A gutsy performance from Cavan saw them beat a surprisingly awful Fermanagh team in damp conditions in Breffni Park on Saturday evening.
Ulster SFC Quarter-Final: Cavan 0-13 Fermanagh 1-9
Tommy Carr’s men led for more or less the whole game, and although the match was of a very poor quality, the home side deserved their win if only for Fermanagh’s complete lack of class or guts.
Sean Johnston was easily Cavan’s best player, knocking over five points in a fine display, and crucially securing the home team’s last score with a cool effort which settled their nerves just as Fermanagh seemed on the brink of clawing their way back.
Fermanagh’s negative gameplan, their failure to ever really engage with the game and above all else, their criminal profligacy from handy frees, all contributed to their downfall. Cavan for their part were excellent from frees, with Martin Reilly executing his chances at the key times.
Cavan looked lively right from the off, and Sean Brady raced up the field and pointed right from the throw-in, only for it to be harshly ruled out for over-carrying. That decision was typical of a desperately fussy display from referee Rory Hickey, who got a number of decisions clearly wrong.
However, Cavan managed to get the first score of the game seconds later when Ray Cullivan did well to play in Johnston, who skillfully clipped the ball over with his left foot from an acute angle. The Cavan Gaels man added a free soon after to give the home side an early advantage.
Fermanagh were struggling, and their negative tactics were assisting Cavan as they persisted with playing centre-half-forward Ciaran McIlroy in defense. However, some quick thinking by Daryl Keenan from a free allowed corner-forward Eamon Maguire to fist the ball over the onrushing James Reilly and into the net to edge the Erne Men in front.
Malachy O’Rourke’s men weren’t clicking though and a superb 45’ from Cavan attacker Martin Reilly leveled things up. The former Burnley defender showed his exquisite technique as he powered the placed ball over.
Overall, the first half was of very poor quality. Cavan’s scrappiness, coupled with Fermanagh’s extremely negative tactics, meant there was very little open play. However, Cavan were at least trying to attack in numbers and Cian Mackey’s controlled effort pushed them back in front.
However, every time Cavan threatened to move away, Fermanagh countered and a fine score from Mark Little brought things level.
Sean Brady and Ryan Carson then exchanged good points, before another Johnston free pushed Cavan back in front.
Both sides then carved out a few clear-cut goal chances.
Johnston fisted against the post when he should have squared the ball and then Mackey saw his goalbound shot blocked. Seconds later, Maguire almost grabbed his second goal with another fisted effort.
With time running out on a dire half, Reilly showed his superb freetaking skills again with a controlled clip to put Cavan two clear, but just before things were blown up, Ryan McCluskey curled one over the bar, using the wind perfectly.
Fermanagh had an increased brightness after half-time but their freetaking curse remained, Daryl Keenan kicking an easy chance at leveling inexplicably wide, with Carson then placing an easy free into James Reilly’s hands .
Johnston punished Fermanagh for their slackness with a superb point of the highest class, weaving and dipping fluently in the corner, brushing off defenders before thumping confidently between the posts.
And then the accomplished Martin Reilly further punished Fermanagh’s growing lack of guts and ruthlessness by putting over two pristine placed balls to put Cavan four points ahead.
The visitors seemed to be running out of ideas but Carson reacted well after some carnage around the Cavan goal to fire over to reduce the gap to a goal.
Cavan then structured a score, which epitomized their strengths and showed exactly what Fermanagh were failing so miserably to do. The brilliant Mackey broke from the half-back line and set up an attack which ended with the Castlerahan man running 70 yards to retake possession and slot over.
Fermanagh’s embarrassing lack of a freetaker highlighted itself again on 58 minutes when the latest to step up, Maguire, pushed it wide from 30 yards. They finally converted seconds later when Mark Little put one over and then Carson tapped one from the 13m line to reduce the gap to just two.
Cavan had been relinquishing a lot of possession and an edginess seemed to be entering the young team’s game as the finish line loomed. Fermanagh, for all their weaknesses, fed off it and despite another characteristically awful free that was left short by Little, substitute Barry Owens managed to get a fist to it and put the minimum in it.
But at the testy moment, class told in the form of Johnston. He picked up possession in the left corner and placed a superb ball over the bar to ease Cavan fears.