05 Dec 2021

ULSTER FINAL: Day of deep disappointment for Donegal as Cavan upset the odds

Cavan impress to win first Ulster title since 1997

Donegal v Cavan

Paddy McBrearty of Donegal in action against Jason McLoughlin of Cavan during the Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship Final. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Conor Madden’s injury time goal sealed a famous Cavan victory as they caused another major championship shock in Sunday’s Ulster Final at the Athletic Grounds in Armagh.

Cavan . . . . 1-13

Donegal . . . .0-12

Written off by so many in the lead-up to this provincial final, Cavan showed no end of grit, determination and quality as they dismantled Donegal’s aspirations of a third Ulster title in-a-row.

It was a deeply disappointing day for Donegal who despite leading for much of this contest, just couldn’t shake off their opponents.

Indeed Declan Bonner’s men couldn’t click into gear in the second half and in contrast Cavan got the scores they needed at the vital times.

Then when Madden struck for the only goal of the game as the final entered injury time, it meant Cavan would lift the Anglo Celt for the first time since 1997.

Donegal’s second half tally of just three points was never going to be enough to win an Ulster final and they will reflect on that for some time.They had a number of goal chances also but just couldn’t find the Cavan net.

The longer the game went on the confidence in the Cavan players continued to grow and there can be no doubting that they were worthy winners in the end.

Donegal manager Declan Bonner said afterwards that they couldn’t explain where the poor Donegal performance came from with only a handful of players reaching their true potential, in total contrast to the display against Armagh a week earlier.

Neil McGee, despite being the elder statesman of the panel, tried his best to put Donegal on the front foot while Caolan McGonagle and Hugh McFadden worked really hard around midfield. But apart from a brief spell after the first half water break, there just wasn’t the spark needed and the three in-a-row dreams died in the second half.

Donegal started without the influential Ciaran Thompson with Brendan McCole drafted in for his first championship start. Cavan had two changes with James and Conor Smith in for Oisin Pearson and Conor Madden.

Just like the opening championship game against Tyrone, Donegal were slow out of the blocks. Patrick McBrearty had a great chance to open the scoring but dropped his effort short.

James Smith put Cavan on the board but after a good kick-out Niall O’Donnell set up Peadar Mogan for the equaliser.

Then Cavan took a three point lead thanks to good points from Oisin Kiernan, Gerard Smith and Ciaran Brady.

Caolan McGonagle won a kick-out for Michael Murphy to score but Conor Madden, on as a blood sub, made it 0-5 to 0-2.

Cavan lost Killian Brady for 10 minutes for a black card and Donegal took advantage and by the water break, they were on terms with two from Patrick McBrarty and a good point from Niall O’Donnell after good approach work from McGonagle and O’Donnell.

Ryan McHugh and Caolan McGonagle pushed Donegal two ahead by the 18th minute and while Jason McLoughlin came forward to halve the lead, a Michael Murphy turnover saw Patrick McBrearty in acres of space in the Cavan half and he set up Niall O’Donnell to point.

But Cavan were defending with plenty of energy. Donegal did have  a goal chance on 21 minutes when Hugh McFadden found his clubmate Eoghan Bán Gallagher thundering through the middle but Raymond Galligan made a good stop to deny the Killybegs man.

Cavan had a point from a Gearoid McKiernan free on 28 minutes and the big centre-forward should have had another as referee Barry Cassidy failed to give him a mark with minutes left and the Cavan players let him know about it at the break.

Half-time: Donegal 0-9, Cavan 0-7.

Patrick McBrearty had the opening score of the second half after Michael Langan was fouled but Cavan replied through Thomas Galligan. 

Cavan created a good goal chance when Ciaran Brady found James Smith in space but he pulled his effort just inches wide of Shaun Patton’s post.

However, he made up for the mistake two minutes later by cutting the lead to just one point. Neil McGee drove forward to win a free for Patrick McBrearty to point on 49 minutes.

But Cavan would not give up and a great point from distance by Conor Madden left just a point in it at the water break - Donegal 0-11, Cavan 0-10.

Cavan lost Conor Madden to a black card but they came forward to win a sideline and Martin Reilly worked a one-two to level matters.

Gearoid McKiernan then edged them ahead from a free with eight minutes of normal time left.

Donegal  created a  great goal chance but Jamie Brennan’s shot was too close to  Galligan but  in a follow up more Caolan McGonagle levelled matters once more.

Oisin Kiernan landed a mighty score from close to the sideline with five minutes left.

Martin Reilly got in behind the Donegal defence and probably should have taken a point but went for goal and Shaun Patton saved.

But Cavan were well and truly in command as the game entered added time. A long free was palmed out by Shaun Patton straight to Conor Madden to rifle home and a four point lead.

Donegal did force a couple of late goal chances, but they were well defended by a strout Cavan rearguard. Ciaran Thompson hit a post but really they were only half  hances.

The win for Cavan brings symmetry to what happened 100 years ago with the weekend celebrations for Bloody Sunday. The four provincial winners in 1920 have now reached the last four in 2020 - Cavan, Tipperary, Mayo and Dublin.

DONEGAL: Shaun Patton; Eoghan Bán Gallagher, Neil McGee, Brendan McCole; Ryan McHugh (0-1), Paul Brennan,  Eoin McHugh; Hugh McFadden, Michael Langan (0-1); Peadar Mogan (0-1), Niall O’Donnell (0-2), Caolan McGonagle (0-2); Patrick McBrearty (0-4,2f), Michael Murphy (0-1), Jamie Brennan. Subs: Andrew McClean for P Brennan 45; Dáire Ó Baoill for E McHugh 56; Ciaran Thompson for P McBrearty 58; Jason McGee for N O’Donnell 69

CAVAN: Raymond Galligan; Jason McLoughlin (0-1), Padraig Faulkner, Luke Fortune; Gerard Smith (0-1), Killian Clarke, Ciaran Brady (0-1); Thomas Galligan (0-1), Killian Brady; Martin Reilly (0-1), Gearoid McKiernan (0-2,2f), Oisin Kiernan (0-2); James  Smith (0-2), Chris Conroy, Conor Smith. Subs: Conor Madden (1-2) for C Smith (35+1), Niall Murray for Conroy (56), Conor Smith for Reilly (73)

REFEREE: Barry Cassidy (Derry)

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