Cavan withstand Donegal comeback to claim third Ulster title in a row
Ulster champions will now face Cork in semi-final
Cavan’s Michael Argue (right) with Donegal’s Martin O’Reilly during last night’s Ulster under-21 football final at Brewster Park in Enniskillen. Photograph: Jonathan Porter/Presseye/Inpho
Paddy McBrearty almost inspired Donegal to a superb comeback in Brewster Park , hitting four points inside 10 minutes to reduce a six-point deficit with seven minutes remaining.
But Cavan ensured they progress to an All-Ireland semi-final against Cork with late points from Jack Brady and sub Paul Graham.
Cavan could field 10 players who played in last year’s Ulster final and they settled best after a throw-in delay of over seven minutes.
The defending champions scored the first three points inside the opening seven minutes, with Chris Conroy and Gerry Smith scoring from play.
Darach O’Connor, a late inclusion in Donegal’s starting line-up, got their first score in the 10th minute.
Cavan’s industry was paying dividends and they scored another unanswered three points to lead 0-6 to 0-1.
Patient build-up allowed them to find the man in space and Paul O’Connor, Chris Conroy and Enda O’Reilly converted the chances.
Paddy McBrearty, who came into the game on the back of allegations he was bitten by a Dublin player during Sunday’s League match, was starved of possession in the first half but came alive after the break.
His first real contribution was a goal chance in the 17th minute which he drilled across the goalkeeper and wide.
Donegal had another goal chance two minutes later. Willie Gillespie hit an almost identical shot to McBrearty’s, which also went wide.
Donegal suffered a blow when the influential Ryan McHugh, who carried a torn calf injury into the game, was forced to limp off after just 17 minutes.
On a still evening with virtually no wind, Cavan were not as clinical as in last week’s semi-final win over Down. They hit four wides, three of them from Enda O’Reilly, and dropped a number of chances short into the goalkeeper’s hands.
McBrearty ended an 18-minute scoring drought for Donegal with his first point two minutes before half-time, after turning neatly on to his left foot.
However, the Breffni blues scored again before the interval, Smith’s second long-range point leaving them 0-7 to 0-2 ahead at the break.
Odhran McNelis flashed a third Donegal chance wide straight after the restart and three minutes later, McBrearty hit a 35-metre free well wide.
The All-Ireland winner was involved in Donegal’s goal five minutes into the second half. His ball in was met by the rangy Willie Gillespie, who rose highest to flick McBrearty’s ball over the goalkeeper’s head.
Cavan responded well to the set-back. A Jack Brady free was followed by one of the best points of the game from the in-form Conroy from out near the sideline.
Paddy McBrearty scored four of the next five points, starting with an instinctive long-range point.
The same player tagged on a free to cut the deficit to 0-11 to 1-4 with 13 minutes remaining.
Cavan enjoyed the bulk of the support in the crowd of around 6,000 and they got nervous as McBrearty then hit two points within a minute. Jack Brady steadied Cavan’s nerves with a 55th-minute free and Graham’s late point kickstarted the celebrations.
CAVAN: C Gilsenan; J McLoughlin, K Clarke, C Brady; D McVitty, D Sexton, F Flanagan; B Sankey, M Argue; G Smith (0-2), C Conroy (0-3) , T Mooney; E O’Reilly (0-3, two frees), P O'Connor (0-1), J Brady (0-3, frees). Subs: C Madden for Conroy (52), P Graham (0-1) for Mooney (55), J Dillon for O’Connor (59).
DONEGAL: P Boyle; K McFadden, C Ward, G Gallagher; P Carr, E McHugh, L Keaney; M O'Reilly, L Kelly; R McHugh, O McNelis, C Gibbons; W Gillespie (1-0), P McBrearty (0-5, two frees), D O’Connor (0-1). Subs: C Cannon for R McHugh (17), C Parke for Kelly (35), A O’Gara for E McHugh (41).
Referee: Ciarán Branagan (Down).