It’s a great game when your winning’ an old friend of mine used to say and it had been nine years since Antrim last won an Ulster Championship game. The National media had been begrudging in their praise of Antrim’s win over Donegal but the Antrim supporters were having none of it.
Despite the semi-final against Cavan in Clones being fixed for a Saturday night a good crowd made the journey to the Monaghan venue. Cavan had been installed as favourites but as I made my way to the ground through hundreds of supporters decked in Saffron it was clear that there was an expectation that Baker’s Boys could deliver.
Ulster Football Championship semi-final
Antrim 0-13 Cavan 1-7
Antrim continued their recent good run of form to make light of the underdog tag when they overcame the challenge of Cavan in the Ulster semi-final in Clones. The Saffons were 0-7 to 0-6 up at half-time but could have been further ahead but Cavan keeper James Reilly made a good save to deny Tomas McCann’s goal attempt.
The Saffrons stepped up their game on the resumption and five consecutive scores in the second half put Liam Bradley’s men in command.
A scrambled goal from substitute David Gibney gave Cavan hope but scores from Kevin Niblock and Paddy Cunningham ensured a famous victory for Antrim.
They bossed the first half and landed early points from play through Sean Burke, Tomas McCann and Terry O’Neill.
Cavan’s first four points came from Seanie Johnston but Antrim kept their noses in front through Michael McCann (2), James Loughery and Paddy Cunningham.
Martin Reilly and Ray Cullivan replied for Cavan who were probably satisfied to be just one point down at the break after being outplayed with Niall McKeever dominant at mid-field and Terry O’Neill superb in the sweeper’s role.
Tommy Carr’s Cavan were immediately under the cosh again after the break and points from play by Burke, Aodhan Gallagher and Justin Crozier, plus two Cunningham frees, had Antrim in complete control at 0-12 to 0-6.
Cavan fought hard to get back into the game and substitute David Gibney found the net from close range to revive their hopes and a point by Larry Reilly left just two in it and questions were being asked about Antrim’s ability to kill off their opponents.
However, Antrim were not to be denied as Kevin Niblock calmed the nerves with a score from play and Cunningham added another free as the Antrim support urged their side to greater effort.
Cavan pushed hard in the closing stages but a well marshalled Antrim defence stood tall and the scenes of celebration at the end were reminiscent of a side that had just won the championship.
When things settled down however it was clear that there was still the considerable hurdle of Tyrone to face in the final but this night was very much for Antrim and their delirious bunch of supporters to enjoy.
Antrim: P Graham, C Brady, A McClean, K O’Boyle, T Scullion, J Crozier (0-1), J Loughrey (0-1), N McKeever, A Gallagher (0-1), T O’Neill (0-1), K Brady, P Cunningham (0-4, 3f), S Burke (0-2), M McCann (0-2, 1f), T McCann (0-1). Substitutes: K Niblock for McKeever (59), C Close for K Brady (64).
Cavan: J Reilly, M Hannon, D Sheridan, M Brides, J McCutcheon, E Keating, P O’Reilly, N Walsh, C Galligan, S Brady, R Flanagan, C Mackey, S Johnston (0-4, 2f), R. Cullivan (0-1), M Reilly (0-1). Substitutes: P Brady for P Reilly (20), R Dunne for McCutcheon (40), L Reilly (0-1) for S Brady (44), D Givney (1-0) for Mackey (53), J O’Reilly for Keating (62).
Referee: J Bannon (Longford).