GAA Football

Derry edge thriller to set up reunion with Tyrone

 CLOSE ENCOUNTER: Derry’s Benny Heron (left) is challenged by Monaghan’s Kieran Duffy and Karl O’Connell during the Dr McKenna Cup semi-final at the Athletic Grounds yesterday. Pictures by Colm O’Reilly
Cahair O'Kane the Athletic Grounds

Dr McKenna Cup semi-final: Derrry 2-12 Monaghan 1-13

JAMES Kielt almost broke the stanchion in the top corner of Conor Forde’s net as he drove Derry into a second straight Dr McKenna Cup final meeting with old rivals Tyrone.

The Kilrea man unleashed a trademark piledriver which flew home inches between crossbar and post in the 70th minute in Armagh yesterday, leaving the Monaghan ’keeper with no chance.

It would be hard to deny the win to a gritty young Oak Leaf side that played with no shortage of fire in their bellies, making light of their relative lack of experience to edge the semi-final.

The second half of proceedings were a marked improvement on a sloppy first period.

A total of 43 first half attacks returned 10 points, just four of them from play, as the finishing woefully deserted both sets of forwards in the blinding January sun. It was a potentially costly first half for Malachy O’Rourke as well as he lost Dessie Mone inside 10 minutes to what looked to be a potential recurrence of a broken wrist, suffered attempting to tackle Enda Lynn in a nothing incident.

“Dessie had the problem with his wrist, he’d broken a bone in the wrist earlier on in the year and we’d sort of nursed him back into full contact training. He played a wee while the other night and we wanted to get him in,” said the Farney boss.

“It didn’t look good there when he went off. It’d be an awful setback on a personal level and also for us if the bone was broken again, but hopefully it’s not.”

Derry lost no fewer than four players in the opening half – two to injury and two to black cards.

Carlus McWilliams’s hamstring hung on for 10 minutes after he first went to ground but he had to be taken off on 17 minutes, just as unfortunate midfielder Aidey McLaughlin went off nursing a suspected dislocated shoulder following an innocuous attempt to make a tackle.

Conor McAtamney was his replacement but he was black carded just as the first half entered stoppage time.

He could have had no complaint with the call for his foul on Karl O’Connell, but had an obvious Kieran Hughes’s foul on McAtamney on a kick-out seconds earlier been spotted the Swatragh man would have been spared.

No sooner was he off than Ciaran Branagan had the black book out a second time, pinging Benny Heron for a handtrip, with which he couldn’t have protested too strongly either.

And given that the Down whistler had given Derry a number of soft frees in the first half, there couldn’t have been too much ill-feeling about the calls.

Damian Barton, who declined to speak to The Irish News after the game, saw his side open with the first three points of the game, with Enda Lynn lobbing the third to kick-start a second consecutive man-of-the-match display.

It took 15 minutes for Monaghan to get off the mark thanks to Kieran Hughes, though he was to have a few wayward efforts in trying to add to that tally throughout.

The referee signalled for a Derry penalty at 0-4 to 0-2 but quickly, and correctly, changed his mind to award a 13-metre free after Conor Forde had picked the ball off the ground having saved from Benny Heron.

Niall Loughlin pointed that free and James Kielt pushed Derry four clear before Conor McManus began to find his legs and landed two late scores after he too had been guilty of a number of early misses.

That left Derry leading by 0-6 to 0-4 at the break but forced into a reshuffle, with Mark Lynch at midfield to replace McAtamney and Barry Grant introduced for a senior debut in attack.

“I suppose bringing on Mark, he brings an awful lot to the game and he’s one of the men we look up to and try and get the ball to, trying to get us a big score,” said Oak Leaf forward Enda Lynn.

“It came when we needed the experienced ones to give us a wee lift, like James Kielt and ‘Sucky’ [Ryan] Bell. It worked out in the end.

“For the players we have out – the Slaughtneil boys, a couple of boys injured, a couple of boys that weren’t available – the young boys in defence equipped themselves very, very well.

“At the end of the day, we were playing against a top Monaghan team, a team that has plenty of Ulster medal winners among their players. To get a result against them was a plus going forward, it’ll stand us in good stead for next week,” said the Greenlough man, who has particularly bad memories of last year’s McKenna Cup final loss, having suffered a broken ankle.

Monaghan were second best by a distance in the first period yesterday but their own changes, not least in attitude, led to a very different spectacle in the second half.

Conor McCarthy’s introduction had the biggest impact, though Darren Hughes’s mere presence at midfield also caused Derry problems on their own kick-outs.

Ben McKinless was searching desperately for the short option on most occasions but Monaghan pushed further and further up field, and it became a hazardous game for the young Ballinderry ’keeper.

The Farneymen were the better side in the third quarter yet after almost 50 minutes, the gap had widened again, with two Owen Duffy scores cancelled out by Grant, Kielt and Lynch.

Derry stayed in command until the 56th minute when Monaghan worked a sideline ball quickly to Conor McCarthy, whose steady head allowed him the extra solo before lashing past McKinless from close range.

The underdogs instantly responded through Ryan Bell before working a magnificent goal on the counter attack.

Monaghan gave the ball away on the Derry 45 and Enda Lynn tore into the space.

A foul wasn’t enough to stop him as he bounced to his feet and played the free quickly to Grant, and from there, Mark Lynch played in Emmett McGuckin to palm home at the far post.

That put Derry 1-10 to 1-9 ahead but with Drew Wylie providing a moment of real inspiration, surging right through the heart of the white and red cover to kick a superb score, Monaghan went quickly back in front.

The crowd was sucked into it now and Derry came within inches of winning it when Neil Forester nipped in to beat Forde to a dropping shot, only for the ball to ricochet off the Scotstown man and just clear the crossbar.

Level again, you’d have forgiven James Kielt for taking the point when he found himself in on goal, but his finish was a moment of brilliance and when Niall Loughlin pointed, Derry led by four in stoppage time.

Late scores from Fintan Kelly and Barry McGinn weren’t enough to rescue Monaghan, who settle now into preparing for their trip to Mayo on the opening weekend of the League.

For Derry, it’s Newry on Saturday night to try and right at least one of last year’s wrongs at the expense of an all-too-familiar foe.

B McKinless; N Keenan, C Nevin, R Murphy; N Forester (0-1), O Duffin, M Craig; J Kielt (1-3, 0-3 frees), A McLaughlin (0-1); E Lynn (0-1), B Heron, C McWilliams; N Loughlin (0-3, 0-2 frees), R Bell (0-1), E McGuckin (1-0) Subs: C McAtamney for McLaughlin (17), M Warnock for McWilliams (17), C McGrogan for Craig (43), G O’Neill for Bell (66) Black card: C McAtamney (35) replaced by M Lynch (0-1 free); B Heron (35) replaced by B Grant (0-1)
Monaghan: C Forde; D Wylie (0-1), N McAdam, R Wylie; F Kelly (0-2), D Mone, C Walshe; K Hughes (0-1), N Kearns; K O’Connell, B McGinn (0-2, 0-1 free), O Duffy (0-2); R McAnespie, D Malone, C McManus (0-4, 0-3 frees) Subs: K Duffy for D Mone (9), D Hughes for McGinn (h-t), M Murnaghan for McAdam (h-t), C McCarthy (1-1) for Malone (h-t), S Carey for McAnespie (51), T Kerr for McManus (68)
Referee: C Branagan (Down)

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