Cavan claimed a third successive U21 crown by defeating Donegal in Enniskillen, 0-13 to 1-6.
It could have been a different story had not the losers passed up on four presentable goalscoring opportunities – two in each half – but in the end the Breffni County were full value for their historic third consecutive provincial championship heist.
The victors assumed control of the game in the first half as they roared into a commanding 0-7 to 0-2 interval lead.
Cavan had the first opportunity of a score but Enda O'Reilly's free went wide. However, Chris Conroy quickly fired the Breffni County ahead with an excellent point. They would lead from here to the end…
It was 0-2 to no score after five minutes when O'Reilly converted a free after Jack Brady had been fouled and Peter Reilly's charges powered into a three-point lead courtesy of a tidy Gerry Smyth finish.
Brady missed a free and Darach O'Connor – a late addition to Donegal's starting XV – opened the Tir Chonail men's account. But Paul O'Connor replied for Cavan and Donegal received a huge blow when county senior Ryan McHugh had to limp out of the action with an injury.
Paddy McBrearty and Willie Gillespie both kicked Donegal goal chances to the left and wide but Conroy and O'Reilly made no mistake at the other end as the Cavan men eased into a 0-6 to 0-1 lead.
McBrearty took a pass from Gavin Gallagher to tag on the second and final Donegal point of the first half but Smyth notched the last score of opening half-hour for Cavan and the short whistle sounded with the holders leading by five.
The challengers went into the attack upon the restart but there was an all-too-familiar outcome when Odhran MacNiallias drove his goal effort outside the posts.
McBrearty missed a free but ruthless Cavan floated one over at the other end. There was a real sense of inevitably to proceedings and it looked like the holders would coast to the winning line.
But Gillespie had other ideas and he struck a Donegal goal to suddenly close the gap to a very manageable three points, 0-8 to 1-2.
Cavan refused to panic, however, and Brady converted a free before Man of the Match Conroy brought a massive roar from the Breffni County faithful as he slammed over a searing point from 45 metres close to the sideline.
Senior All-Ireland medallist McBrearty replied with a scintillating Donegal score to reduce the gap to four again, 0-10 to 1-3, but the irrepressible Brady dropped over yet another Cavan free at the three-quarters stage.
McBrearty dinked over a Donegal free from 25 metres but the same player recorded another wide as they started to run out of time, trailing by four with ten minutes to go.
It was very much McBrearty who was carrying the fight to Cavan now and his latest point left a goal between them with seven minutes remaining, 0-11 to 1-5. McBrearty scored again to close the gap to two but Brady replied instantly with a Cavan free, won by Conor Madden.
Donegal conspired to miss yet another goal chance and Paul Graham put Cavan four ahead with one minute of normal time to go.
It should be an intriguing All-Ireland semi-final at Tullamore on Saturday week, April 20th, as Ulster three-timers Cavan lock horns with Cork, who themselves completed a similar three-in-a-row of Munster titles at Semple Stadium tonight!
Cavan – C Gilsenan; J McLoughlin, K Clarke, C Brady; D McVitty, D Sexton, F Flanagan; B Sankey, M Argue; G Smith (0-2), C Conroy (0-3), T Mooney; E O'Reilly (0-3, 2f), P O'Connor (0-1), J Brady (0-3f). Subs: C Madden for Conroy, P Graham (0-1) for Mooney, J Dillon for O'Connor.
Donegal – P Boyle; K McFadden, C Ward, G Gallagher; P Carr, E McHugh, L Keaney; M O'Reilly, L Kelly; R McHugh, O Mac Niallais, C Gibbons; W Gillespie (1-0), P McBrearty (0-5, 1f), D O'Connor (0-1). Subs: C Cannon for R McHugh, C Parke for Kelly, A O'Gara for E McHugh.
Referee – C Branagan.
Courtesy of www.hoganstand.com