Tyrone U20s take Ulster glory after penalty-shoot-out

Heartache for Derry for the second successive year

Derry v Tyrone
Derry’s Niall O’Donnell is tackled by Tyrone pair Ronan Cassidy (left) and Conor Devlin (Ben McShane / SPORTSFILE/SPORTSFILE)

EirGrid Ulster U20 Football Championship final

Derry 2-13 Tyrone 3-10 (after extra-time, Tyrone won 3-1 on penalties)

TYRONE were crowned Ulster U20 champions for the second time in three years as they edged out Derry in a penalty shoot-out following an extra-time thriller at the Box-It Athletic Grounds.

The sides couldn’t be separated in normal time, finishing level on 1-11 to 2-8, after the scores had been level on nine occasions, and Derry were unable to hold on to a four-point lead as the Red Hands came roaring back with a third goal in extra-time.

And it was goalkeeper Conor McAneney who emerged as the shoot-out hero, saving Derry’s first three kicks, before Noah Grimes slotted home the winner.

Tyrone’s recent dominance at this level was confirmed as they claimed a fourth provincial crown in the past six seasons, with an All-Ireland added two years ago.

And three survivors from that side – Michael Rafferty, Gavin Potter and Ruairi McHugh – completed their third season at U20 level in triumphant fashion.

It was a second victory over Derry in the current series, Tyrone having snatched a last-gasp winning point when the sides met in the group stage at Celtic Park a few weeks ago.

Derry came well-versed on the detail from that one, but it was Tyrone who made fine margins count.

A cagey opening saw the deadlock broken by Niall O’Donnell’s point as he traded passes with Patrick McGurk, and it was Derry who looked the more dangerous side in those early stages, moving the ball at pace with support runners.

Shea McCann dodged past two defenders to fire over a gem, but the Red Hands kept in touch with Ronan Cassidy knocking over a free and Conor O’Neill hitting the target from range.

Then two goals in the space of a minute. First it was Johnny McGuckian who hit the net, cutting inside to finish clinically after Ruairi Forbes and Danny McDermott had combined.

But Tyrone responded immediately with a 12th-minute strike from Shea O’Hare, finished from close range after Joey Clarke’s shot had been blocked.

Clarke doubled back to deny McGuckin a second goal with a vital block, but the Oak Leafers continued to press strongly, with Forbes and McGuckin heavily involved.

They went two clear through Shea McCann, who steered over a spectacular effort from close to the sideline, but in the 23rd minute, the Red Hands grabbed a second goal.

It was the strong running of midfielder O’Neill that created the opening, his tidy pass inside picking out Ruairi McCullagh, who smashed his shot in off the underside of the crossbar.

They should have had another when Conor McAneney’s booming kick-out released Gavin Potter, but Cassidy’s shot missed the target.

Ronan Walls brought Derry level just before the break, sending the sides in deadlocked at 1-6 to 2-3, and after Danny McDermott had shot them back in front, they battled hard to protect the lead with terrific blocks from Conall Heron and Conleth McGrogan.

Tyrone committed more men forward and scores from Cassidy and Odhran Brolly nudged them back in front before Eoin McElholm sent them two clear.

McGuckian’s powerful running helped turn the momentum back in Derry’s favour, and it was substitute Rory McGill who got on the end of a searing move to fire over the leveller.

Oisin Doherty’s third converted free had the Oaks back in front 10 minutes from the end, but as the game opened up and play swung from end to end, McCullagh brought the sides level for the ninth time, and they went to extra-time, tied at 1-11 to 2-8.

Defensive heroics from Rory Small and Conleth McGrogan helped restrict Tyrone to a single point, and Derry gave themselves a massive boost at the end of the first spell of added time with a Ryan McNicholl goal to lead by 2-13 to 2-9 at the turnaround.

But substitute Ruairi McHugh punched home a third Tyrone goal two minutes after the restart to plunge a gripping contest right back into the balance, and a superb equaliser from Conor Owens set up a penalty shoot-out.

Derry C Armstrong; F McEldowney, D McDermott (0-1), R Small; C McGrogan (0-1), P McGurk, R Walls (0-1); R Forbes, C Heron; C Spiers, S McCann (0-2), J McGuckian (1-0); N O’Donnell (0-2), C Chambers, O Doherty (0-4, 3f).

Subs R McNicholl for McCann (h-t), E Higgins for Spiers (36), R McGill for Chambers (44), D McPeake for Walls (55), T Rogers for Heron (73), F Donnelly for Rafferty (73)

Tyrone C McAneney; J Clarke, B Hughes, Conor Devlin; S O’Hare (1-0), M Rafferty, O Brolly (0-1); R Fox, C O’Neill (0-1); Cormac Devlin, E McElholm (0-3), G Potter; R McCullagh (1-2, 0-1f), R Cassidy (0-3, 1f), C Daly

Subs F Nelis for Conor Devlin (21), R McHugh (1-0) for Brolly (42), P McCann for Fox (50), N Grimes for Cassidy (55), C Owens (0-1) for O’Neill (70)

Referee D Boylan (Monaghan)