Donegal stamp their class to end decade on a high
Donegal 1-24 Cavan 2-16
You may feel your eyes are deceiving you as you look at the attached scoreline, more in tune with a hurling Championship match than an Ulster football final.
But Ulster has been a little different this year and while this lacked the drama and edge of most of the games that preceded it, it still reflected a new wave of attacking spirit that has swept through the province.
Please log in or register with Independent.ie for free access to this article.
Two years ago Tyrone won scoring 2-17, last year Donegal went one better (2-18), but they have reached a new level here by racking up the biggest score in this fixture in the modern era. Not since Cavan hit 6-13 in the Ulster final of 1933 has there been bigger.
Cumulatively, it is the highest scoring Ulster final in history, with 49 points between them. Yet Cavan may feel that, despite scoring 2-16 themselves, they were never really part of it.
That their replacements almost scored as much (2-4), as their starters (0-12) will give them food for thought in the days ahead.
Declan Bonner's men got out of the blocks fast, asserted themselves most impressively in the second quarter when they outscored Cavan by 0-7 to 0-2 and, while they left the door ajar at times in the second-half, the fruits of Cavan's labours were merely cosmetic, never really offering them a genuine lifeline.
It crowns a magnificent decade for Donegal with a fifth Ulster title, doubling their overall tally, in just nine years. It's also the second time they have retained their Ulster title, having also done it in 2011-12.
These are exciting times for the county and this is an exciting team.
Patrick McBrearty, enjoying a second-half return to form after rupturing his cruciate ligament on this very day 12 months ago, ventured to suggest that they are the most talented the county has produced. In terms of the overall picture, the idea that they are potentially Dublin's biggest challengers lost no traction here.
Some of the moves they put together were spellbinding yet simple in their creation - sequences of loops and reverse passes across the middle eventually putting a man away into space in a way that Cavan couldn't track.
Inevitably Michael Murphy and Ryan McHugh were the orchestrators, but Hugh McFadden's niche role as their defensive 'screen' enjoyed further development. He was composed, positioned in the right place to break up first-half attacks from Cavan and it was a vital ingredient to their game.
But beyond that structure is an attack that has endless potential. Jamie Brennan brought his Ulster Championship tally to 2-11 with another 1-4 from play and was again an electrifying presence.
When he wasn't scoring he was creating and for Donegal's third point from McHugh he bustled his opponent Conor Rehill off the ball so easily to illustrate the power he has now brought to his game.
Reviewing Brennan's 58th-minute goal, which restored the lead to nine points after three successive Cavan scores gave a little flicker of hope, will be painful for Cavan as he got inside Conor Moynagh too easily and then swerved by Jason McLoughlin before dropping the ball and side-footing past Raymond Galligan.
Cavan manager Mickey Graham rightly credited his players for their continued pressing, but in truth this was a five-point hammering, with Donegal content to pop over points with the fist when a more ambitious approach could have yielded goals. Brennan and Paddy McGrath also had clear first-half goal chances.
At the other end, Gearoid McKiernan and Dara McVeety kept chipping away while their replacements yielded 2-4. But Martin Reilly could never influence the game like they might have expected him to, as the selection of Odhrán McFadden-Ferry, such an effective man marker for Gaoth Dobhair, for his first senior match for his county paid big dividends.
Donegal's kick-out strategy, particularly in the first-half, was effective, with Shaun Patton's delivery down the right flank to clear Cavan's high press consistently catching them out and yielding points for Brennan and Jason McGee.
They also had success in pressuring Galligan's kick-out, with Cavan losing seven of their 18 in the opening half.
Donegal led by 0-13 to 0-5 and Cavan's first Ulster final in 18 years was shaping up to be a huge let-down for many of the 28,780 crowd that had packed into Clones.
Had Rehill got hold of his connection properly when he drifted in behind the Donegal defence in the 25th minute to gather a Gerry Smith point attempt that dropped short, it might have taken this game on a different course.
McBrearty grew in prominence in the second-half with points, while younger players like Michael Langan and Jason McGee were also prominent.
Donegal twice led by nine points, but Cavan did give their fans some cheer when Cian Mackey popped an inviting handpass across the Donegal goalmouth for Conor Madden, another substitute, to bat home in the 64th minute.
Late on Stephen Murray flicked a second goal when he met a delightful Conor Moynagh delivery to peel the lead back to four points, before Murphy stretched to five after Brennan, inevitably, had been fouled.
Scorers - Donegal: J Brennan 1-4; P McBrearty 0-5 (1f); M Murphy 0-4 (2f); J McGee, C Thompson 0-2 each; O Gallen, H McFadden, R McHugh, EB Gallagher, N O'Donnell, D O Baoill, M Langan 0-1 each. Cavan: G McKiernan 0-6 (3f); C Madden 1-1; D McVeety 0-3; S Murray 1-0; C Moynagh, C Brady, C O'Reilly, O Pierson, J Brady, C Mackey (f) 0-1 each.
Donegal - S Patton 8; P McGrath 7, N McGee 7, O McFadden-Ferry 7; R McHugh 7, S McMenamin 6, EB Gallagher 6; H McFadden 8, J McGee 8; C Thompson 7, N O'Donnell 6, M Langan 7; P McBrearty 8, M Murphy 6, J Brennan 8. Subs: D O Baoill 7 for O'Donnell (42), F McGlynn 6 for N McGee (53), P Brennan 6 for McFadden-Ferry (60), O Gallen for Thompson (63), L McLoone for Langan (69), C Ward for McMenamin (73).
Cavan - R Galligan 6; J McLoughlin 5, K Clarke 7, P Faulkner 6; Ciaran Brady 6, C Moynagh 7, C Rehill 6; Conor Brady 5, G McKiernan 8; O Kiernan 5, G Smith 5, N Murray 5; M Reilly 5, D McVeety 7, O Pierson 6. Subs: S Murray 7 for Murray (29), C Mackey 7 for Smith (h-t), C Madden 7 for Kiernan (h-t), T Galligan for Conor Brady (50), C O'Reilly for Pierson (53), J Brady for Rehill (69).
Referee: C Lane (Cork).