Ulster SFC preliminary round: Donegal 2-20 Cavan 1-15

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Cavan gave us plenty to think about - Bonner
Ulster Championship first round: Donegal 2-20 Cavan 1-15
Donegal scorers: M Murphy 0-6, P McBrearty 0-4, R McHugh 1-0, C Mulligan 1-0, M Langan 0-3, C Thompson 0-3, J Brennan 0-2, C Ward 0-1, L McLoone 0-1
Cavan scorers: G McKiernan 0-7, C O'Reilly 1-3, C Mackey 0-2, N Murray 0-1, B Magee 0-1, A Cole 0-1

Donegal set up an Ulster SFC quarter-final against Derry as they proved far too strong for Cavan in a low-intensity preliminary-round opener at Ballybofey.

Caoimhin O'Reilly's goal put Cavan 1-3 to 0-4 up but Ryan McHugh flicked in a Donegal three-pointer as they led 1-10 to 1-6 at half-time.

Six unanswered Donegal points after the resumption put the game to bed.

Cavan cut the gap to five but a comeback was never on and Cian Mulligan fired in Donegal's late second goal.

The superb long-range point scoring of young half-forwards Ciaran Thompson and Michael Langan was a feature of Donegal's display as they both hit 0-3.

Michael Murphy looked sharp while Patrick McBrearty finished with 0-4 after a quiet first half.

Cavan battled bravely but were largely outclassed by the home side as they were only able to introduce influential skipper Dara McVeety in the closing stages because of his hamstring injury.

Donegal remain untested

Donegal's win will boost the confidence of Declan Bonner's side after their unlucky league relegation but it is arguable whether the manager learned much from the MacCumhaill Park contest.

After their promotion to Division One, some pundits felt Cavan were capable of ending Donegal's unbeaten run in Ballybofey, stretching back to 2010, but the Breffni boys were a well-beaten outfit long before the final whistle.

Caoimhin O'Reilly's well-worked 17th-minute goal after Killan Clarke's direct run only served to rally Donegal as they fought back to lead by five within nine minutes.

The diminutive McHugh was unmarked to flick Murphy's mishit 45 past Raymond Galligan to cancel out O'Reilly's score.

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Cavan's season isn't over - McGleenan

Donegal were able to win pulling up despite playing in fits and starts.

A run of 1-6 without reply left them 1-10 to 1-3 ahead late in the first half and, while Cavan responded with three scores before the break, Donegal's six unanswered points after the resumption effectively ended the contest.

Hosts take control after Cavan goal

While the final score of 2-20 to 1-15 might suggest an entertaining occasion, in truth the game was pedestrian for much of the 73 minutes of play.

Two Caoimhin O'Reilly frees helped Cavan take an early and, while superb long-range scores from Langan and Thompson contributed to Donegal edging ahead, the Breffni men were back in front on 17 minutes when O'Reilly netted.

Caoimhin O'Reilly's goal prompted a stunning response by Donegal
Caoimhin O'Reilly's goal prompted a stunning response by Donegal

However, Donegal's response to that goal gave them a stranglehold on the contest which they never looked like relinquishing.

‎The Tir Conaill men's running game at that stage looked fluent with the impressive Caolan Ward and Paul Brennan bombing into the Cavan half with regularity.

McBrearty was somewhat stranded inside in the first half as there was little direct ball into the square and he was also unable to get on the ball.

Cavan replied with the final three points of the first half - including two Gearoid McKiernan efforts - to cut Donegal's interval lead to four but it still looked a long road back for the visitors.

Donegal put game to bed

Any prospects of a genuine Cavan fightback were quickly ended as four Murphy points helped Donegal suddenly lead by 10 within eight minutes of the restart.

McBrearty finally got off the mark during that period as Donegal threatened to overwhelm the visitors.

But after that scoring burst, and with the game effectively won, Donegal went back into their shell for the next 15 minutes as Cavan hit five unanswered scores.

Ciaran Brady did palm wide a sniff of a goal chance during Cavan's scoring burst before two McBrearty points eased any sense that Donegal's lead could be under threat.

Cian Mulligan scored a superb solo goal for Donegal in the second half
Cian Mulligan scored a superb solo goal for Donegal in the second half

Highly-rated Gweedore youngster Cian Mulligan showed his fleet turn of foot late on as he beat a couple of defenders before firing to the net past Galligan.

Mulligan's display was another plus for Declan Bonner but he may be concerned at the concession of 1-15 against a Cavan outfit that looked limited throughout.

Derry will host Donegal in their Ulster quarter-final at Celtic Park on Sunday, 27 May.