ON A dark evening in the Cathedral city, the bells tolled for Donegal’s hopes of grabbing a third successive Ulster title.
Donegal 0-12 Cavan 1-13
By Chris McNulty at The Athletic Grounds. Pictures by Evan Logan.
Conor Madden’s goal, in the dying embers of the game, was no smash and grab in Armagh.
The Breffni are Ulster champions for the first time in 23 years and Donegal can have no complaints as their hold on the was loosened by a determined Cavan.
Madden buried past Shaun Patton in the 71st minute and Donegal’s attempt at throwing the kitchen sink proved futile. For too long, Declan Bonner’s men didn’t rise to the day or to the lofty expectations that had been put on their shoulders.
The absence of spectators here denied what would have been an iconic moment as Cavan were crowned provincial kings for the 40th time.
The GAA has marked the 100th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, the 1920 massacre at Croke Park when crown forces killed 14 civilians, including a Tipperary footballer, Michael Hogan. This remarkable of Championships, delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, now throws up the same All-Ireland semi-final pairings as 100 years ago.
On one side, Mayo will meet Tipperary, who shocked Cork earlier this afternoon and Cavan advance for a crack at Dublin.
For Donegal, the ever-shortening winter will feel longer than ever now.
Cavan were dealt a hammer blow when Madden, who at times appeared to be doing a version of the hokey-cokey so often was it that he seemed to be on and off, was black carded in the 53rd minute.
Madden had just narrowed Cavan’s appears to the minimum and, ten minutes from the end, Martin Reilly drew the Breffni level.
When Neil McGee was deemed to have fouled Reilly in the next play, Gearoid McKiernan put Cavan ahead. It was the first time since the midway point of the first half that Donegal were behind.
At either end, Jamie Brennan and Reilly were denied goals thanks to strong saves by the goalkeepers.
Had Reilly managed to net, it would have been curtains for Donegal, but it was almost fitting that it was Madden who returned to have the decisive say.
Donegal were two up at the interval, but had a real scare when James Smith looked ready to fire to Shaun Patton’s bottom corner in the 45th minute.
Donegal captain Michael Murphy surged back and his attempt at a block was telling as Smith fired wide. By inches.
Patrick McBrearty, in for a first start of the year, landed a free to restore Donegal’s two-point cushion, but Cavan – as they have done in recent weeks – refused to buckle.
Killian Brady was black carded with Cavan 0-5 to 0-2 in front in the 12th minute and when he rejoined they were 0-9 to 0-6 in arrears.
Donegal boomed over seven points during Brady’s spell in the sin bin, including a four in as many minutes to swing the pendulum.
McBrearty kicked two in the space of 60 seconds and Niall O’Donnell levelled the game at the water break.
In the huddle, the voice of Hugh McFadden demanded better from Donegal. On the resumption Ryan McHugh – representing Donegal for the 100th time – put them in front before McGonagle delightfully squeezed inside the far upright from the right-hand side.
Cavan argued that McGonagle could have been sanctioned for his part in an incident late in the half that resulted in Thomas Galligan requiring attention for a cut.
There were no hats, scarves or headbands to be bought on the approaches. The streets were absent of vendors offering am array of under-cooked burgers or hotdogs. The Armagh air had the presence of the sun, but July’s mercury had long since gone from the thermometers by the time Murphy led Donegal out for this most surreal of finals.
It is usually a goosebumps moment as flags and volume go up in unison, but here there was only the sound of silence as Donegal emerged for a ninth Ulster final in ten years.
Stephen McMenamin missed out as a result of the injury that forced him to withdraw from last weekend’s semi-final win and a further injury blow prevented Ciarán Thompson from taking his spot.
McBrearty, kept in cold storage over recent weeks until he was sent on from the bench last week, made his first Championship start of 2020 and Brendan McCole came in to fill the void at full-back.
The three-in-a-row chasing Donegal will have been warned by the survivors from 2013, who were denied a hat-trick of titles by Monaghan.
Cavan had come back from the dead against Monaghan and Down in this Championship, the Breffni overturning a ten-point deficit to send Down packing from the semi-final.
Their spirit seemed unbreakable. Mickey Graham’s side were aiming to become the first Cavan team since the class of 1997, managed by Donegal legend Martin McHugh, to get their hands on the Anglo Celt.
Such was the dominance of Cavan in the early years of the provincial championship, the local paper gave the piece of silverware that still bares its name.
Cavan were here to make a mark and they were energised here with James Smith, Oisin Kiernan, Geeard Smith, Ciaran Brady and Conor Madden all on target inside the opening ten minutes.
By the interval, O’Donnell and Michael Langan helped put Donegal 0-9 to 0-7 ahead, but there was an overarching feeling that Cavan loomed like the darkness.
And so it proved.
The surrounds of the Athletic Grounds were as black as could be. In the Cavan, it will be some time before the lights are dimmed.
Donegal: Shaun Patton; Eoghan Ban Gallagher, Neil McGee, Brendan McCole; Ryan McHugh (0-1), Paul Brennan, Peadar Mogan (0-1); Hugh McFadden, Caolan McGonagle (0-2); Eoin McHugh, Niall O’Donnell (0-2), Michael Langan (0-1); Patrick McBrearty (0-4, 2f), Michael Murphy (0-1), Jamie Brennan. Subs: Andrew McClean for P.Brennan (46), Daire Ó Baoill for E.McHugh (56), Ciarán Thompson for McBrearty (57), Jason McGee for O’Donnell (68).
Cavan: Raymond Galligan; Gerard Smith (0-1), Padraig Faulkner, Luke Fortune; Killian Clarke, Ciaran Brady (0-1), Oisin Kiernan (0-2); Gearoid McKiernan (0-2, 2f), James Smith (0-2); Jason McLoughlin (0-1), Chris Conroy, Killian Brady; Thomas Galligan (0-1), Martin Reilly (0-1), Conor Smith. Subs: Conor Madden (1-2) for C.Smith (7, blood), Niall Murray for Conroy (56), Conor Smith for Reilly (70).
Referee: Barry Cassidy (Derry)Tags: