Allianz Football League Division Three
Antrim 1-17 Cavan 2-12
WITH 60 minutes on the clock at Corrigan Park on Saturday and Antrim full value for their nine-point lead, a home win and a huge two points looked all but sealed.
However, the home supporters were left with their hearts. their mouths as in almost a repeat of their loss to Fermanagh three weeks ago, Cavan roared back in identical fashion - but this time there was no denying the Saffrons.
The result was fully merited as Andy McEntee's charges showed no ill effects from their drubbing in Westmeath as they attacked this game with purpose and played it on their terms for long stages.
They had heroes all over the field, with a squad ravaged by injuries giving chances to others who grabbed them with both hands, yet Marc Jordan's pace, Eoghan McCabe's vision and accuracy with long passes, Odhran Eastwood's half dozen points and a simply brilliant display from Paddy McBride drove Antrim over the line.
Perhaps the manner in which they held on will banish a few demons going forward, but it was still a lot nervier than the home support would have liked.
The result, along with Tipperary's defeat in Offaly and Longford losing to Down in Newry on Saturday night, means Antrim have avoided relegation and what would have been a nervy final day in Longford next week.
As for Cavan, they needed just a draw on Saturday to seal promotion with a game to spare but looked like a team that showed up expecting a result and although luck deserted them on occasion, they took much too long to get going.
That wasn't Antrim's problem and the win, having come off two contrasting but no less devastating defeats was a source of satisfaction for McEntee.
Special shout out to Paddy McBride who is only back from injury. Plays brilliant, gets brought off and then comes BACK ON on to score this clincher!— Antrim GAA (@AontroimGAA) March 18, 2023
A leader and a warrior over the years for this Antrim team 💪🏻🟡⚪️#SaffLegend #WelcomeBack @PatrickMcBride5 pic.twitter.com/GdvScb9FVo
"That wasn't easy," he said of bouncing back in the manner in which they did.
"Mullingar was a no-show for multiple reasons and I'm still not quite sure. But we talked about turning up today and putting in a performance and showing real character - that was character there today.
"That was brilliant and I don't think the score does us justice. They got two good goals at the end, but in general, our lads put in a huge effort and it's really satisfying."
McEntee would have sought a response from his players and he got it.
They owned the ball in the early stages and although the sides swapped early points, a perfect long ball from Eoghan McCabe into Aghagallon's Ruairi McCann on five minutes saw him claim possession and spin Padraig Faulkner's to lash home.
Cavan appeared to spark into life with quickfire points by Paddy Lynch and Cian Madden, but Antrim quickly regained control with points from Marc Jordan and Dominic McEnhill.
Cavan really ought to have pulled that goal deficit back on 21 minutes as Ryan O'Neill got free on the left and squared for the advancing Jack McKenna to palm home, but he couldn't get over the ball as he scooped it over with the goal gaping.
McKenna would be denied by the bar later in the half as he got to a half-blocked effort, but Antrim were playing the better football as they attacked with purpose and seemed to have the bit between their teeth as Paddy McBride and Odhran Eastwood kicked two apiece to leave Antrim 1-7 to 0-4 up at the half.
They pushed on further after the break, pushing the gap out to 10 with Eastwood and McBride to the fore again, while Patrick McCormick had a sight of goal but his effort flew over Raymond Galligan's crossbar.
The visitors rang the changes and they began to have the desired effect with Connor Madden and Gearóid McKiernan finding their rage, but Antrim were seemingly managing the game well as they led by nine with 10 to play as McEnhill and Seamus McGarry kept the board ticking.
Then came the Cavan charge with three points in as many minutes giving their support hope and with five minutes of normal time, they were right back in it as Cian Madden played a ball into Conor Madden whose finish was superb past Mick Byrne.
A Conor Smith point reduced the arrears to two, but Antrim seemingly had halted the great escape with a pair of Eastwood points from frees.
It seemed that was that as Cavan substitute somehow missed the target from just yards out after he swung a boot as Tiernan Madden's shot that flew at him, but seconds later, Cavan forced a turnover and with numbers, Paddy Lynch lashed home to leave the minimum in it.
There would be no repeat of the Fermanagh loss for Antrim this time, however, as they got upfield and McBride kicked his fifth of the day to seal their win and leave them safe thanks to subsequent results elsewhere over the course of the day.
"We talked about it and there's no point in dwelling about it," the Antrim manager added.
"That wasn't us as we played five games and that wasn't typical of what the fellas had shown. You had to acknowledge it, but you have to move on that's the best way to move on. I'm over the moon.
"We were struggling to win kick-outs and even the manner in which the second goal came: we were in control of the ball and that's what happened against Down and Fermanagh.
"The way that game was going, to turn around and win the next five kick-outs, the breaking ball and that final score showed real guts."
ANTRIM: M Byrne; E McCabe, D Lynch, J McAuley; P McCormick (0-1), J Finnegan, M Jordan (0-1); C McLarnon; J Dowling; P Finnegan, R McCann (Creggan) (0-1 free), P McBride (0-5); D McEnhill (0-2), R McCann (Aghagallon) (1-0), O Eastwood (0-6, 2 frees)
Subs: P Healy for P Finnegan (51), S McGarry (0-1) for P McBride (54), C Stewart for J Dowling (64), B McCormick for J Finnegan (67), P McBride for D McEnhill (68)
CAVAN: R Galligan (0-2, both 45s); K Brady, P Faulkner, C Moynagh; C Brady, C Reilly, T Madden; J McKenna (0-1), K Clarke; G Smith, C Madden (0-3), J McCabe; B Boylan, P Lynch (1-1), R O'Neill
Subs: G McKiernan (0-2, both frees) for B Boylan (HT), J Smith for K Brady (HT), D Brady for J McKenna (45), C Madden (1-2) for R O'Neill (45), C Smith (0-1) for G Smith (64)
REFEREE: Kevin Eannetta (Tyrone)