Ulster Senior Football Championship semi-final
By Michael McMullan
GOING to Clones on Sunday was one of those correct decisions. Sometimes we rock up to a game and it’s like watching paint dry.
Not this one. It was excellent and Cavan’s style of play was the main ingredient. They did to Donegal what Armagh couldn’t – impose their own, direct, style on Declan Bonner’s side.
Cavan won the toss and went with the breeze. Having Paddy Lynch and James Smith dovetailing as an inside forward duo was one thing, but it was how they used them that stood out.
They set the trend from throw-in with Thomas Galligan securing the leather and 16 seconds later Paddy Lynch had the ball over the bar.
Boom. It was game on.
Last week, former Donegal selector Gary McDaid told me that Cavan had to make it a battle. And they did, but they made it a footballing battle with monsters of men looking like the have been fed on a mixture of round bales and protein.
Eoghan Ban Gallagher managed to get forward to win two soft enough frees to settle Donegal down. The first of which Jason McLoughlin can feel very frustrated at, bearing in mind how much Hugh McFadden got on Gearóid McKiernan in the penalty area seconds earlier. To be fair, I didn’t think it was a penalty in real time, but Conor Lane’s officials should’ve collectively been able to make a call that had a bearing on the game.
And if they felt there wasn’t enough contact, why punish McLoughlin for his near hand tackle on Eoghan Ban.
Cavan were brave and continued to take the game to Donegal. Two turnovers resulted in scores. Two of Raymond Galligan’s short kick-outs were patiently transferred into scores and Conor Moynagh’s diagonal ball for James Smith’s goal chance was inch perfect.
The only thing that James Smith lacked was a bit of composure. Faced with a goal chance in the ladies game before hand, Donegal’s Yvonne Bonner used a deft dummy bounce to change the body weight of the Cavan defenders before finding the net, but you have to credit Shaun Patton for getting his angles right.
If you are going to pick holes in the Cavan first half, it’s how they left three points behind them. Gearóid McKiernan dropped one into Patton’s bread basket and Cormac O’Reilly pulled two to the left.
They were more economical than their opener with Antrim, but in a game like Sunday against a seasoned outfit like Donegal, every chance is the crown jewels.
With McBrearty and Murphy not scoring from play, it was left to Jamie Brennan and Eoghan Ban Gallagher to keep Donegal in the game. Brennan limped of the McKenna Cup with an injury on a wet Wednesday night in Ballybofey and since coming on in the League defeat to Monaghan he has started every game.
Like their win over Derry last year, Donegal’s bench was a factor. Caolan McGonagle came on as substitute for the injured Hugh McFadden. Murphy operated closer to goal and Eoghan Ban went onto Paddy Lynch.
While James Smith opening the second half scoring, it was four successive Donegal points that brought the game’s first turn.
There was also the Shaun Patton factor. All through the warm up he was pinging 60-metre kicks to each wing. Cavan took the safe option of picking the middle ground when Donegal had the breeze for the second half. Their press wasn’t near good enough to stop him getting six short kick-outs off in a row.
It allowed Donegal to attack with Caolan Ward ferrying ball forward with regularly before he was strangely substituted for Odhran McFadden-Ferry. Was it as a result of having fresh legs after Martin Reilly’s introduction for Cavan? Maybe, but Ward played a big part in Donegal’s composed game in the third quarter.|
Patton was successful with all but one of his kick-outs and was the origin of 1-10 from Donegal’s tally, but it was his variation that stood out.
Four points came from the working the ball short and their patient play variety. Another two benefited from short kicks and the penetrative runs of Ward and Eoghan Ban Gallagher. Throw in the Ciaran Thompson mark from a long kick-out and a medium range kick to Thompson leading to an early Murphy wide.
Raymond Galligan had an 80 per cent record and contributed to eight of Cavan’s scores, but it was how Donegal closed him out that resulted in the game changing first goal.
With 60 minutes on the clock, Cavan didn’t have a runner for the short. Nor was there any movement at midfield forcing him to kick it long where Michael Langan threw himself on the break and within seconds Jamie Brennan skied a point attempt.
Call it experience or luck, but when the ball was dropping from the clouds Michael Murphy was on the edge of the square. His presence was enough to create indecision. Neither Galligan, Killian Brady nor Killian Clarke got anywhere near enough on the ball and Conor O’Donnell poked to the net.
It was Donegal’s bench again. When O’Donnell was warming up, I was thinking of the 1-14 he had scored from play this season and how he had started every game in the League. His Championship season amounts to a paltry 27 minutes. Would they be in another Ulster final without his poacher’s goal – possibly not?
For all Cavan’s play and coming back from three points down, Donegal were in control. With Cavan chasing the game, Patton’s long kick-out found club mate Niall O’Donnell in space. Another pot shot for a point attempt evaded the mistimed jump of Killian Clarke before bouncing off Paddy McBrearty’s shoulder and the Kilcar man buried a fourth goal of the season.
Some say McBrearty is not firing on all cylinders, but with 4-22 from play (from 4-46) he is the top scorer in Ulster. That’s what finishers do, they finish. And all after shipping a shoulder in the face from Padraig Faulkner in the first half, which rightly was warranted as just a yellow card from Conor Lane.
Shuffling through the fans after the game, Donegal players were admitting how the two-goal winning margin flattered them. And it did.
The Breffni Blues were left scratching their heads. How did they lost a game they brought so much to?
They got so much right and will have attracted many admirers, but the composure and varied use of the ball in the third quarter gave Donegal enough of a foothold to leave Cavan chasing them.
Cavan played better than they did in 2020, but ended up losing.
It’s a funny old game, but thank God for the Ulster Championship.
Donegal: S Patton; EB Gallagher, B McCole; C Ward; P Mogan (0-1); S McMenamin, R McHugh; H McFadden, J McGee; C Thompson (0-1), S O’Donnell, M Langan; M Murphy (0-5, 4f); P McBrearty (1-4, 3f), J Brennan (0-4)
Subs: C McGonagle (0-1) for H McFadden (INJ 36), O McFadden-Ferry for C Ward (50), C O’Donnell (1-0) for C Thompson (59), N O’Donnell for S O’Donnell (64), N McGee for P Mogan (71)
Yellow card: M Murphy (63)
Cavan: R Galligan (0-1f); L Fortune, P Faulkner; K Brady; J McLoughlin, C Moynagh, Conor Brady; K Clarke, T Galligan (0-2); G Smith (0-1), G McKiernan (0-3, 1f), Cian Madden; Cormac O’Reilly; P Lynch (0-6, 3f), J Smith (0-3, 1m)
Subs: M Reilly for C O’Reilly (45), O Kiernan for C Madden (55), Caoimhin O’Reilly for K Brady (64)
Yellow cards: P Faulkner (29), K Clarke (63), T Galligan (71)
Referee: Conor Lane (Cork)
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