Rollicking second-half display sees Cavan become Division Three champions against Fermanagh

Stunning performance of place-kicking from goalkeeper Ray Galligan sent them up to the steps of the Hogan Stand

Division Three final: Cavan 0-16 Fermanagh 1-7

It took a while for Cavan to break free from the clinch but they got there in the end. A rollicking second-half display for Mickey Graham’s men – including a stunning display of place-kicking from goalkeeper Ray Galligan – sent them up the steps of the Hogan Stand and made them Division Three champions.

They were six points the better team on the scoreboard and maybe a bit more than that besides. Fermanagh goalkeeper Seán McNally pulled off a stunning double save midway through the second half to keep his sheet clean and came out to smother another just before the end. Graham’s team wouldn’t have been flattered by a bigger margin but when you go back up the road with a cup, you don’t worry about these things.

“I thought the game was played at a snail’s pace in the first half,” Graham said afterwards. “We tried to inject a wee  bit of intensity and pace into it and I thought the lads did that in the second half. It was a typical Ulster derby – no quarter given and that is what we expect when we come up against Fermanagh. We would probably be pleasantly surprised that it was a six-point win there. Usually it is only a one- or two-point win when we play each other.


“We were disappointed with our own performance in the first half. We felt that we were playing well within ourselves and we made a lot of handling errors. We gave the ball away too cheaply. But in the second half we worked a lot harder, we forced some turnovers and the substitutions that came in gave a lot of fresh impetus as well.”

These sides have no secrets from each other, bound as they are by history and geography. They share a border and a hinterland, some of them live in the same towns. On top of all that, they played out a tight encounter in Cavan just last week, with Fermanagh coming out on top by a couple of points.

Throw everything into the soup and it was unlikely we were ever going to see a classic here. It was tepid stuff, particularly in the first half. Both teams played wet-ball league football – they stood off, they retreated, they kept the other crowd at arm’s length.

After 26 minutes, we’d seen just a single score that wasn’t from a placed ball. Cavan were 0-3 to 0-1 ahead but not only had they not scored from play, they hadn’t even chanced a shot from play. They finally brought the unpleasantness to an end when Ryan O’Neill skated in along the endline and fisted a score to put them 0-4 to 0-2 ahead. And no sooner had O’Neill fisted his point than Cavan were punished at the other end with a Fermanagh goal.

If there was a hint of fortune about it – Killian Clarke got a touch to a Luke Flanagan cross that only succeeded in putting it on a plate for Darragh McGurn – the Fermanagh full-forward’s finish was all class. He jinked inside Clarke, opened up his body and rolled his shot inside the left-hand post.

The teams swapped points soon after but Fermanagh held their lead into half-time, a long free from goalkeeper Seán McNally sending them in 1-3 to 0-5 ahead. The way the free sailed through the night sky from close on 60 metres told you that Fermanagh had been blessed by the first-half wind. It told you too that a one-point lead probably wouldn’t be enough.

And so it proved. Cavan were much the better side after the break, giving Fermanagh no outlet from their kick-out and finding their range in front of goal. Galligan kicked the first of his four second-half points in the 43rd minute, using the wind to pop over a free from just outside the Fermanagh 45. It drew Cavan level, 0-7 to 1-4, and from there to the end they were never behind again.

Galligan kicked four from four in that second half, each of them from 45 metres and further. Cavan’s big players stood up too – Dara McVeety and Gearoid McKiernan both nailed fine efforts from play, Conor Madden came off the bench to swing over a stunning effort late on. Fermanagh rallied for a bit with scores from Sean Quigley and Ryan Jones but ultimately Cavan pulled clear.

“It just didn’t materialise for us,” said Fermanagh manager Kieran Donnelly afterwards. “A lot of their scores came from our mistakes. Missed passes, taking contact – Cavan were aggressive and physical and that led to a lot of problems. Our decision making was poor at a critical juncture of the game. Cavan are an excellent team and their big players came through for them.

“Conditions were slippery, and you couldn’t really take contact in those key zones. We did that and we got turned over. Cavan’s tackling was aggressive and good and at times we were stopped and had to re-set and we just didn’t get a fluidity to our game because of that. That was massive. We are very disappointed in that we pride ourselves all year in being able to hold the ball well under pressure and that didn’t happen at key times.”

Cavan: Ray Galligan (0-4, 0-2 frees, 0-2 45s); Niall Carolan, Pádraig Faulkner, Jason McLoughlin; Ciará Brady, Dara McVeety (0-1), Gerard Smith (0-1); Killian Clarke, James Smith; Jonathan McCabe, Gearóid McKiernan (0-2, 0-1 free), Cian Madden; Oisín Brady (0-2), Paddy Lynch (0-3, 0-2 frees), Ryan O’Neill (0-1). Subs: Conor Brady for McKenna, 19 mins; Jason McLoughlin for Carolan, half-time; Conor Smith (0-1) for O’Neill, 46 mins; Conor Madden (0-1) for McKiernan, 64 mins; Tiernan Madden for McCabe, 66 mins

Fermanagh: Seán McNally (0-1); Lee Cullen, Ché Cullen, Luke Flanagan; Jonathan Cassidy, Shane McGullion, Cian McManus; Ryan Jones (0-1), Brandon Horan; Josh Largo Ellis, Ryan Lyons (0-2, 0-1 free), Ronan McCaffrey; Ultan Kelm, Darragh McGurn (1-0), Aiden Breen (0-1). Subs: Sean Quigley (0-2, 0-1 free) for Breen, 42 mins; Declan McCusker for McManus, 42 mins; Conor McShea for Largo-Ellis, 50 mins; Garvan Jones for McGurn, 60 mins; Conor McGee for Horan, 73 mins

Referee: Anthony Nolan (Wicklow)

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times