Ulster Senior Football Championship quarter-final
At half time in this Ulster SFC quarter-final at Breffni Park Antrim looked in with a serious chance of causing an upset having out played and out fought Cavan as they produced their best 35 minutes of football for quite a time.
Superbly marshalled in defence, where they denied their more illustrious opponents time and space and sharp on the break, they led the home side by 0-6 to 0-5 at half time and might have been further ahead.
Michael McCann marshalled those around him to great effect and was at the heart of nearly everything they did while Paddy Cunningham rolled back the years with a couple of scores that would have graced any game.
During the second half Cavan, as expected came back strongly but when the Antrim management sit down to analyse where it went wrong in the second half they will surely point to the number of scoring chances their side wasted.
In the end, four points separated the sides, but the Saffrons will look back on this game as one that was there for the taking.
Cavan had three players Black carded over the hour but Antrim failed to take advantage of their numerical advantage during that period with a number of scoring efforts dropping short and at least four good scoring opportunities wide of the target.
They produced the best chance of the game with Paddy Gallagher involved in the move deep in his own defence before getting on the end of it at the other end but the Glenavy man was unable to supply the finishing touch when a goal looked eminent.
Michael McCann, who had orchestrated many of the Antrim attacks from deep in the opening half and was always there to tidy up when Cavan threatened, was forced to push forward more and more in the second as his side fell behind and the Breffni Blues took advantage, catching their opponents time and again on the break.
A couple of classy points from Gearóid McKiernan, who was well-marked by Declan Lynch for the majority of the contest, gave Cavan a bit of breathing space and some wasteful shooting from the Saffrons hindered their chances of causing an upset.
Further black cards issued to Gerard Smith and Oisin Kiernan failed to derail the Breffni men, who play the winners of Sunday’s quarter-final clash between Fermanagh and Down in Brewster Park.
Speaking after the game Antrim manager Lenny Harbinson felt his side let Cavan off the hook in the crucial third quarter.
“We put ourselves into a winning position at half-time. We knew it was going to be a massive task down here,” said Harbinson.
“Cavan have played in Division One and Division Two and they have that bit more quality.
“We had a spell just after half-time and we missed a goal opportunity. Paddy (Gallagher) looked to have been fouled just as he was kicking.
“In that period, we probably missed 1-4 and they went up on the counter-attack and got a couple of points. That’s their quality and their experience.
When asked if he would like to remain on in the role, the St Gall’s clubman replied: “Right here and now, in this moment I don’t know. That’s the honest answer.
Management in football, there’s a bit of madness associated with it at county level. Do I want to get in on that carousel again? I’m not sure.”
Cunningham was one of Antrim’s best players in the first half while McCann was a contender for Man-of-the-Match and Antrim’s other survivor from that famous semi-final win over the same opponents, back in 2009, Kevin O’Boyle was excellent throughout.
Oisin Pierson and Oisin Kiernan gave Cavan an early two-point lead before Antrim opened their account with an excellent point from Dermot McAleese.
Paddy Cunningham levelled the game from a well-executed free while a stunning point from McCann moved the Saffrons into the lead for the first time.
Cavan centre-back Ciaran Brady replied in kind with a fine score at the other end but Conor Murray restored Antrim’s lead after making an excellent mark.
His Lámh Dhearg colleagues Cunningham and Kevin Quinn pointed either side of a score from Cormac Timoney as Antrim lead 0-6 to 0-4 at the half-hour mark.
Brady knocked over his second point just before the break before Killian Brady picked up his black card on the cusp of half-time for hauling down Paddy McBride.
Antrim couldn’t make the extra man count after the break though as Killian Clarke levelled matters on the resumption of play before Michael McCann combined with Paddy Gallagher to create the game’s only goaling opportunity but Galligan in the Cavan goal dealt with the Glenavy man’s effort.
The big Antrim number 2 appeared to be pushed as he pulled the trigger but referee Paul Faloon waved play on despite Antrim appeals for a penalty.
Cunningham, Colum Duffin, Mark Sweeney and Paddy McCormick all missed chances to add to Antrim’s tally while Cavan were beginning to find their range and midfielder Thomas Galligan, who was introduced at half-time, was having another big game for Mickey Graham’s men.
With 55 minutes gone, the home side had moved three clear with points from McKiernan (free), Thomas Donohoe (mark) and Oisin Kiernan.
Gerard Smith’s black card for dragging down Conor Murray reduced Cavan to 14 men once again and Tomás McCann converted the free to leave two between the sides.
McCann, who had only been on the field for a short period, was then forced out of the game with a hamstring pull and Cavan responded with the influential McKiernan winning the resulting kick-out before firing over a brilliant point with 12 minutes remaining.
Antrim continued to battle on in the closing stages but the fluency they had produced in the opening half was gone with the Cavan defence turning them over time and again or the last pass going astray.
Cavan picked up their third black card of the game when Oisin Kiernan clattered into Kevin O’Boyle off-the-ball as Conor Murray briefly cut the gap back to two but the Saffrons failed to take advantage of the extra men and late points from Donohoe and McKiernan sealed a hard-earned four-point win for Cavan.
CAVAN: R Galligan; J McLoughlin, K Clarke (0-1), K Brady; G Smith, C Brady (0-2), L Fortune; C Timoney (0-1), P Faulkner; M Reilly, G McKiernan (0-3, 0-1f), O Kiernan (0-2; O Pierson (0-1), S Smith, C O’Reilly.
Subs: T Galligan for S Smith (HT), T Donohoe (0-3, 0-1m, 0-1f) for Pierson (41mins), C Conroy for K Brady 46mins), N Murray for O’Reilly (48mins).
ANTRIM: O Kerr; P Gallagher, D Lynch, K O’Boyle; P Healy, J McAuley, N Delargy; C Duffin, M McCann (0-1); K Quinn (0-1), M Sweeney, D McAleese (0-1); P Cunningham (0-2, 0-1f), C Murray (0-2, 0-1m), P McBride (0-1, 0-1f).
Subs: P McCormick for Quinn (HT), O Eastwood for Duffin (50mins), T McCann (0-1, 0-1f) for Cunningham (50mins), M Jordan for McAleese (56mins), R McCann for T McCann (61mins).
REFEREE: P Faloon (Down).