Tipperary's Bill Maher breaks away from Cavan's Padraig Faulkner during this afternoon's division four final at Croke Park. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Cavan 2-10 Tipperary 0-15
Silverware won in Croke Park would have been the cherry on top for the Tipperary footballers, after a run of five successive victories earned them promotion from division four of the Allianz National Football League. But it just wasn't to be in this afternoon's division four final at GAA headquarters, when the honours went to Cavan.
It was a game that Tipperary had every chance of winning but once their disappointment has dissipated they will realise and be grateful that promotion, the most important target of the league campaign, has been achieved.
They went into this game as outsiders, despite beating Cavan by four points in Kingspan Breffni during their promotion surge.
These counties met in an eventful All-Ireland championship senior semi-final way back in 1935, a game won by a last-gasp goal by Cavan's Jimmy Smith. The stakes at Croke Park today may not have been as high for either side, with promotion already in the bag, but this game was almost as dramatic.
The sides were level nine times throughout a contest that started as a cagey, tight affair, with the emphasis placed firmly on defensive strength on a bright, cool afternoon in Dublin 3. Both sides got bodies behind the ball whenever the other was in possession, with each relying on moments of creativity to carve out scoring opportunities.
However, as the second half unfolded the play became more open and stretched, resulting in a much more entertaining spectacle for the attendance of approximately 6,000.
As minds and bodies tired following the exertions of a busy, demanding campaign over the last month and a half, Tipperary lost possession around the middle of the field on a few occasions in the last quarter, fatally so in the 62nd minute, when Cavan counter-attacked with real purpose and Paddy Lynch rolled a low shot to the net for his and his team's second goal.
That made it 2-10 to 0-13, but Tipp weren't done for yet. A converted Conor Sweeney free two minutes later gave them a fighting chance of mounting a comeback, and with a few placed balls from Cavan goalie Raymond Galligan within striking distance of the posts failing to extend their lead, Tipperary still had a glimmer of hope
With so many players deployed in defence, Cavan created a fortress that ultimately proved impenetrable. However, Tipperary's big moment arrived in the third of five minutes of injury time, when Stephen Quirke collected Teddy Doyle's pass and unleashed a thunderbolt of a shot that crashed off the underside of the crossbar, struck the goal line and was scooped up by a Cavan pair of hands before the Ulster team were awarded a free.
It was cruel luck, but these things happen when it isn't your day.
An accurate Conor Sweeney free with just under a minute left kept the issue in doubt right until the final whistle, but after Kevin Fahey had an effort blocked and Cavan were awarded a free, their brave race was run.
The focus now switches to the championship for a Tipperary side that has grown and developed throughout the winter and spring, with several young players introduced to the set-up in recent months.
One of those new players, Mark Russell, lifted his team's performance above the ordinary in the first half with three stunning points from almost the same position on the right wing. He added another point in the second half and his influence on this team was perhaps underlined by the couple of hefty Cavan challenges he was subjected to in the opening half.
Mikey O'Shea has been another find this season and the Mullinahone man had another decent outing here, kicking two points from play.
Conor Sweeney grew in prominence in the second half, when he stayed in and around the edge of the square and the supply of ball aimed in his direction improved immeasurably, with the captain and former All-Star kicking five of his six points in the second period, including three from play.
Kevin Fahey, Bill Maher, Jimmy Feehan, Shane O'Connell, Conal Kennedy and Colm O'Shaughnessy all offered Tipp plenty of inspiration too.
It has been a rollercoaster ride for both counties in the last few years, rare provincial titles won at the tail end of 2020 followed by relegation to the league's bottom tier and then promotion at the first time of asking.
With both teams already assured of promotion to division three, they were allowed the freedom to throw off the shackles and express themselves in the second half, after a stodgy opening period.
Cavan's goals were worth their weight in gold to the Ulster team. While they didn't manage to find the net, Tipp had a glimpse of goal three times in the first half, as well as Stephen Quirke's late, fierce drive that struck the woodwork.
They first went close inside the opening minute when Mark Russell was denied by Conor Moynagh's tackle, before the same player gave Cavan the lead, a score that was answered by Conor Sweeney's free. In the seventh minute Mikey O'Shea, when released by Conal Kennedy's final pass, hooked a shot over the bar when he had a sight of goal.
Then Teddy Doyle, not long after he had kicked an excellent point near the 45 metre line, intercepted a Cavan pass before feeding Conor Sweeney, who picked out Timmy Maher with a pinpoint delivery. But the Loughmore player was smothered by the Cavan rearguard and couldn't finish.
Within an instant Cavan had broke and Paddy Lynch drilled a shot to the corner of the net past Michael O'Reilly's outstretched hand to make it 1-4 to 0-3.
Missing the opportunity to get a goal that would have put them two points ahead, Tipp conceded a major instead to find themselves four points in arrears in the 24th minute.
However Tipp seized control after that, kicking the next four points through Mark Russell (0-2), Jack Kennedy (a free kicked from the ground) and Russell again to level the scores. Cavan wasted a good chance of a goal when Luke Fortune sliced a shot wide, although goalkeeper Raymond Galligan's 45 - their first score in 16 minutes - edged them in front by 1-5 to 0-7 at the interval.
Buoyed by a pep talk from captain Conor Sweeney on the pitch before the game resumed, Tipp were quick off the mark at the beginning of the new half, despite facing the breeze. They regained the lead by the 39th minute, thanks to Sweeney's rising shot that cleared the crossbar and Mikey O'Shea's point set up by Bill Maher's incisive run.
The lead switched hands on a few occasions before Tipp, who were now in the ascendancy, opened up a two-point gap by the 55th minute, courtesy of points from Mark Russell and then Kevin Fahey, whose score was confirmed following Hawkeye's intervention.
However, just when it looked as if they might kick on for home, Tipp were drawn back into a late scrap in which Cavan just got the verdict to clinch their first senior trophy at Croke Park in 70 years.
Tipperary: Michael O'Reilly, Shane O'Connell, Jimmy Feehan, Jack Harney, Kevin Fahey (0-1), Colm O'Shaughnessy, Tommy Maher, Conal Kennedy, Mark Russell (0-4), Bill Maher, Jack Kennedy (0-1 free), Teddy Doyle (0-1), Mikey O'Shea (0-2), Conor Sweeney (0-6, 3 frees), Sean O'Connor.
Substitutes: Conor Deely for Sean O'Connor (19 minutes), Willie Eviston for Jack Harney (49 minutes), Stephen Quirke for Mark Russell (54 minutes), Billy Hewitt for Conor Deely (65 minutes), Martin Kehoe for Tommy Maher (69 minutes).
Cavan: Raymond Galligan (0-1 45), Luke Fortune, Padraig Faulkner (0-1), Killian Brady, Jason McLoughlin, Conor Moynagh (0-1), Gerard Smith, James Smith (0-1), Killian Clarke, Thomas Galligan, Gearoid McKiernan (0-1 free), Cian Madden (0-1), Evan Finnegan, Paddy Lynch (2-3, 0-1 free, 0-1 mark), Stephen Smith (0-1).
Substitutes: Conor Brady for Killian Brady (47 minutes), Caomhin O'Reilly for Cian Madden (49 minutes), Conor Madden for Gerard Smith (60 minutes), Chris Conroy for Evan Finnegan (63 minutes), Niall Murray for Stephen Smith (70 minutes).
Referee: John Hickey (Carlow).
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