Cavan lead from post to post to end an 18-year wait for a championship win over Monaghan with this well-merited victory in Kingspan Breffni.

A fifth-minute penalty from Martin Reilly was the crucial score as Cavan controlled the first half and withstood sustained pressure from their much-improved neighbours in the second.

At half-time, the hosts led by 1-8 to 1-4, having dominated. Reilly, in his 13th season, pulled the strings, linking the play, scoring a penalty and delivering inch-perfect passes to the inside forward line. 

Cavan’s sole debutant, Conor Brady, opened the scoring after just 12 seconds and the home side quickly added a second when Niall Murray cut in and split the posts.

Martin Reilly

In the fifth minute, Cavan bagged their opening goal when Reilly – formerly on the books at Burnley FC  - prised open the defence with a perfect ball to Conor Madden, who was felled in the square. Reilly slotted the resulting penalty low to Rory Beggan’s right and when the veteran again set Madden up for another, Mickey Graham’s side were 1-3 to 0-0 ahead and the Farney were reeling.

Beggan and McManus got them ticking with two frees but Cavan were playing with confidence and after McVeety, won possession, talisman Gearoid McKiernan swung in a trademark looping point from the right.

Monaghan were wasteful in front of the posts throughout – they managed just 0-2 from their first 11 shots – but Cavan, who had the joint-best goal concession in the country in the league, defended very well, with corner-back Jason McLoughlin superb.

Murray and McManus (free) traded scores before McKiernan slotted over another free after Madden was fouled when he seemed to be through for a goal.

A point from impressive newcomer Conor Rehill made it 1-7 to 0-3 for the hosts; again, McManus replied with a free but Madden had the final say with a well-taken point after a perfectly-weighted pass from Reilly as Cavan went in seven to the good.

They extended that lead to eight on the restart with a free from McKiernan but Monaghan, to their credit, upped the ante considerably and were the better team in the second half. They pushed up and did not allow Cavan to go short on kick-outs and, at times, penned the Breffni men into their own half for long periods.

A sublime point from McManus got the scoreboard ticking over for Monaghan again and one for Carey and a 45 from Beggan cut the gap to five.

Reilly, who was everywhere, cleared off the goal-line and from a counter-attack  - which Monaghan were susceptible to given the extent to which they had pressed forward – Dara McVeety fisted an important score.

But Monaghan, with sub Conor McCarthy punching holes in the Breffni rearguard, kept on coming.

He and his Scotstown team-mate Carey registered points before Ryan Wylie stormed forward to cut the gap to a goal.

Asked a big question, Cavan responded. From a rare attack, goalkeeper Galligan picked out Rehill who found full-back Padraig Faulkner for an inspirational point, which was then cancelled out by an equally impressive point from Faulkner’s opposite number, Conor Boyle.

The large home support in the 13,496 attendance summoned up the loudest cheer of the day when Thomas Galligan won a good ball and set McKiernan up for the insurance point and while Malachy O’Rourke’s men poured forward, all they could muster was a free by Kieran Hughes, with sub Chris Conroy having already stroked one over from 45 metres at the other end.

Cavan: R Galligan, J McLoughlin, P Faulkner (0-1), C Moynagh, G Smith, K Clarke, C Rehill (0-1), Conor Brady (0-1), G McKiernan (0-4, 2f), M Reilly (1-0, pen), D McVeety (0-1), N Murray (0-2), O Kiernan, T Galligan, C Madden (0-2)

Subs: Ciaran Brady for McLoughlin (23 mins, temp), Ciaran Brady for Kiernan (45), C Conroy (0-1f) for Smith (52), C Mackey for Madden (56), J Brady for Moynagh (60, BC), S Smith for T Galligan (65), K Brady for McLoughlin (70)

Monaghan: R Beggan (0-2, 45, 1f), D Wylie, C Boyle (0-1), R Wylie (0-1), K O’Connell, C Walshe, K Duffy, F Kelly, K Hughes (0-1f), D Ward, D Malone, S Carey (0-2), R McAnespie, C McManus (0-4, 3f), S O’Hanlon

Subs: C McCarthy (0-1) for McKenna (30 mins), K Duffy for Malone (h-t), M Bannigan for O’Hanlon (54), O Duffy for Ward (63), N Kearns for Carey (66), D Mone for O’Connell (BC, 70)