Dunne keeps nerve to guide Cavan home

Two late scores from corner-forward sealed Ulster semi-final place at the expense of Fermanagh

Fermanagh’s Conor Quigley (right) battles for possession with Ronan Flanagan of Cavan at Brewster Park. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Fermanagh’s Conor Quigley (right) battles for possession with Ronan Flanagan of Cavan at Brewster Park. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho


Cavan 0-13 Fermanagh 0-11: Clue by cryptic clue, Cavan are finding their way out of the forest. If Armagh’s doomed tactical wheezing had given their preliminary round win an air of unreality, Fermanagh reduced them to altogether more earthy brass tacks in Brewster Park yesterday. And yet they were just as equal to it, with featherweight full forward Martin Dunne finding the two late points they needed to extricate themselves from a game that had turned into an airless clench.

For Dunne, this was a far worthier day’s toil than the eight points from play he stuck on Armagh. He played the whole game with a velcro marker in John Woods and Ryan McCluskey sweeping in front of him. Yet when the sides were level with five minutes to go and not a square foot of space to be found in either forward line, it was Dunne who stood tall.

It wasn’t just the quality of the point he scored – drilled from the left side of the pitch around 35 metres from goal with the outside of his left boot. The context was everything. At that stage, Cavan had scored just two points in 20 minutes. Having led for the whole game, they had been reeled in by Fermanagh and the score teetered at 0-11 apiece. The G8 scarifying had kept the travelling Cavan support to a bare minimum so it wasn’t like they were going to be carried by what was coming from the stands.

No, if they were going to win, they were going to have to do it themselves. And just as in the Armagh game, they found a gear right at the point when the opposition had spent themselves trying to catch them. Dunne’s point put them one ahead and though he missed a straight-forward free soon after, he made no mistake when handed another as the clock ticked 70. Challenge met, challenge overcome.

‘Would open up’
“We knew that if we kept driving at the centre of their defence that it would open up,” said Terry Hyland. “They were very good at tackling on the flanks and they had probably looked at the way we played against Armagh and they covered that diagonal ball in. We knew that once you put it to the side, it has to open up in the centre and that’s where the score at the end came from.”

It is the first time Cavan have won back-to-back games in Ulster since 2001. Though their tails will be wagging at having found the character to survive a comeback in both matches, the corollary is that they have twice failed to squeeze the life out of opponents whose number they clearly had.

They kept Fermanagh scoreless for the first 25 minutes here but only put up four points of their own. Cian Mackey was the stand-out performer in the opening half, playing the game like he was a number seven in rugby. Wherever the action was, Mackey was and it was his point that put them 0-4 to 0-0 ahead.

Fermanagh just couldn’t break through what is an extremely well-drilled Cavan blanket defence. There might be at most two or three teams in Ireland who are cleaner tacklers than Cavan and the targeted ferocity with which they met the Fermanagh players between midfield and their 45 caused a world of turnovers. When Ryan Jones finally kicked a point for Peter Canavan’s side, it was because he had completely run out of anyone to pass to and he was lucky enough to see his skied attempt drop over the bar.

Cavan led 0-7 to 0-3 at the break, Eugene Keating closing out the half with two long-range scores of real quality. But to their credit, Fermanagh made an almighty game of it in the second half. They scored the first three points in a row through Eoin Donnelly, Marty McGrath and Daniel Kille. And they began finding their way through the Cavan blanket through sheer persistence, one Tomás Corrigan point in particular a triumph of perseverance to cut the margin down to two, 0-10 to 0-8.

It was tit-for-tat now, with Keating and Seán Quigley swapping fine scores. And when Kille knocked over two easy frees in as many minutes, it brought the sides level.

Cue Dunne to prove he is no one-day wonder. Nor are Cavan, come to that.