Johnston free gives Cavan a late lifeline
Cavan 1-10 Kerry 0-13
Just a few weeks ago in Tyrone, it looked hopeless. Having taken just one point from four games, and with games against Mayo and Kerry to come, it looked like Division 1 was going to chew Cavan up and spit them out before they ever got to face fellow strugglers Roscommon.
But even as word filtered through that Mayo had plundered Omagh, there weren't too many glum faces around Kingspan Breffni Park.
It had already been decided that Cavan were bringing it to the final day. Had they been offered that in Omagh, they'd have taken it.
The sun shone on Breffni for the afternoon but the football never reflected the weather. There were ten Cavan wides in the first half. Kerry managed just two from play in the same period. There were errors aplenty but still, the game produced a grandstand finish.
Bryan Sheehan replaced Adrian Spillane just before half-time. His was a mixed contribution as he finished with three points but miscued on four occasions in the second half as the swirling breeze made it a difficult day for kicking.
But when the St Mary's man curled over a free from near the touchline to put his side two points to the good on 68 minutes, Kerry looked almost home.
But, as Dublin showed last weekend, playing to the death can yield rewards. Conor Moynagh steered over a point before, deep in injury-time, Seanie Johnston equalised with what was his first meaningful touch of the ball from a free from 40 metres.
There was time for more drama as Kerry earned a free down near the town goals close to the sideline. The free was on the wrong side for Paul Geaney's right foot and his effort tailed wide.
Cavan would take a point and no matter what, their fate wouldn't be decided until the final day at least.
"It's a huge moment in the game," Cavan manager Mattie McGleenan said of Johnston's nerveless late free.
"We need people to man up in those situations and make a huge play. For Seanie to come in at that point, accept the responsibility and kick it, it says a lot about him.
"I have to say I'm only down this country a short while but he is a tremendous young man and he just epitomises the rest of the players in terms of attitude and character."
Kerry led by 0-6 to 0-4 at the interval but had been far from convincing. And when Dara McVeety scorched Mark Griffin for the game's only goal on 41 minutes, it looked like Cavan might take a second big scalp in a week.
But the sides traded blows from there until the final whistle. Niall McDermott and Cian Mackey made significant impacts for Cavan went introduced while Barry John Keane made his customary impression when he kicked two points after being brought on for Jack Savage.
Kerry boss Eamonn Fitzmaurice admitted frustration they couldn't get back to the levels of last weekend when they brought Dublin to the brink.
"The lads are frustrated as well. We had been going well for the last couple of weeks. We had a good away win to Roscommon. We came close to winning last weekend, didn't quite get it done. You'd like to see that graph continuing to go upwards.
"The big thing from our point of view is that we didn't lose the game. That is a game we would have lost before."
He denied there was any hangover from the Dublin game.
"The lads were very up for the game beforehand. Sometimes, you don't know until you cross the white lines where your head is at and where your stomach for battle is at. You have to give huge credit to Cavan and the way they played. They made it very hard for us. Rather than us being very despondent, you have to give them a lot of credit."
Kerry welcome Tyrone to Killarney next Sunday in what will be their last competitive game for ten weeks. Cavan take on Roscommon, knowing a win there and a defeat for Mayo against Donegal could see them pull off what looked like a very unlikely escape only a few weeks ago. Although a defeat for Kerry could bring the Breffni's poor score difference into play.
Still McGleenan has been delighted with his squad since the loss in Omagh.
"There has been tough times, players have dug in and they are showing that now on the football field in terms of how they perform.
"Every day is a learning day for me, this is my first time here, every other county (manager) has two, three, five ten years' experience. So we are on a massive steep learning curve right now. But I like to think we are learning fast."
Scorers - Cavan: D McVeety 1-0, C Madden (1f), G McKiernan (2f), N McDermott (2f) 0-2 each, C Moynagh, K Clarke, N Clerkin, S Johnston (1f) 0-1 each. Kerry: P Geaney 0-5 (5f), B Sheehan 0-3 (2f), BJ Keane 0-2, D Walsh, J Barry, P Murphy 0-1 each.
Cavan - R Galligan 7; K Brady 6, K Clarke 8, F Reilly 7; R Dunne 6, C Moynagh 7, N Murray 7; T Corr 7, G McKiernan 8; M Reilly 6, D McVeety 7, N Clerkin 6; J Dillon 7, C Madden 6, G Smith 6. Subs: J McLoughlin 6 for K Brady (BC, 19), C Mackey 8 for Clerkin (40), N McDermott 8 for Madden (46), C Brady 7 for Smith (50), S Murray 6 for Dunne (65), S Johnston for Dillon (68).
Kerry - B Kealy 7; F Fitzgerald 7, M Griffin 6, R Shanahan 6; P Crowley 6, T Morley 7, P Murphy 7; D Moran 8, J Barry 7; A Spillane 6, K McCarthy 6, D Walsh 7; J Savage 6, P Geaney 7, S O'Brien 7. Subs: D O'Sullivan 7 for McCarthy (BC, 9), B Sheehan 7 for Spillane (28), BJ Keane 8 for Savage (40), A Maher 6 for O'Sullivan (55), J Lyne 6 for Crowley (61), M Geaney for Barry (62).
Ref - M Deegan (Laois)