Cavan 1-13 Monaghan 0-12
Want to know how close this derby usually is? Only once in the past 30 years has there been five points in it – and that was a replay.
Cavan threatened to buck that trend Breffni Park when they raced into an eight-point lead but Monaghan came off the ropes swinging and reduced the margin to a goal before Cavan saw it out to claim what was the first championship win over Division One opposition since 2005.
A fifth-minute penalty from Martin Reilly was the crucial score as Cavan controlled the first half and withstood sustained pressure from their much-improved neighbours in the second.
By the break, it was 1-8 to 0-4 for the home side, with Reilly on fire. His spot kick and scores from debutant Conor Brady, Niall Murray and Conor Madden helped Cavan to ease into a 1-3 to 0-0 lead. With Pádraig Faulkner doing a fine man-marking job on Conor McManus, the Farney would fail to score from play in the opening half, with Murray, impressive debutant Conor Rehill and talisman Gearoid McKiernan adding two more for the hosts.
Monaghan manager Malachy O’Rourke would rue that slow start and seemed to bristle when asked about the penalty, too.
“We had set our stall to get a good start and really bring the game to Cavan but it just never happened. It wasn’t really like us, we didn’t score from play in the first half, we kicked a lot of wides, we turned over ball and just didn’t play with any fluency or penetration and Cavan always had that leeway that was very hard to peg back,” he said.
“I wasn’t close enough to see what exactly happened [for the penalty] but one thing I would say is that in these important matches, unless the decision is clear-cut and the referee is certain, you are annoyed if it’s given against you. But the referee must have been very definite and that’s why he gave it and it was unfortunately a massive turning point.”
The second half was much better from the favourites. Cavan stretched their lead to eight with a free from McKiernan but Monaghan were by now operating an effective high press on the Cavan kick-out and the leaders were rattled.
Sub Conor McCarthy was causing problems and landed a super point, as did McManus, and a Beggan 45, two from Shane Carey and one from Ryan Wylie reduced the gap to a goal, with a rousing Dara McVeety score having momentarily stemmed the tide at the other end.
Cavan, though, didn’t panic, which pleased winning manager Mickey Graham most.
“To win the game it wasn’t going to be just skill alone or heart or passion, it was also about using your head and being smart when the game was in the melting pot and I felt that when Monaghan came back at us, the lads showed great composure and were able to keep them at arm’s length,” said Graham, who was playing when Cavan last beat their neighbours in the championship in 2001.
From a rare Cavan attack, goalkeeper Ray Galligan picked out Rehill who found full back Faulkner for an inspirational point, which was then cancelled out by an equally impressive point from Faulkner's opposite number, Conor Boyle.
The large home support in the 13,496 attendance summoned up the loudest cheer of the day when Thomas Galligan won a good ball and set McKiernan up for the insurance point and while O'Rourke's men poured forward, all they could muster was a free by Kieran Hughes, with sub Chris Conroy having already stroked one over from 45 metres at the other end.
The summer now opens up for Cavan, with an Ulster final appearance possibly in the offing.
“There has been a lot of disappointment in the last number of years in the Ulster Championship, it hasn’t been a great competition for us but I think it was important today, playing in Kingspan Breffni on our home turf, to put in a performance with character and as bit of hunger and I think we saw that today from the lads,” said Graham.
CAVAN: R Galligan; J McLoughlin, P Faulkner (0-1), C Moynagh; G Smith, K Clarke, C Rehill (0-1); Conor Brady (0-1), G McKiernan (0-4, two frees); M Reilly (1-0, pen), D McVeety (0-1), N Murray (0-2); O Kiernan, T Galligan, C Madden (0-2).
Subs: Ciarán Brady for McLoughlin (23 mins, temp), Ciarán Brady for Kiernan (45), C Conroy (0-1, free) for Smith (52), C Mackey for Madden (56), J Brady for Moynagh (60, b/c), S Smith for T Galligan (65), K Brady for McLoughlin (70)
MONAGHAN: R Beggan (0-2, one 45, one free); D Wylie, C Boyle (0-1), R Wylie (0-1); K O'Connell, C Walshe, K Duffy; F Kelly, K Hughes (0-1, free); D Ward, D Malone, S Carey (0-2); R McAnespie, C McManus (0-4, three frees), S O'Hanlon.
Subs: C McCarthy (0-1) for McKenna (30 mins), K Duffy for Malone (h/t), M Bannigan for O'Hanlon (54), O Duffy for Ward (63), N Kearns for Carey (66), D Mone for O'Connell (70, b/c).