Cavan’s senior hurlers broke new ground last Sunday at Kingspan Breffni when they qualified for their first ever Lory Meagher Cup semi-final.
The county’s hurling travails have been well documented but last weekend’s hard-fought victory over match favourites Fermanagh has propelled Cavan into unchartered territory.
The Lory Meagher Cup was introduced in 2009 to provide championship hurling for those counties deemed not quite good enough to compete against the more traditional hurling counties.
The blues’ recent progress has seen them knock on the door of the play-off stages in the Lory Meagher Cup over the last five years in particular but only last weekend was the door forced ajar.
In the end, a 64th minute Sean Keating goal and three unanswered frees in added-on time proved pivotal in working the oracle for Cavan.
The hosts weren’t at their best, collectively, on the day but they timed their run to the finishing line to perfection after Fermanagh looked winners in-waiting for extended spells at a refreshingly atmospheric Kingspan Breffni.
The Ernesiders looked favourites to advance after a less than convincing first half and they were well positioned to secure what would arguably have been a deserved win when Sean Corrigan’s effort (57) put them 0-16 to 0-13 in front.
However, the visitors – who shot 14 wides to Cavan’s six – failed to close out the game and they duly paid the ultimate penalty with Diarmaid Carney’s brace and Brian Fitzgerald’s 67 metre free (73) upholstering Keating’s daisycutter to see Cavan over the line.
Cavan were the more sprightly team early on and thanks, in part, to a hat-trick of Fitzgerald frees and a Caoimhín Carney point (6), raced into a 0-5 to 0-1 lead.
Worryingly though, Cavan failed to consolidate their impressive start and, slowly but surely, Fermanagh found their feet and got into their stride.
The Ernesiders almost visibly grew in confidence and belief and as the first water break beckoned, they began to reel in Cavan’s clear but increasingly tenuous lead.
As the second quarter gathered pace, the Ernesiders proceeded to edge matters on the possession front and a brace of points from impressive half back JP McGarry helped hoist the visitors into the lead (0-9 to 0-8) for the first time in the match with 26 minutes on the clock.
However, yet another brace of Fitzgerald frees saw Cavan deservedly drew level (0-10 to 0-10) at half-time amidst sporadic thunderous showers of rain.
Fermanagh enjoyed the momentum on the restart and a good move involving Conor McShea, Sean Corrigan and Tom Keenan ended with the latter making it 0-13 to 0-10 by the three-quarter hour mark.
Corrigan found himself all alone in the 57th minute to make it 0-16 to 0-13 and the Fat Lady could almost be heard clearing her throat.
It looked like another near miss was going to be Cavan’s lot but Sean Keating’s angled daisycutter – after he latched onto an inviting long delivery by Fitzgerald – had the sides level, 1-13 to 0-16, for the fourth time in the tie.
Fermanagh got back on the front foot though with a John Duffy free (68) and the smart money was on the more experienced white and green brigade keeping their noses in front ‘till the death.
Cavan hadn’t read the script though and Diarmaid Carney’s pair of frees and one from Fitzgerald sealed arguably the most significant senior hurling victory for Cavan in four decades.
Darren Sheridan; Neasán Neary, Dominic Crudden, Shane Briody; Anthony Sheridan (0-1), Enda Shalvey, Philip McCabe; Mattie Hynes, Diarmaid Carney (0-2, 2f); Jack Barry (0-2), Brian Fitzgerald (0-10, 7f, ’65); Colum Sheanon; Cillian Sheanon, Sean Keating (1-0), Caoimhín Carney (0-1).
Subs; Philip Brady for C Carney (inj); Mark Moffett for P McCabe.
Mark Curry; Dylan Bannon (0-1), Rory Porteous, Aidan Flanagan; Luca McCusker, Barney McAuley (0-2, 2f), JP McGarry (0-3); Ryan Bogue (0-1), Thomas Cleary; Conor McShea (0-1), Francis McBrien, Caolan Duffy; Jimmy Tormay, Sean Corrigan (0-4,2f), Tom Keenan (0-3).
Subs; John Duffy (0-2, 1f) for J Tormay; Kevin McGarry for T Cleary; Ben Corrigan for D Bannon (inj); Barry McPhillips for T Keenan.
Ref; C McDonald (Antrim)