass from Paul McNeill but had it all to do before accelerating away from Padraig Faulkner and rifling a fierce left footed shot into the net from the most acute of angles.
Another McGuigan free took Derry in at half-time one point up but Derry knew they were in a battle.
Derry have made a nice habit of dominating the third quarter of games and once again they emerged from the changing room to establish a match winning advantage as the home team went 30 minutes either side of the interval without scoring.
In that time the tireless Benny Heron, McGuigan (2), Bradley (2) and Loughlin took the game away from their hosts with shooting of the highest order although Derry can feel aggrieved that Ethan Doherty wasn't allowed to continue toward goal after the foul that led to Loughlin's free.
As often happens, the water break signalled a change of momentum and Cavan, with nothing to lose, threw everything into attack and almost unnerved Derry who had looked in control until that point.
They chipped away at the Derry lead, bringing it back to 1-10 to 1-14 when they capitalised on a bit of good fortune that could have sent them into the semi-finals. Chris Conroy was quickest to react when a high shot came off the upright. He gathered possession and with Derry's defence for once caught on their heels, he raced along to touchline before sending a fisted pass across goal for Martin Reilly to fist home at the back post.
One point in it and two minutes plus 5 added on, there was plenty of time for the home team and within seconds Faulkner found himself clear on goal. The game was in the balance but when they needed him, Odhran Lynch was there, standing up superbly to block Faulkner's effort and scrambled the rebound clear.
Another goal chance was sent wide by Ethan Doherty before McGuigan and Timoney swapped points with still one in it as the clock ticked past 75 minutes. Derry need breathing space and McGuigan's brilliant free provided it.
Three from three and so far so good. Derry are where they wanted to be. It has been very impressive but the real business starts in two weeks against Limerick.
Cavan scorers: Gearoid McKiernan (1-3, 2f), Martin Reilly (1-0), Caoimhan McGovern (0-1), Oisin Kiernan (0-1), Raymond Galligan (0-2, 1f, 1 forty-five), Luke Fortune (0-2), Niall Murray (0-1),
Derry scorers: Shane McGuigan (0-8, 4f), Niall Loughlin (1-3, 1f, 1 forty-five), Emmett Bradley (0-3), Beny Heron (0-1), Conor Glass (0-1),
Cavan: Raymond Galligan; Killian Clarke, Padraig Faulkner, Chris Conroy, Cian Reilly, Oisin Kiernan, Luke Fortune, Conor Brady, Killian Brady, Martin Reilly, Gearoid McKiernan, Caoimhan McGovern, Patrick Lynch, Conor Madden. (Subs) Michael Argue for N Murray, HT; Conor Smith for C McGovern, HT; Thomas Edward Donohoe for C Conroy, 49mins; Thomas Galligan for P Lynch, 54mins; Cormac Timoney for C Madden, 54mins; Stephen Murray for K Brady, 54mins; Oisin Pearson for T Donohoe, 75mins.
Yellow Cards: K Clarke 29mins;
Derry: Odhran Lynch, Chrissy McKaigue, Brenda Rogers, Padraig McGrogan, Paul McNeill, Gareth McKinless, Conor Doherty, Conor Glass, Emmett Bradley, Ethan Doherty, Niall Loughlin, Ciaran McFaul, Benny Heron, Shane McGuigan, Paul Cassidy. (Subs) Oisin McWilliams (blood sub) for C McKaigue, 39mins (rev 41mins); Michael McEvoy for B Rogers (inj), 61mins; Oisin McWilliams for B Heron, 63mins; Ben McCarron for P McGrogan, 65mins; Jack Doherty for P Cassidy, 70mins; Shea Downey for N Loughlin, 72mins;
Yellow Cards: E Bradley, 69mins;
Referee: Padraig Hughes (Armagh)