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Cavan quick out of blocks to retain title

Ulster Under-21 football final

By Chris McNulty

Cavan are the Ulster Under 21 champions for a third year in succession after Peter Reilly's side overcame gallant Donegal in last night's final at Brewster Park.

Donegal ran them close, but it was the first half where the damage was done. Donegal scored just twice in the opening half-an-hour, but they stayed in touch thanks to Willie Gillespie's 37th minute goal.

When Patrick McBrearty inspired a late comeback, the game was on a knife-edge, only for Jack Brady and Paul Graham to quell any fears that might have crept into Cavan heads.

The Breffni boys had started like an express train. Man of the Match Chris Conroy and Gerry Smith scored either side of a free from Enda O'Reilly to sweep them into a three-point lead by the seventh minute.

County minor Darach O'Connor, a late replacement for Ciaran Cannon on the Donegal side, popped over the Tir Chonaill's side's first score – and they would rue a couple of chances that weren't converted.

They didn't score again until McBrearty fetched from Gavin Gallagher to swing over in the 28th minute.

After McBrearty and Gillespie pulled goal chances wide of Conor Gilsenan's left-hand post, Cavan stretched their lead to five as Conroy and O'Reilly scored twice in the space of a minute.

By that stage, Donegal had lost the services of Ryan McHugh, who hobbled off after 18 minutes, feeling the effects of the quad injury that had rendered him a doubt pre-match.

A beauty off Smith's right boot in the closing minute of the half gave Cavan a 0-7 to 0-2 lead at the break.

Odhrán MacNiallais snatched a goal chance off target just 17 seconds into part two, but they were given something of a lifeline when Willie Gillespie flicked to the net in the 37th minute.

Donegal scarcely deserved to be in the game, but with McBrearty stroking over four in a row, they were within two points heading into the final five minutes.

Brady stemmed the flow with a pair of frees in amongst McBrearty's haul, but Donegal wouldn't go away.

O'Connor should have pulled the trigger for a goal, only to fist wide, before an insurance point by sub Paul Graham raised the roof from the huge Cavan following, who toasted the capturing of a historic three-in-a-row.

"We have worked so hard for this – this is the result of thousands of hours of training and effort," said the Cavan captain, Feargal Flanagan.

"We aren't just about numbers 1 to 15.

"We have a panel of 40 players and all of them deserve credit for this. It just shows what a collective effort can do."

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, 2f), P O'Connor (0-1), J Brady (0-3, 3f). Subs: C Madden for Conroy (53), P Graham (0-1) for Mooney (56), J Dillon for O'Connor (59)

Donegal: P Boyle; K McFadden, C Ward, P Carr; R McHugh, M O'Reilly, E McHugh; L Keaney, L Kelly; C Gibbons, O MacNiallais, G Gallagher; D O'Connor (0-1), P McBrearty (0-5, 1f), W Gillespie (1-0). Subs: C Cannon for R.McHugh (18), C Parke for Kelly (35), A O'Gara for E.McHugh (42).

Referee: C Branagan (Down).

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