Cavan hold their nerve to restore top-flight status
Cavan 1-16 Galway1-12
Cometh the hour, cometh a Cavan team that was able to withstand the pressure of a 'winner-takes-all' match in front of a large home crowd to secure a return to the top flight. No better way to do it.
They had their moments of anxiety, none more so than Jason McLoughlin's magnificent goalline clearance to deny Damien Comer with everyone else beaten in the 67th minute.
A Galway goal at that stage would have edged them a point clear and, with matters already boiling to a tense climax in Kingspan Breffni Park, that may have been too much for Cavan to absorb.
But they took oxygen from McLoughlin's magnificent intervention and finished strong with three of the next four points in the closing seven minutes sheltering them from the storm.
They were full value for the win which restores them to Allianz Division 1 football for the first time since 2002. But Division 1 comprised 16 teams in those years so the 1996/'97 league was, strictly speaking, the last time they competed in an eight-team top flight.
They did so in some style too, the propensity for the heavy defensive orientation of recent years being replaced by a much more 'go forward' approach.
This has been reflected in a seven-match campaign that has now yielded 8-102.
When the temptation might have been to retreat into their shell in the second half they kept pressing and the home crowd appreciated it. It gives substance to the rich harvest of U-21 success that they have enjoyed in this decade, winning four of the five Ulster finals they contested from 2010 to 2014.
The fingerprints of those teams have been all over this surge out of Division 2 where they have been for just two years.
In contrast Galway football has laboured in the second tier and really, Comer's goal chance apart, they can have no complaints.
Any momentum they got in the second half was generated by Shane Walsh who showed some magnificent touches and landed four points (one free and one 45).
Thomas Flynn and Paul Conroy also got an upperhand at midfield where Cavan had successfully applied so much pressure to the Galway kick-out in the first half.
Consecutive draws against Meath, Armagh and Fermanagh put them in a position they really shouldn't be in but when it came down to it not enough of their players appeared to be willing to put their bodies on the line.
Cavan made it hard for themselves in both halves, kicking nine first-half wides and landing two more into Galway goalkeeper Manus Breathnach's hands.
Galway scored 1-5 from six attempts but for the last 20 minutes before the interval Cavan smothered them so much that the visitors didn't manage to get a shot away.
It was Cavan's best spell, led by the imperious Gearoid McKiernan from centre-forward who landed five superb points and was so often the first line of defence for breaking Galway defenders.
On this form McKiernan can take his place among the best who operate in that middle channel.
His second point on 22 minutes was a real crowd-lifter to bring parity at 1-5 each. A crisp tackle dispossessed Danny Cummins and the follow-up really energised the 6,149 crowd.
In tandem with McKiernan, Dara McVeety and David Givney also played hugely significant roles.
McVeety operated as an extra defender but he popped up just about everywhere and his work to mop up breaks beneath kick-outs and around his own goalmouth was phenomenal. He also got forward to put his team in front on 28 minutes, a lead they didn't subsequently relinquish.
Givney wasn't involved last year but his return has coincided with a far greater cutting edge in attack. He got the early goal, getting in behind the cover to gather Killian Brady's delivery that the Galway full-back line misjudged to beat Breathnach.
He was the perfect target man and in difficult conditions, his ability to win and retain possession was a crucial piece of artillery. He scored a second-half point but also assisted with three more scores. Galway just couldn't handle him.
With Seanie Johnston ruled out with a hamstring injury picked up last week, Givney didn't shirk leadership while Eugene Keating, who also stepped away last season, came off the bench to score two important points. The return of this trio can't be overlooked in any assessment of Cavan's surge.
The industry of Ciaran Brady, Conor Moynagh, McLoughlin and Killian Clarke also gave Cavan a decisive advantage.
When Clarke cut through for Cavan's second point he became the fifth defender to make the scoresheet in this campaign, a far cry from the 'black death' moniker that was hanging around them for a couple of seasons.
Givney's goal should have sparked something in Cavan but instead it was Galway who drew level by the 10th minute and when Eoin Brannigan's fisted point attempt came off an upright, Patrick Sweeney was on hand to finish for a goal and a three-point lead.
But it was their last score of the half as Cavan's immense defence took hold.
Galway manager Kevin Walsh sensed a championship feel to proceedings but clearly wasn't happy with that period.
"There were 20 minutes when we fell out of the game and we had no difficulty in telling them that," he said.
"They knew that themselves and they started to get physical in the second half and that allowed Shane and Eoin Brannigan get on the ball. In the first half they weren't able to get them on the ball so they could not show what they were made off.
"I can't say a word about the second half because we put in a really strong effort, we kept in touch but could not get ahead," he said.
"There was a huge block there on Damian Comer. It was a great comeback from our boys. We pushed on towards the end and got caught on the break but we had no choice at that stage because it was a 'winner-takes-all' situation."
Cavan manager Terry Hyland welcomed promotion but fixed his attention to more pressing matters.
"It is good for them (players) that we have achieved getting to Division 1. We have to make sure that we stay in Division 1. That's work again for next year," he said.
"They are at an age where if they step up and perform to their ability then they should be there for a number of years but it's up to them to step up and do that.
"Last year it was down to the last game as well against Meath. If we had beaten Meath and a few results went our way we would have been promoted last year so we felt we weren't far away.
"But we have championship coming up against Armagh and we have Tyrone again in the final in two weeks' time. They are the two immediate games we have to worry about."
Scorers - Cavan: G McKiernan 0-5, D Givney 1-1, R Galligan (2'45s), J Brady (2fs), E Keating all 0-2 each, K Clarke, N Murray, L Buchannan, D McVeety all 0-1 each. Galway: S Walsh 0-4 (1f, 1 '45), P Sweeney 1-0, G Sice 0-3 (3fs), E Brannigan 0-2, D Wynne, D Cummins, D Comer 0-1 each
Cavan - R Galligan 8; P Faulkner 7, K Clarke 8, J McLoughlin 7; K Brady 6, C Moynagh 7, C Brady 8; T Corr 7, L Buchannan 6; D McVeety 9, G McKiernan 9, M Reilly 7; M Argue 6, D Givney 9, J Brady 6. Subs: N Murray 7 for Argue (51), E Keating 8 for Brady (56), C Mackey 6 for Reilly (60), R Dunne for Buchannan BC (64), C Conroy for Corr (71)
Galway - M Breathnach 7; C Sweeney 7, D Kyne 5, D Wynne 7; G Bradshaw 6, G O'Donnell 5, L Silke 6; P Conroy 7, T Flynn 7; G Sice 6, P Sweeney 5, E Brannigan 8, S Walsh 8; D Cummins 6, P Sweeney 6, D Comer 6. Subs: J Heaney 6 for Cummins (49), A Varley 6 for P Sweeney (54), S Denvir for Sice (63), E Hoare for Brannigan (71)
Ref - E Kinsella (Laois)