Down edge out Derry U20s in tremendous hurling contest
All-Ireland Under 20 Hurling semi-final: Down 2-17 Derry 0-22
AFTER Eoghan Cassidy, Tiarnan McHugh, Eoghan O’Kane and Ryan Scullion fired over four points without reply in the opening six minutes of the second half of this All-Ireland under 20 hurling semi-final at Owenbeg to establish a lead of 0-17 to 1-5 for the home side, the game looked as good as over.
But somehow Down dug themselves out of the hole to claim a final spot against Kerry the weekend after next, finishing strongly with a goal and 12 points in the last half hour that included five minutes of injury time.
A smiling Down manager Ronan Sheehan was not surprised with the character his team showed.
“We had 10 wides in the first half, so maybe we were not as far off the pace as the score-board showed. We just said to the lads to take their chances.
“We have a lot of talented hurlers and once we got the breaks that we weren’t getting in the first half, we pushed on.
“The turning point was probably the second goal that Conor McCrickard kicked over the line. It gave us a lot of belief. We kicked on, Derry maybe got disheartened a little.
“But overall, I think that it was a tremendous advert for Ulster hurling and it is great to be heading into our second national final of the season.”
Sheehan was in charge of the senior squad that reached the Christy Ring final in June, but a trip to Thurles did not look on the cards after Derry had dominated the first half and they were fully deserving of their interval lead of five points.
Over the first seven minutes the teams shared four points before Fintan Bradley from distance edged the home side ahead. Then before the end of the first quarter, Derry hit four points inside two minutes (two from Richie Mullan followed by one each from Eoghan Cassidy and Sean Kelly) and suddenly a gap was opening.
That gap stretched to 0-11 to 0-3 in the 28th minute with Down struggling to get a shot on target and Derry presenting a range of scorers.
Then the first key moment for Down with Ronan Costelloe racing in from the wing unchallenged to hit the roof of the net. Eoghan O’Kane and Tiarnan McHugh responded, but Down were back in the tie at 0-13 to 1-5 at the turnover.
Those four points in a row on the re-start seemed to signal a Derry push for the line. Instead Down rose from their slumber, to hit the next three points, two of them from Stuart Martin.
Although Richie Mullan fired over a great point in reply, Phelim Savage lifted a side-line into the goal-area and Conor McCriockard kicked home for Down with Stuart Martin pointing from the poc out.
The gap was now down to 0-18 to 2-9.
Points were traded over the next seven or eight minutes, before Down goalie Conor McLornan smothered a shot from Reece McSorley on 53 minutes.
Had that gone in Derry would have been over the line.
But Down was the more aggressive team during the last quarter and all their efforts were hitting the target. McCrickard, McFarland and Costelloe drew the sides level at 2-14 to 0-20 in the 57th minute.
O’Kane gave Derry the lead, Prenter levelled.
Eoghan Cassidy popped over another for Derry and McCrickard levelled from a free before Niall Fitzsimons put Down ahead for the first time in the game.
There were heroics at the other end in keeping out Tiarnan McHugh before the long whistle ended a tremendous contest with Down just making it over the line.
Down: C McLornan, E Kelly, T Murray, A Dorian, C Smith, R McCrickard, N McFarland 0-1, N Fitzsimons 0-1, P Savage, J Hanrahan, R Blair 0-3 frees, T Prenter 0-1, R Costelloe 1-2, C McCrickard 1-5, 0-2 frees, S Martin 0-4.
Subs: M McAreavey for E Kelly (24), C Watson for J Hanrahan (39), M McKey for C Smith (43), P Doran for R Blair (44),
Derry: E Mulholland, D Kelly, M McEldowney, M Bradley, P O'Kane, T Walsh, F Bradley 0-1, R Mullan 0-7, 0-3 frees, N Rafferty, E Cassidy 0-4, S Kelly 0-2, E O'Kane 0-3, R Scullion 0-1, T McHugh 0-2, R McSorley 0-1.
Subs: J Crawford for N Rafferty (51), T Rankin for D Kelly (62), F McGrath for R Scullion (62)