Donegal dump Derry out of Ulster Championship with daring raid at Celtic Park

Jim McGuinness continues his dominance over Mickey Harte with fourth Championship victory

Daire O Baoill scored two brilliant goals for Donegal. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin
Daire O Baoill scored two brilliant goals for Donegal. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin
Ulster Senior Football Championship quarter-final: Derry 0-17 Donegal 4-11

THE audacity of Donegal, the downright cheek of them to go to Derry - the reigning champions - and dump them out of Ulster with this daring raid.

Proving once again why this Championship is the pick of the litter, Jim McGuinness worked his magic again, mixing old style values with modern tactics underpinned by pace, confidence and four well-rehearsed goals, and got one over old rival Mickey Harte for the fourth time.

There were so many memorable battles, but the full-blooded Championship-quality midfield duels – fought in the sky as booming kickouts came from Shaun Patton at one end and Odhran Lynch at the other – were pivotal. Donegal’s Jason McGee and Michael Langan lost the first three but then held sway against Conor Glass and Brendan Rogers, regarded as the best midfield pair in the country.

Elsewhere, Derry’s big hitters (bar Ethan Doherty) were closed down. Shane McGuigan was becalmed by Brendan Cole and Ciaran McFaul couldn’t impose himself against Caolan McGonagle who is born again as a tower of strength for Donegal in the number six jersey.

On the sideline there was a tactical masterclass from McGuinness which was brilliantly implemented by players who lost to Down at this stage last year. Derry pushed so many men into Donegal territory in a zonal press and Patton, and then his replacement Gavin Mulreany, sent their kickouts over them.

When Donegal won the ball they were away. Daire O Baoill sprinted into space twice to chip Lynch and Oisin Gallen had added a penalty after Shane O’Donnell’s lung-busting break before Jamie Brennan’s piledriver put the issue beyond doubt.

What a victory for Donegal who go forth with confidence and what a shock to the system for National League champions Derry. Mickey Harte will remind his men they scored more times than their opponents and missed several good chances too, but this one will hurt.

Jamie Brennan hammers home the coup des grace as Donegal seal their unexpected victory. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin
Jamie Brennan hammers home the coup des grace as Donegal seal their unexpected victory. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin

A game that has blown the Ulster Championship wide open began with an Ethan Doherty point in the second minute and, as Donegal dropped back, Padraig McGrogan picked out Paul Cassidy who slotted over a mark. So, after six minutes, Derry led 0-2 to no-score and the game was going according to script.

But it soon became clear that Donegal weren’t bothered with the script. Gallen opened their account with a 45 after Lynch had saved from McGonagle and there were alarm bells ringing in the Derry camp when Ryan McHugh – a thorn in Derry’s side all evening – ran into far too much space and curled over another point.

Niall O’Donnell played in O Baoill for the equaliser and then McHugh left Chrissy McKaigue on his backside as he sent Donegal ahead.

Gallen and McGee both missed good chances but the ball wasn’t sticking up front for Derry and Donegal were taking control.

McFaul sent a poor effort wide and Patton hammered the kickout long and high. Tracking it’s flight, Donegal men converged on the break. McHugh won it and passed to O Baoill who surged into space and delightfully chipped backpedalling Lynch.

Celtic Park was stunned but Derry recovered and after the sides traded scores three times, Rogers split the posts with the last kick of the half and Derry went in just a point behind (1-7 to 0-9) at the interval.

Donegal surged ahead again early in the second half with two kicks of the ball. The first was a monster restart from Patton. It soared all the way to the Derry 45 and Niall O’Donnell’s deft flick released O Baoill who caught Lynch in no man’s land racing back to his goal. The Derry goalkeeper got a hand to O Baoill’s chip but couldn’t keep it out.

Niall O’Donnell and Rogers traded scores but the momentum was with Donegal. A Glass shot dropped short and Patton punched the ball clear. Donegal defender Mark Curran swept up the break and sent his county away again.

Shane O’Donnell ran and ran, dummied a pass to Gallen and then ran some more – almost into the square, before he went down after a tug from McKaigue. Gallen sent Lynch the wrong way with the penalty and Donegal led 3-8 to 0-10.

Derry fought back. Lachlann Murray scored, then McGuigan got into the game with free and when Gareth McKinless added another there were four in it and still 15 minutes left for Derry to pull it out of the fire.

“Derry are gonna win this,” fretted a doubting Thomas in the press box.

But the Oak Leafers didn’t kick on. They missed three chances (Glass, Gilmore and Emmett Bradley) at one end and in between conceded a needless free for sub Paddy McBrearty.

The coup de grace came after the Bradley wide. A long kickout again, Lynch off his line again… Look away now Derry fans.

Gavin Mulreany had replaced the injured Patton and he leathered one into the middle. Lynch couldn’t claim it and again Donegal snapped up the break and sent Jamie Brennan racing through. He hammered ball into the roof of the net.

Ciaran Thompson and Gallen added two more before Derry managed a final flourish with three points between Doherty (his fourth) and McGuigan.

Too little too late for them and it’ll take a while to get over this loss.

“Jesus that was a sweet wan,” said the now convinced former doubting Thomas.

The Hills are alive again.

Derry: O Lynch, C McCluskey, C McKaigue (0-1), D Baker; C Doherty (0-1), E McEvoy, P McGrogan; C Glass, B Rogers (0-2); E Doherty (0-4), C McFaul, P Cassidy (0-2, 0-1 mark); N Loughlin, S McGuigan (0-4, 0-2 frees), L Murray (0-1)

Subs: N Toner (0-1) for N Loughlin (27), G McKinless (0-1) McGrogan (28), E Bradley for Murray (50), D Gilmore for McKaigue (58), E Mulholland for McFaul (65)

Donegal: S Patton; M Curran, C Moore (0-1), P Mogan (0-1), R McHugh (0-2), C McGonagle, S O’Donnell, C Thompson 0-01, M Langan, B McCole, N O’Donnell (0-1), D O Baoill (2-1), J McGee, O Gallen 1-3 (1-0 penalty,  0-1 45, 0-1 free), A Doherty.

Subs: G Mulreany for S Patton (55), J Brennan (1-0) for A Doherty (57), P McBrearty (0-1 free) for N O’Donnell (58), O Doherty for J McGee (66), K McGettigan for Curran (69)

Black card: N O’Donnell (46)

Referee: D Gough (Meath)

Attendance: 14,714