Late goal only a consolation for Cavan as impressive Donegal secure fifth Ulster title of decade
Donegal 1-24 Cavan 2-16
Donegal completed their most successful ever decade in football by winning their fifth Ulster title in nine seasons in Clones with Michael Murphy captaining them to all these victories.
The magnitude of their success can be gauged from the fact that in the previous 123 years the county won five provincial titles in total.
While Cavan grabbed two late goals Donegal were in control of this contest virtually from the throw-in, though their late fade-out is a concern for them going forward.
Jamie Brennan again starred scoring 1-4 from play and Cavan will wonder why they opted to go defensive at the start rather than trust the front-foot attacking play which had served them so well during the series.
Trailing by eight points at the break, the game was already beyond their reach. They had much more success once they had their best forwards on the field. They probably scored enough to give them hope that they can still make the Super 8s.
Declan Bonner's side were also retaining the title for the first time since 2012. But as this group of players look forward to the Super 8s in which they will be in the same group as Kerry, they will be aiming to go one better than in 2019 and reach the All-Ireland semi-final.
Cavan opted for a defensive side drafting in Ciaran Brady and Gerald Smith – who replaced corner-forwards Cian Mackey and Conor Madden. Obviously the strategy of team boss Mickey Graham was to stay in the hunt for as long as possible and then unleash more of their forward power.
In the event both sides set up defensively – Cavan pulled 13 men behind the ball when not in possession while Donegal did one better and pulled everybody back.
Late replacement Odhrán McFadden-Ferry was given the job of man-marking Cavan's play-maker Martin Reilly who lined out at corner-forward. Meanwhile, at the other end Killian Clarke took responsibility for Michael Murphy.
Donegal did have the advantage of the breeze but it quickly became apparent that their overall slickness and greater penetration was set to cause Cavan endless problems.
By the 12th minute five different Donegal players had got on the scoreboard with four of their points coming from play. In contrast, Cavan's two scores came from midfielders Ciaran Brady and Gearoid McKiernan and they were separated by six minutes.
The key difference between the sides was emphasised in two consecutive plays near the end of the first quarter. Cavan had to work extremely hard for their third point from corner-back Conor Moynagh.
Shaun Patton delivered a monster kick out to Murphy inside the Cavan 65m line who linked up with Jamie Brennan to get through but his shot was smothered by goalkeeper Raymond Galligan before Brennan knocked the rebound over the bar.
It could have been worse for Cavan as Murphy was clearly impeded which was black card territory.
Part of Cavan's difficulty was that once they got possession they couldn't utilise their kicking game and trying to run the ball through the massed Donegal defence proved impossible.
Nonetheless, trailing 0-8 to 0-3 they were handed a lifeline to get back into the game eight minutes from the break when a diagonal foot-pass from Gerard Smith put Conor Rehill through on the right side but he poked the chance wide.
Donegal exacted significant retribution from that let-off with Jason McGee pointed straight after another monster kick out from Patton and just for good measure they turned over Cavan's next kick-out before the impressive Ciaran Thompson hit their tenth point of the half.
By the break Donegal were in cruise control leading 0-13 to 0-5 though Michael Murphy was fortunate to escape with a yellow card for a dangerous lunge on Cavan keeper Ray Galligan as he fielded a long ball from Thompson.
Donegal controlled the middle third of the field as evidenced by their ability to disrupt Cavan's theretofore excellent kick outs. They secured a third of Galligan's re-starts whereas Cavan only managed to to win one of Donegal's kick-outs.
Furthermore, only one of the Cavan starting forwards scored while five of their Donegal counterparts got on the scoresheet.
Cavan went for broke at the start of the second half introducing Cian Mackey and Conor Madden who had been in their original selection. But Michael Langan's 42nd minute point meant that all six Donegal forwards had scored from play as the champions comfortably maintained their eight point advantage over the challengers.
The game was played in virtual silence but to the credit Gearoid McKiernan did his best to drag his side back into the game. They hit three points on the spin for the first time between the 53rd and 55th minutes to narrow the gap to six and suddenly the Cavan fans found their voice again.
But no sooner had hope been restored than it was dashed again. Donegal's speed merchant James Brennan burned off Conor Moynagh, jinked passed Padraig Faulkner and then dropped the ball to the ground before blasting it to the net.
To their credit Cavan kept plugging away and were rewarded six minutes from the end when excellent play from Cian Mackay created the chance and his floating cross was punched to the net by substitute Conor Madden.
The remainder of the contest resembled a challenge match as both teams threw caution to the wind.
Cavan were left wondering what it might have been when another substitute Stephen Murray scored a peach of the goal in the fifth minute of stoppage time after a brilliant through ball from Moynagh. Though it cut the deficit to four points Donegal had the final say with Murphy converting a free to secure a deserved win.
Scorers: Donegal: J Brennan 1-4, P McBrearty 0-5 (1f), M Murphy 0-4 (3f), C Thompson, J McGee 0-2 each, R McHugh, E Ban Gallagher, H McFadden, N O'Donnell, M Langan, O Gallen 0-1, D each.
Cavan: G McKiernan 0-6, (3f), C Madden 1-1, D McVeety 0-3; S Murray 1-0, C Moynagh, C Brady, O Pearson, C Mackay (f), C O'Reilly, J Brady 0-1 each.
Donegal: S Patton; P McGrath, N McGee, O McFadden-Ferry, C Thompson, S McMenamin, E B Gallagher; H McFadden, J McGee; N O'Donnell, R McHugh, J, Brennan; P McBrearty, M Murphy, M Langan. Subs: D O Baoill for O'Donnell (43m), F McGlynn for Gallagher (55m); P Brennan for McFadden-Ferry (61m);O Gallen for Thompson (63m), L McLoone for Langan 70ml C Ward for McMenamin 70 +4.
Cavan: R Galligan; J McLoughlin, K Clarke, C Moynagh; C Brady, P Faulkner, C Rehill; C Brady, G McKiernan; N Murray; O Kiernan, G Smith; M Reilly, D McVeety, O Pierson. Subs: S Murray for N Murray (30m) C Mackay for Kiernan ht; Conor Madden for Smith ht; T Galligan for C Brady (50), C O'Reilly for Pierson (55m), J Brady for Rehill (70m)
Referee: Conor Lane (Cork)