Cathal Cregg hit two late goals to give Roscommon a deserved Croke Park win as the sides shared eight goals in an entertaining Division 2 final.
Goals from Conor Bradley, Martin Reilly and Dara McVeety kept Cavan in the game as they trailed 0-12 to 3-2 at half-time, but Roscommon’s forwards found points easier to come by and Cregg’s late double wrapped up the win in the final minutes despite black cards for Cathal Compton and Diarmuid Murtagh.
This was Roscommon’s first day back in Croke Park since their 22-point defeat to Mayo in last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final replay, and they took their time settling into this encounter too.
Four minutes in, the Ulster men claimed the first score of the game, and what a boost it was when Conor Bradley outpaced Ultan Harney and Conor Daly and sent the ball past James Featherston.
Captain Conor Devaney hit an inspirational score for his team moments later, but a foul from Daly allowed Caoimhin O’Reilly to kick Cavan’s first point after six minutes.
Following last season’s relegation from Division 1 both teams have made an immediate return to the top flight, but Cavan couldn’t believe their luck in the eighth minute when their second goal arrived.
There seemed to be little trouble when McVeety got the ball wide on the left, but after the cover defenders followed their markers he found himself in on goal. Conor Daly halted his progress illegally, and from the penalty Martin Reilly found the bottom corner for a 2-1 to 0-1 lead.
It was a shocking start for Roscommon, but the next 15 minutes was totally dominated by the men from the west.
With Ciaran Lennon proving an excellent target man, the runners off him made great progress and the next eight points were scored by Kevin McStay’s side. Devaney started the run with a good point, while Donie Smith and Diarmuid Murtagh took their scores well as Roscommon worked their way to an impressive 0-9 to 2-1 lead.
Cavan were having a poor day shooting for points and were guilty of eight missed scoring chances before half-time, but for a third time in the half Roscommon’s defence was carved open for a lead goal. Cian Mackey did well to dispossess Brian Stack after a Featherston kick-out, but McVeety got in on goal too easily again to give his side a one-point lead – 3-1 to 0-9.
But the major scores didn’t deter Roscommon. Donie Smith kicked two excellent points in as many minutes, and Niall Kilroy’s first of the match meant they led at the break despite Cavan’s only point from play in first-half added-time by full-back Padraig Faulkner.
The introduction of Seanie Johnston at the interval injected some much needed zip to the Cavan forward line, and he combined with McVeety to kick the three quick points for their side as they took a 3-5 to 0-13 lead.
But this was Roscommon’s turn to hit the net as they were being dominated elsewhere. Devaney got in behind and Kilroy palmed his squared ball past Raymond Galligan after 44 minutes, and two minutes later Brian Stack sent David Murray in for a second goal.
That double strike and Enda Smith’s point gave Roscommon a six-point cushion, but that was almost erased totally in a two-minute spell. McVeety kicked his third point in the 50th minute and corner-back Enda Flanagan added to it straight away with a brilliant volleyed finish to the net, while Ciaran Bradly’s long range point made it 2-14 to 4-7 – a one-point lead for Roscommon with 18 minutes remaining.
A goal-line dive from Enda Smith denied substitute Stephen Murray a goal, but Mattie McGleenan’s side pulled level when Johnson slotted from a tight angle on the right.
But there was always going to be another couple of twists to this frantic tie, and they fell in Roscommon’s favour as Cregg hit goals in the 61st and 65th minutes to clinch victory.
Roscommon: James Featherston; Fergal Lennon, Peter Domican, David Murray (1-00); Conor Daly, Ultan Harney, Brian Stack; Tadhg O’Rourke, Cathal Compton; Ciaráin Murtagh (0-01, 0-01f), Niall Kilroy (1-01), Conor Devaney (c) (0-03); Diarmuid Murtagh (0-04, 0-02f), Ciaran Lennon, Donie Smith (0-03).
Subs: Niall McInerney (0-01) for Daly (half-time), Enda Smith (0-01) for O’Rourke (47 mins), Cathal Cregg (2-01) for C Lennon (52), Tadhg O’Rourke for Compton (54 BC), Niall Daly for Stack (61), Ian Kilbride (0-01) for F Lennon (61).
Cavan: Raymond Galligan (0-01, 0-01’45); Jason McLoughlin, Padraig Faulkner (0-01), Enda Flanagan (1-00); Martin Reilly (0-01, 1-00pen), Killian Clarke, Oisin Kiernan; Gearoid McKiernan (0-01, 0-01f), Bryan Magee; Dara McVeety (c) (1-03), Conor Bradley (1-00), Ciaran Brady (0-01); Cian Mackey, Adrian Cole, Caoimhin O’Reilly (0-01, 0-01f).
Subs: Niall Murray for Magee (29 mins), Niall Clerkin for McLoughlin (half-time), Sean Johnston (0-04, 0-02f) for O’Reilly (half-time), Conor Madden for Flanagan (52), Stephen Murray for Bradley (52), Conor Moynagh for McVeety (62).
Referee: Sean Hurson (Tyrone).