Cavan eventually sealed their place in the Ulster semi-final but they were made to sweat for it against a competitive Antrim at Kingspan Breffni.

Coming into the game, the Breffni men had lost five of their last six meetings with the Saffrons and at half-time they had a battle on their hands as they trailed by 0-06 to 0-05.

However, Cavan's superior fitness came to the fore in the closing stages. On the home stretch, they turned Antrim over almost at will and the scores belatedly followed as the Blues won the final quarter by 0-06 to 0-03 to march on.

Antrim, who had conceded seven goals against Wicklow three weeks ago, set up very defensively and Cavan mirrored that approach, resulting in a first half which was full of lateral passing with both sides clearly following the same commandment: Thou shalt not bring the ball into contact.

The result was a poor spectacle which was made worse by Cavan's shooting, particularly in the first half when they kicked six wides and dropped a further three short.

Antrim led by 0-04 to 0-03 at the end of a closely contested first quarter. Cavan opened a two-point lead with a punched point from Oisin Pierson and a well-taken score from Oisin Kiernan, but Antrim were level by the ninth minute through Dermot McAleese and a free from veteran Paddy Cunningham.

Another experienced Saffron, Mick McCann – one of four survivors on the Antrim panel from the side who beat Cavan in the 2009 Ulster SFC semi-final – strolled through for the next which was cancelled out by Ciaran Brady, but Antrim were much more economical.

McCann and Cunningham combined to set Conor Murray up for an easy attacking mark and when Cunningham curled in from the left wing via the upright, the visitors were two up and growing in confidence.

Cormac Timoney landed his first score at senior level to settle Cavan’s nerves but the missed opportunities kept mounting up.

In injury time, half-back Brady landed his second point to cut the gap to the minimum at the interval but Antrim were much the happier going for their tea.

The third quarter was similarly attritional. Antrim stubbornly stuck to their system which was always going to require them to convert a high proportion of the chances they created.

Gearoid McKiernan celebrates after scoring a point for Cavan

They succeeded in carving the hosts open on four occasions but were left to rue three poor wides either side of the second water break and a missed goal opportunity for Patrick Gallagher - denied by a super Ray Galligan save – which could well have been enough for the upset.

As it was, Cavan, while making mistakes, worked hard throughout and got their reward. After a patient build-up, Killian Clarke levelled matters and a free from Gearoid McKiernan, after good work from half-time sub Thomas Galligan, saw Mickey Graham’s side hit the front for the first time since the ninth minute.

Antrim visibly tired as the game wore on and Cavan stretched their legs when needed. A turnover from Jason McLoughlin began a flowing move which impressive rookie Thomas Edward Donohoe finished with an attacking mark and Oisin Kiernan added the next after a run from Galligan to put three between them, 0-09 to 0-06.

Tomás McCann replied with a free before McKiernan made a huge fetch on Cavan’s kick-out and pointed.

Donohoe and Patrick McBride traded frees as Cavan found themselves reduced to 13 men following black cards for Kiernan and Gerry Smith (Killian Brady had picked one up earlier).

Conor Murray had Antrim’s last point on 69 minutes but Cavan finished strongly, Martin Reilly and Killian Clarke coming up with crucial interceptions as Donohoe and McKiernan rounded off the scoring.

Cavan: Raymond Galligan, Jason McLoughlin, Killian Clarke (0-01), Killian Brady, Gerard Smith, Ciaran Brady (0-02), Luke Fortune, Cormac Timoney (0-01), Padraig Faulkner, Martin Reilly, Gearoid McKiernan (0-03, 0-01f), Oisin Kiernan (0-02), Oisin Pierson (0-01), Stephen Smith, Cormac O'Reilly.

Subs used: Thomas Galligan for S Smith (ht), Thomas Edward Donohoe (0-03, 0-01m, 0-01f) for Pierson (41), Chris Conroy for K Brady (46), Niall Murray for O’Reilly (48).

Antrim: Michael Byrne, Patrick Gallagher, Declan Lynch, Kevin O’Boyle, Peter Healy, James McAuley, Niall Delargy, Colum Duffin, Mick McCann (0-01), Kevin Quinn (0-01), Mark Sweeney, Dermot McAleese (0-01), Patrick Cunningham (0-02, 0-01f), Conor Murray (0-02, 0-01m), Patrick McBride (0-01f).

Subs used: Paddy McCormack for Quinn (ht), Odhran Eastwood for Duffin (50), Tomás McCann (0-01f) for Cunningham (50), Mark Jordan for McAleese (56), Ruairi McCann for T McCann (61).

Referee: Paul Faloon (Down)