Fermanagh discovered to their cost just how heavy the favourites’ burden can prove in the Ulster senior football championship when they were gunned down by a fired-up, resilient Cavan side at Kingspan Breffni Park last night.
If the Ernemen rightfully lapped up the plaudits following their preliminary round win over Down, then today they find themselves laden with brickbats following their most inept championship performance for some time.
Tactically naive, especially in the first-half and devoid of any real thrust after the break, Malachy O’Rourke’s side found their opponents’ stifling marking much too claustrophobic.
As a unit, Cavan, who maintained their excellent Championship record against Fermanagh, functioned efficiently rather than spectacularly but in Seanie Johnston they had a player who decorated the match with sublime finishing.
His raft of points and ability on the ball, despite carrying an injury, did more to jettison Fermanagh’s ambitions of reaching the Ulster final for the second year on the trot than anything else.
The Erne ploy of withdrawing centrethreequarters Ciaran McElroy into a deep position in the first-half even though they were playing with the wind afforded Cavan an unexpected right of passage through the middle and with John McCutcheon and Nicholas Walsh particularly prominent, they made the most of the free
dom accorded to them.
Yet Fermanagh had responded robustly to their hosts’ bright opening when Eamon Maguire stole in to plunder a seventh minute goal after an early Johnston brace of points had spawned optimism among the Cavan faithful in the small 6,000 crowd.
But it was Cavan who clearly carried the greater threat and when former Burnley player Martin Reilly drilled over a ‘45’, this was followed by points from Cian Mackey, Sean Brady (2) and another from Johnston as the home side set out their stall.
Fermanagh surrendered possession too tamely yet were still only one point adrift at half-time on a 0-8 to 1-4 scoreline.
But three quickfire Cavan points on the resumption were to prove the platform for their victory. Again Johnston (2) inflicted most of the damage and with Reilly’s unerring accuracy from long-distance frees complementing his wizardry, Cavan palpably grew in confidence.
Yet Fermanagh, despite conceding ground at midfield, hauled themselves back into the picture with Mark Little, Carson and substitute Barry Owens on target. And at 0-12 to 1-8, there was a hint that the Ernesiders could salvage the contest.
But Cavan, with their defence swarming like bees around any Fermanagh player in possession, held their shape and their nerve in a pulsating finish.They got their just reward, too, when, fittingly, the mercurial Johnston caressed over an exquisite point from a difficult angle to provide the crucial two-point cushion they needed with four minutes to go.
Little managed to thieve another Fermanagh point but Cavan’s courage, character and cohesion proved too much and they now find themselves awaiting the winners of next Sunday’s Donegal v Antrim clash in the second semi-final.
CAVAN: J Reilly; M Hannon, D Sheridan, M Brides; J McCutcheon, E Keating, P O’Reilly; N Walsh, C Galligan; S Brady (0-2), R Flanagan, C Mackey (0-2); S Johnston (0-6, 0-3 frees, R Cullivan, M Reilly (0-3, 0-1 ‘45’, 0-2 frees). Substitutes: R Dunne for Galligan (63 mins), D Giveney for P Reilly (63 mins), L Reilly for Brady (66 mins0, G Pierson for Mackey (67 mins). Yellow cards: Cullivan (55 mins), Brides (71 mins)
FERMANAGH: C Breen; N Bogue, S Lyons, H Brady: S McDermott, R McCluskey (0-1), T McElroy; M McGrath, J Sherry; R Keenan, C McElroy, M Little (0-3, 0-1 free); D Keenan (0-1, free), R Carson (0-3, 0-1 free), E Maguire (1-0). Substitutes: P Sherry for Lyons (31 mins), M Murphy for D Keenan (43 mins), B Owens (0-1) for J Sherry (54 mins), D Kill for R Keenan (60 mins). Yellow cards: McGrath (6 mins), Maguire (23), R Keenan (55), C McElroy (55)
Referee: Rory Hickey (Clare).