An injection of experience from the bench tipped the balance in Derry’s favour as they came from two points and a man down to claim victory over Cavan at Celtic Park in the opening game of 2012.
A young Cavan side had looked set to claim victory when they led by two points with only three minutes of the 70 to play. But substitutes Conleith Gilligan (free) and Mark Lynch levelled matters for Derry, before Niall Holly stepped up to kick a long range winner three minutes into added time.
It might have been established names that sealed the deal but the early interest centred on the new and returning faces with Stephen Harbinson, Eugene Scullion, and John McCamley making their bows in the red and white with Eoghan Brown, Enda Lynn and Mark Craig all back for the first time since 2010. None of these players looked out of place but McCamley and Lynn can be particularly pleased with their impact.
Cavan will feel hard done by having performed steadfastly across the 70 minutes. The Breffni men started sharply and led by 0-3 to 0-1 after 10 minutes thanks to two scores from Raymond Galligan and one from Niall McDermott.
Derry were level at 0-3 apiece with two Cailean O’Boyle kicking the first two of four first half frees and a point from Enda Lynn.
The nip and tuck pattern remained in the first half until late points Eoghan Brown and Emmett McGuckin saw the Oak Leafers lead by 0-7 to 0-5 at the interval.
Cavan dominated the opening exchanges of the second half with McDermott kicking two frees and Niall Smith and Ray Cullivam raising white flags from frees to lead 0-9 to 0-7 after 45 minutes. Derry replied with Lynn from play and O’Boyle’s fifth free of the game to level by 49 minutes.
The game looked to swing in Cavan’s favour when Eugene Scullion saw a second yellow card and subsequent red on 50 minutes.
Enda Lynn’s free from a narrow angle edged Derry in front but with the extra man telling, the visitors kicked three scores on the bounce from Givney, Eugene Keating and a McDermott free to lead by 0-12 to 0-10 with three minutes to play.
However, then came Derry’s late charge as Gilligan, Lynch and Holly’s intervention proved decisive.
Overall, it was a day that Derry supporters left the ground in positive mood, one that will only have been helped by seeing Paddy Bradley looking sharp in the warm-up and Eoin Bradley stretching his legs in the prematch period exercising on the terrace side of the pitch while the rest of the squad went through their drills.
Derry: S Harbinson; B McCallion, E Scullion, M Craig; M Drumm, D McBride, S L McGoldrick; J McCamley, PJ McCloskey; C McKaigue, C O’Boyle (0-5, 5frees), B McGoldrick; E Lynn (0-3, 1 free), E McGuckin (0-1), E Brown (0-1).
Subs: M Bateson for B McGoldrick half-time, N Holly (0-1) for PJ McCloskey 37, C McGoldrick for McKaigue 45, M Lynch (0-1) for Brown 52, C Gilligan (0-1, free) for O’Boyle (65). Blood sub: A McAlynn for SL McGoldrick (59).
Cavan: F Reilly; O Minagh, S McCormack, F Slowey; B Watters, P Reilly, D O’Reilly; G McKiernan (0-1) D Givney (0-2); N Smith (0-1), R Cullivan (0-1), S Jordan; N McDermott (0-4, three frees), E Keating (0-1), R Galligan (0-2, 1free).