Gerard Smith, Cavan in Tailteann Cup action against Sligo's Nathan Mullen and Luke Towey.
Gerard Smith, Cavan in Tailteann Cup action against Sligo's Nathan Mullen and Luke Towey.

Tailteann Cup SF: Cavan reach decider

Tailteann Cup Semi-Final

Cavan 0-20 Sligo 1-14

By Paul Keane at Croke Park

A thrilling Tailteann Cup semi-final went all the way at Croke Park with the greater experience of pre-tournament favourites Cavan ultimately providing decisive.

Late scores from joint top scorers Gearoid McKiernan and Gerard Smith did the trick for the 2020 Ulster champions who held off a determined Sligo to secure a July 9 final place.

Mickey Graham's side will return to Croke Park in just under three weeks for the decider against Westmeath or Offaly and must be mightily relieved to have made it.

They were outscored by two points in a second-half that was lit up by the excellence of Niall Murphy, a half-time substitute for Sligo.

Murphy was held in reserve by manager Tony McEntee following a hamstring injury but reeled off four points and set up scores too for Pat Spillane and Sean Carrabine.

Sligo, who took out London and Leitrim in previous rounds, got the deficit down to just two points on a couple of occasions late on but timely points from McKiernan and Smith in the last 15 minutes or so kept Cavan in front throughout.

Murphy's dynamism and attacking quality was missed initially as the Yeats men wasted a series of decent first-half opportunities.

McEntee's men registered five wides in that period, dropped four separate score attempts short and had two goal chances - Patrick O'Connor hit the bar in the 28th minute and Mikey Gordon had a shot cleared off the line just before the interval - which came to nought.

Cavan, in contrast, showed a remarkable ability to take any chances that came their way with 11 different Breffni players getting on the scoresheet in the first-half alone.

Martin Reilly got Cavan's first point and was later replaced by Cian Madden who closed out the first-half scoring with a kick from distance that just about dropped over.

In between, the rest of the starting forwards, both midfielders as well as defenders Killian and Conor Brady all split the posts.

Cavan deserved their 0-6 to 0-0 lead after the opening 15 minutes though O'Connor's 20th minute goal came as a lifeline for Sligo which just about kept them in contention.

Having overcome Leitrim on penalties in the quarter-finals, it was another three-pointer from a spot kick for Sligo with O'Connor converting after the onrushing Luke Towey was hauled down by Gerard Smith.

Sligo also clipped two points which came from quick frees, Dublin based Kerryman Pat Spillane notching one and Darragh Cummins the other.

It all added up to a 0-11 to 1-3 half-time lead for Cavan and Killian Clarke Clarke became their 12th different scorer when he found his range in the 45th minute.

James Smith struck his second of the day for Cavan shortly after though Sligo had still eaten into their lead and got the gap down to just two points with 15 minutes to go.

The introduction of Murphy was a game changer with six second-half points coming through the Coolera-Strandhill man.

Murphy scored four points himself, won a free which Carrabine converted and also played in Spillane for another score.

Two points was as close as the Connacht semi-finalists got though as Cavan held on for a deserved, if battling, win.

Scorers for Cavan: Gearoid McKiernan 0-4 (0-1f), Gerard Smith 0-4, James Smith 0-2, Cian Madden 0-2, Paddy Lynch 0-1, Raymond Galligan 0-1 (0-1f), Martin Reilly 0-1, Thomas Galligan 0-1, Oisin Kiernan 0-1, Conor Brady 0-1, Killian Brady 0-1, Killian Clarke 0-1.

Scorers for Sligo: Patrick O'Connor 1-2 (0-1m), Niall Murphy 0-4, Sean Carrabine 0-3 (0-2f), Pat Spillane 0-2, Pat Hughes 0-1, Darragh Cummins 0-1, Alan Relly 0-1.

Cavan: Raymond Galligan; Killian Brady, Padraig Faulkner, Conor Brady; Ciaran Brady, Jason McLoughlin, Oisin Kiernan; Killian Clarke, Thomas Galligan; Stephen Smith, Gearoid McKiernan, Gerard Smith; Martin Reilly, Paddy Lynch, James Smith.

Subs: Cian Madden for Reilly 31, Oisin Brady for Stephen Smith 58, Conor Moynagh for Killian Brady 66, Luke Fortune for Ciaran Brady 68, Chris Conroy for Lynch 75.

Sligo: Aidan Devaney; Nathan Mullen, Evan Lyons, Paul McNamara; Luke Towey, Darragh Cummins, Paul Kilcoyne; Peter Laffey, Pat Spillane; Mikey Gordon, Alan Reilly, Keelan Cawley; Sean Carrabine, Patrick O'Connor, Pat Hughes.

Subs: Niall Murphy for Hughes h/t, Mark Walsh for Cawley 53, David Quinn for Cummins 62, Conor Griffin for Laffey 63, Donal Conlon for Spillane 70.

Referee: Fergal Kelly (Longford).