GAA Football

Determined Derry hold off favourites Donegal to reach Ulster U20 semi-final

Derry's Ben McCarron gets a shot away as Donegal's Shane McDevitt closes in Picture by Philip Walsh
Kenny Archer in Healy Park

Ulster U20 quarter-final: Derry 0-16 Donegal 2-9

DONEGAL’S disappointment at this defeat was evident immediately afterwards with anger and jostling directed towards the match officials, with former senior star Eamon McGee involved in those exchanges.

However, Derry showed more of that feisty spirit during the game, targeting Donegal’s influential joint-captain Jason from the throw-in, and probably just about deserved their narrow victory after battling back from conceding two first half goals.

In a new competition, it was an old explanation given for Derry’s victory by their manager Mickey Donnelly, citing the hype surrounding their opponents after their 17-point win over Cavan:

“It’s amazing the wee bits of motivation you get. These boys were totally written off, we had ‘no chance’ coming up the road here, everybody was talking all week about Donegal winning the All-Ireland. That’s a very difficult position to be in.

“We were waiting in the long grass an awful long time, ever since the draw was made. We knew we had a great group of lads who were made to get at this day and, thank God, performed on the day.”

Both sides were extremely focussed on defensive duties at first. Donegal didn’t deem Odhran McFadden O Fearraigh sufficient to deal with Derry’s powerful full-forward Callum Brown, so had sweeper Peter McEniff often operating as a second marker on the Limavady lad, double-teaming him.

Yet Derry throughout showed more tenacious tackling, repeatedly turning ball over as Donegal ran at them, and again Donnelly attributed that effort to pre-match predictions:

“They just felt they had a point to prove. When you have that wee angle, lads are going to go to the wire for you – very proud of them.”

From the throw-in Derry dropped Shea Downey back into defence, and switched man-markers around fairly quickly. Moving Darragh Rafferty onto Jason McGee eventually paid dividends, although before the break Donegal still presented plenty of problems.

The greatest of those was their pace on their left flank, which led to both their goals.

Derry had actually taken the lead for the first time when two of Donegal’s nominal defenders combined for a great goal in the 12th minute, Conor O’Donnell sending Peadar Mogan in on the left and the St Naul’s lad fired a low left-foot finish to the net.

Donegal again goaled in style 10 minutes later, wing-forward Paddy Dolan embarking on a pacy solo run before guiding another ground shot inside the far post.

When big Jason McGee scored twice in several minutes to put his team five in front, 2-5 to 0-6, the favourites appeared on course for the predicted triumph.

However, six consecutive scores either side of half-time swung this game in Derry’s favour, even though they needed all of them just to edge in front, at 0-12 to 2-5.

Three of those came from Oisin McWilliams, who brought his tally to four, all from play, and Ben McCarron bagged a couple, but good scores from Donegal substitute Enda McCormick, Dolan, and Luke Gavigan meant the match remained very tight, with neither side able to pull more than a point clear.

Derry could have done so when they were awarded a penalty entering the final quarter, possibly for a pick-up off the ground, perhaps for a challenge on Brown, but Lorcan McWilliams swept his shot well over the bar.

The final 10 minutes of normal time were extremely niggly, with referee Anthony Marron showing five yellow cards, including a second for McCarron, leading to his 55th minute dismissal.

Yet Derry still showed more composure, none more so than Jude McAtamney, who converted his fourth free, to give them that precious two-point advantage at last.

It didn’t remain the proverbial ‘dangerous lead’ for long, as Dolan’s ‘45’ left the minimum between the sides.

Donegal then had chances to win it, or at least force extra time, but Mogan dragged a shot across the face of goal, apparently via a deflection, and Dolan sent the ‘45’ wide, while McCormick also missed from play.

Donnelly was understandably delighted with how his team turned this match around, commenting: “The way we played in the second half was fantastic, it really was a phenomenal performance. For us to go down to 14 men and hold on was massive.”

“The challenge now is to be every bit as good next week. Donegal had a phenomenal performance last Sunday but didn’t hit those heights today. We had a really good performance and now we have to be every bit as good against Down.”

Derry: O Hartin; S McKeever; D Rafferty, C McShane; J McAtamney (0-4 frees), C McCluskey, P McGrogan; C Doherty (capt.), O McWilliams (0-4); D Cassidy (0-2), S Downey, B McCarron (0-3, 0-1 free); M McGrogan, C Brown (0-1), L McWilliams (0-2, 0-1 free, 0-1 penalty).

Substitutes: E Concannon for McShane (h-t); B Cassidy for M McGrogan (49) E Bradley for L McWilliams (55); M Bradley for D Cassidy (55); H McGurk for O McWilliams (65).

Yellow cards: Doherty (25); McCarron (32 (first half) and 55); Downey (35); Concannon (38); O McWilliams (40); Rafferty (57).

Red card: McCarron (55, second yellow)

Donegal: E O’Boyle; M Curran, A Deeney, C O’Donnell; P Mogan (1-0), O McFadden O Fearraigh, P McEniff; J McGee (joint-capt.) (0-2, 0-1 free), L Gavigan (0-1); S McDevitt, N O’Donnell (joint-capt.) (0-2), P Dolan (1-3, 0-1 ‘45’); S McGrath, O Gallen, N O Baoill.

Substitutes: E McCormick (0-1) for McDevitt (h-t); T Govorov for Curran (42); R Cunningham for Gallen (55); S Carr for Gavigan (60); R Doherty for O Baoill (60).

Yellow cards: Curran (18); O Baoill (52); Dolan (54); McGee (57)

Black card: McCormick (66, not replaced)

Referee: Anthony Marron (Monaghan)

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