Tribes' bright future
All-Ireland U-21 FC Final
'Waity Katie,' as the tabloids used to dub her, may have finally got her prince, but there was no fairytale ending for Cavan's footballers yesterday.
The Breffni lads' brave journey to the county's first final in Croke Park in 59 years ended in tears when they were torn asunder by a team of youngsters who proved that reports of Galway football's demise are greatly exaggerated.
Thousands of Cavan fans ( 12,000 approx) collected around Jones's Road from early morning, buzzing with their dream of a first All-Ireland victory since the legendary senior team of '52.
But the chance of a perfect ending was snuffed out by a much more composed Galway outfit, who racked up an 11-point half-time lead.
Cavan's heavy mauling immediately prompted fears for their future psyche, but manager Terry Hyland insisted the county will still benefit and build on this year's progress.
"While we'll go home disappointed, we are still our own provincial champions, which is a fair achievement for Cavan and hadn't happened since 1996," he said. "We got to an Ulster final also last year and, hopefully, we can put out a bunch of fellas next year who can compete again."
Had nerves played a big part?
"Perhaps they got to our boys a little bit," he admitted.
"We seemed to fumble a lot of ball that we normally wouldn't, while everything Galway did turned to gold for them. Anywhere they kicked from it went across the bar, and we dropped a few short, but Galway were the better side on the day."
Hyland's reference to dropping a few short undoubtedly referred to a crucial period, 10 minutes in, when the sides were level on 0-3 apiece and Cavan then wasted four consecutive chances.
They kicked one wide and dropped three more scoreable chances short to the goalkeeper in quick succession, one of them a 25-metre free.
Galway responded with a scoring blitz of 2-7 unanswered in 17 minutes, though they were lucky with Patrick Sweeney's opening goal which drew two great saves from Alan O'Mara and hit the woodwork twice before he was eventually beaten.
Galway's senior stock may have fallen lower than Irish bank shares these days but a third All-Ireland U-21 title in 10 years (2002 and 2005), their fourth in total, indicated that it can rise again. And delighted manager Alan Mulholland believes many of his winning side are ready now to make the jump to senior.
"The state of Galway football has been over-exaggerated," he said. "We knew we had a good group of lads here and I know Tomas (O Flatharta, senior manager) has his eye on a good few of them. In my opinion, a good lot of them are ready to move on at this stage."
Impressive full-back and captain Colin Forde is already a senior panellist and his decision to play with the big first-half wind paid huge dividends as the young Tribesmen changed ends with a 2-10 to 0-5 lead.
And when their goalkeeper Manus Breathnach saved a penalty from Barry Reilly within five minutes of the restart it was looking like a foregone conclusion.
A handful of yesterday's victors won a minor title at Croke Park in 2007 when Mulholland was also in charge.
Yet, surprisingly, brilliant centre-forward Mark Hehir wasn't one of them.
He never played minor for the county yet picked up his second U-21 Man of the match award yesterday, displaying a style and vision eerily reminiscent of a young Padraig Joyce, orchestrating everything like a virtuoso conductor while also chipping in with 0-7 (0-2f).
He wasn't their only star.
Speedy corner-forward Danny Cummins burned off two markers in turn, wing-back Joss Moore got two early points, central defenders Forde and Jonathan Duane were simply unflappable and two of last year's minors -- Fionntain O Curraoin and Thomas Flynn -- proved exactly why they are already being marked out as future county senior midfielders, with O Curraoin particularly outstanding yesterday.
Cavan started corner-back Mark Leddy at midfield to mark Flynn and sited Gearoid McKiernan (their only player with any previous Croke Park experience, with his club Swanlinbar) at wing-back, but it quickly became clear that their defence had no match for Galway's power and pace.
Niall Smith, who, like Niall McDermott, battled heroically throughout, got Cavan off to a great start, scoring after just 20 seconds and points from Barry Reilly and Fergal Flanagan kept them level.
But then their midfield and defence was over-run and anytime their forwards got a chance they went goal-chasing, instead of taking some settling points.
Immediately after the restart, with the wind at their backs, they had genuine goal chances, not least a bouncing ball which Jack Brady should have punched over the goalkeeper, but opted to control.
Substitute Conor McLarney, with literally his first touch, got a consolation goal, laid on by Niall McDermott, in the dying minutes and Turloc Mooney and Kevin Tierney also did well off the bench, but Galway were already home and hosed.
Man of the Match: Mark Hehir (Galway)
Scorers -- Galway: M Hehir 0-7 (4f), D Cummins 0-4, P Sweeney, E Monahan 1-0 each, M Boyle (1f), J Moore 0-2 each, C Doherty 0-1. Cavan: C McClarey 1-0, B Reilly (1f), N McDermott 0-2 each, F Flanagan, N Murray, N Smith, J Brady (f), K Tierney 0-1 each.
Galway -- M Breathnach 8; G Sweeney 9, C Forde 9, A Tierney 8; J Moore 8, J Duane 8, T Fahy 7; T Flynn 7, F O Curraoin 9; C Doherty 7, M Hehir 9, B Boyle 8; D Cummins 9, P Sweeney 7, E Monahan 7. Subs: A Murphy 7 for Sweeney (32), M Farragher 8 for Monahan (47), B Flaherty for Boyle (56), C Halloran for Fahy (59), C Silke for Tierney (59).
Cavan -- A O'Mara 8; D Barkey 6, O Minagh 7, D Tighe 5; G McKiernan 6, K Meehan 5, M Brady 7; M Leddy 5, F Flanagan 6; N Smith 8, N Murray 6, B Reilly 7; J Brady 5, N McDermott 7, P Leddy 5. Subs: P King 5 for Leddy (21), T Mooney 7 for Tighe (31). K Tierney 7 for Reilly (40), N McKiernan 6 for King (51), C McClarey for Meehan (58).
Ref -- E Kinsella (Laois).