By Peter Nolan
Donegal topped Cavan 1-14 to 0-12 in a spirited Senior A football match at a scorching Gaelic Park on Sunday. With temperatures over 90 degrees, it was Donegal that opened the scoring with a well-taken Edmund Cleary point.
Donegal had success early with the third midfielder tactic, employing Paul Higgins in that role. With Mick Moran and Dermot Hurley, Donegal’s midfield pairing, Martin Coll played center halfback and Higgins was a nominal corner forward.
Higgins won a lot of ball around the center of the pitch, although his marker, Francie Sheridan, began to get his measure as the half wore on, even adding a point. John Paul Smith opened Cavan’s account with a fifth minute equalizer, the first of his 0-5 for the first half.
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Leslie McGettigan came off the Donegal bench in the last five minutes of the first half to an unusual defensive role. The veteran forward went to wingback and his marking and distribution out of the defense were both first rate. The first half ended all level at 0-6 to 0-6 and everything was still to play for.
Donegal got out of the blocks first again in the second half. Kieran Keaveney, another of Donegal’s veterans who contributed much on the day, drove over an excellent long-range point. Full forward Stephen Cassidy added a free, after Niall McCready drew the foul with some good running.
Cavan went to their bench for Paul Galligan, playing him on Higgins, and Galligan’s fresh legs paid dividends for the Breffni men. Galligan scored an excellent point and then had a hand, or foot, in Cavan’s next two points, from John Clarke and John Fagan. Cassidy and Kevin Lilly countered for Donegal as Donegal nosed in front 0-10 to 0-9 after only eight minutes had elapsed in the fast-paced second half.
Then Donegal got what turned out to be the decisive score of the match from Cassidy. Lilly found the full forward inside a scrambling Cavan defense and fisted to Cassidy, in good position. Cassidy took his time and buried his chance. With Donegal’s lead now at 0-4, the game, tough to begin with, grew scrappy.
Galligan added another point for Cavan, as the Blues crept back within one goal. J.P. Smith drove over a long point and Cavan’s hopes were high. Keaveney edged Donegal back out to a three-point lead and then Cavan got what should have been a break. With 9:30 left on the scoreboard clock, Kevin Lilly received a straight red card and an automatic ejection.
Now Cavan, trailing by 0-3, would play the rest of the way, almost 10 minutes with an extra man. But as is so often the case in Gaelic football at all levels the team with the extra man could make no use of what should be a clear advantage.
It was Donegal, in fact that responded, closing out the match with a 0-3 to 0-1 run over those last ten minutes. Neither side sealed their fate on Sunday, but Donegal are in a strong position for the playoff hunt, while Cavan find their hopes jeopardized.
Man of the Match: Kieran Keaveney.
Donegal: Eunan Doherty, Pauric Rooney, Mark McNeill, Brian McDermott, Garreth Kelly, Martin Coll ((0-1), Niall McCready (0-1), Mick Moran, Dermot Hurley, Kevin Lilly (0-1), Pat Walsh (0-1), Kieran Keaveney (0-4), Edmund Cleary (0-3, 2 frees), Stephen Cassidy (1-2), Paul Higgins. Subs: Tom Walsh (0-1) Leslie McGettigan.
Cavan: James Carrolan, David Rooney, Eugene O’Hagan, Francie Sheridan (0-1), Liam McGuire, Joe Cassidy, Anthony Forde, John Clarke (0-1), Shane Russell, Declan Martin, Paddy Smith, Gary McDermott, John Fagan (0-2), Paddy Sloane, John Paul Smith (0-6, 4 frees). Sub: Paul Galligan (0-2).