Donegal hearts were broken when Cavan’s Liam Buchanan fired home a 58th minute goal to win his side a fourth successive Ulster U-21 title last night.
After a drab first half, Donegal felt their way back into the match, looked to have picked the sizable lock and were only 80 seconds away from an eighth Ulster U-21 title as they lead 0-8 to 1-3.
But then the roof fell in.
Buchanan grabbed possession and ran right at the heart of the Donegal defence and smashed past Joe Coll to the delight of the Cavan support.
That score - only Cavan’s second in the second half - made the score 2-3 to 0-8.
Donegal pushed and pushed to try and restore parity only to be picked off by Michael Argue, a Joe Dillion free and a clincher from Barry Fortune.
The four-point reversal was harsh on Donegal, just as a one-point one would’ve been.
Cavan hadn’t lost in the province since Jim McGuinness’s Donegal toppled them in the 2010 final at Brewster Park in Enniskillen.
The experience of their three titles since then, although the personnel has changed a little, was a telling factor.
But for a long time it didn’t look so dramatic.
With the natural inclination for both sides to drop as many as 13 men back when not in possession, the finalists were a mirror image of one another for long spells in the first half.
After 18 minutes, the score was 0-1 apiece with Patrick McBrearty’s free levelling out Kevin Bouchier’s opener.
With claustrophobia the order of the evening, it was going to take something exceptional to rip the spiderwebs.
Cavan’s Dillion did look the most likely, having carried an element of explosiveness every time he was in possession.
On 19 minutes, Dillion was found by a raking ball by Enda Flanagan and instead of snatching at the opportunity as he made his way across the square, he showed great composure before slotting into the top corner of Coll’s net.
With things so tight, a goal was always going to prove a mammoth score.
William Gillespie pulled one back for Donegal - the only point from play in the first half - only for Bouchier to restore Cavan’s three-point advantage, 1-2 to 0-2, before the break.
Cavan were certainly aggrieved when their captain, Conor P Moynagh, was black-carded in an incident with Eoin McHugh, when many felt it was the Donegal man who would be pursued by referee, Cathal O’Hagan.
It wasn’t the most pleasing first half on the eye and Donegal seemed to be falling into the Cavan trap.
Right from when O’Hagan threw the first ball for the start of the second half, the contest gradually began to change.
It wasn’t so immediate at first, only gradual.
Donegal weren’t running into the same cul-de-sacs they had been initially, were moving the ball faster and shooting from greater distance.
When McBrearty and Bouchier traded early frees, there was nothing apparent.
However, that was a prelude to three successive scores for Maxi Curran’s team, with Hugh McFadden adding to McBrearty’s brace. Donegal were creeping up, level 0-6 to 1-3.
Cavan looked to have tried to bolt the door so much they’d locked themselves in the house.
Ryan McHugh, with the outside of his foot, fired over a point that was reminiscent of Kevin Cassidy’s against Kildare in 2011.
Six minutes remained. Donegal led for the first time. Eoin McHugh then doubled the advantage.
Donegal had nine fingers on the cup but Cavan whisked it from them. So near. So far.
Donegal: Joe Coll; Ciaran Brennan, Conor Parke, Andrew McCloskey; Martin O’Reilly, Ryan McHugh (0-1), Gavin Gallagher; Hugh McFadden (0-1), Ciaran Thompson; Dara Mulgrew, Patrick McBrearty (0-4, 3f), Eunan Doherty; Darach O’Connor, William Gillespie (0-1), Eoin McHugh (0-1). Subs: Ciaran Cannon for McCloskey (37), John O’Malley for Doherty (53)
Cavan: James Farrelly; Barry Fortune (0-1), Killian Clarke, Padraig Faulkner; Gerry Smyth, Conor P Moynagh, Ciaran Brady; Liam Buchanan (1-0), Michael Argue (0-1); Paul Graham. Enda Flanagan, Aaron Watson; Dara McVetty, Kevin Bouchier (0-3, 3f), Joe Dillon (1-1, 1f). Subs: Aaron O’Hara for Moynagh (23 black card). Tom Hayes for Bouchier (39), Enda Hession for Flanagan (44)
Referee: Cathal O’Hagan (Tyrone)