Padraig Cassidy shakes off the Januaryness to squeeze Derry past Antrim
Allianz Football League Division Four: Antrim 1-9 Derry 1-10
DESPITE its first half Januaryness, a second period beyond the levels of Division Four broke out in Corrigan Park and only a cool 70th minute winner from Padraig Cassidy settled it in favour of the league’s heavy favourites.
Essentially that was all that separated them. When Derry needed it, they had that one big, strong runner with a composure to give-and-go and fist the winner from along the endline.
Antrim, in the four minutes of stoppage that they had to rescue it, didn’t have that one big, strong runner. The two half-chances they worked both fell Eoin McKeown’s way and his final shot under pressure was brilliantly blocked by Michael McEvoy.
It was a gripping finale that saw Enda Lynn’s penalty magnificently turned away by League debutant Padraig Nugent as the clock ticked towards a draw.
Shane McGuigan had earlier netted from the spot but was seated on the bench by the time Patrick Coney was pulled down by Patrick Gallagher. Lynn, who’d missed his previous effort from the spot for Derry, hit it well enough but Nugent got across to turn it away with a strong right hand.
That resuscitated Antrim one more time, but when Eoin McKeown didn’t get a free as he carried the ball out, Derry sprang into the breach and Cassidy worked the one-two before punching over for the game’s final white flag.
It was a sore slap in the face for the Saffrons that they did little to deserve. They’d played the first half well from a strategic and defensive point of view, keeping Derry to just six points while they were back by the apocalyptic wind.
Yet in hindsight, they’ll perhaps look on their downfall as having only scored a single point against it. Derry scored 1-4 in the second half and had more of a cut about them when they carried the ball through it.
Lenny Harbinson felt his side’s failure to bring more than one point into the changing room was part of their downfall, although to the contrary Damian McErlain argued his side should have had more at the other end too. Neither was wrong.
Yet the Oak Leafers will be disappointed by their lack of attacking penetration. They set up with Eamon McGill as their sweeper and while he, along with the excellent Sean Francis Quinn, had a good game, it made them easier to defend against while playing with the elements.
The game was five tentative minutes old before there was a shot of any description, and some 11 minutes in before Enda Lynn was fouled and Christopher Bradley kicked the resulting free.
The umpires had little hesitation in reaching for the flag despite the Slaughtneil man’s effort appearing to slice off the outside of his boot and miss the right-hand post. It proved to be a crucial decision.
Lynn caused bother when he got on the ball, while Ciaran McFaul landed a superb right-wing score that was the pick of the first half efforts. But the Saffrons were solid down the middle and made it exceptionally hard.
Key to that was the Johnston brothers, Ricky at full-back and Marty operating from midfield. The latter was the game’s outstanding player and it was a surprise to see him taken off 12 minutes from time.
“Marty has been injured, that’s his first game in many months so we took him off as we did a lot of guys in the middle sector because he’d been working extremely hard. He’s just come back from injury,” said Harbinson afterwards.
Asked if he’d make a different decision if he had another chance at it, he said: “No, because we have a number of people looking at various players during the game, at their workrate and whatever else.
“I just felt we needed fresh legs, which did give us an impetus in the final minutes. Poor decision making was, for me, what cost us the game.”
It was 0-6 to 0-1 at the break but within 20 seconds, Paddy McBride – who had a big second half – signalled some intent by firing over from the right wing, drawing an enthused roar from the Antrim fans on the bank behind the kick.
Ryan Murray added another before Derry got their first goal. They saw the jugular looking at them when they turned the ball over with Antrim exposed and with Cassidy, McAtamney and Lynn all running hard, it was the Greenlough man who was chopped down by Michael McCarry.
He got yellow when it should have been black, but Shane McGuigan made light to send Nugent the wrong way and open up a 1-6 to 0-3 gap.
That lead was chopped in half almost instantly. Marty Johnston’s superb challenge on Ciaran McFaul sparked a superb counter-attack in which Colum Duffin won an attacking mark but played on. Niall Delargy went past him and had the presence of mind to pick out Paddy McBride, who lashed home at the far post.
Antrim should have had a penalty of their own on 50 minutes when Thomas Mallon spilled a routine ball on his goal-line and then lay on it. He was blown for overcarrying when he got to his feet, but a 13-metre free was awarded when it should have been a spot-kick.
Paddy McBride fired it over to cut the gap to three, and it was still the same margin with eight minutes to play. From there, the home side, who had been gunning for this game throughout a big pre-season, hit four of the next five scores.
McBride landed a wonderscore from 55 yards, and when Eoin McKeown fired over when a goal was on, it was 1-9 apiece with 69 minutes gone.
Derry were finding out what Division Four could be about, but equally it found out what they’re about. Michael McEvoy and Jack Doherty had an impact in terms of fresh legs for Derry in the final quarter and even though they still made mistakes, they had enough about them to miss a penalty and still scrape it out at the death.
The league as a whole took a somewhat unexpected twist with Leitrim’s thumping win over Wexford, and while McErlain was accepting of the premise that Derry were “always going to be favourites”, he wasn’t buying the build-up they’d had after a decent McKenna Cup semi-final display against Tyrone.
“[There was] a lot of nonsense written in the paper, just because you play rightly against Tyrone, your odds are cut and people think this, that and the other. McKenna Cup and League are like two different sports.
“Absolutely, people are supposed to write in the papers, that’s your job and of course we’re going to be favourites. There’s no issue that way, tear way. But that’s not real, that doesn’t help on the pitch, it doesn’t get points on the board.”
The first two are often the hardest earned. Derry’s fixture list is certainly kinder than Antrim’s, who now have a stung Wexford and a buoyant Leitrim in the next fortnight.
If they match their defensive levels with a bit more savvy up front, then these could still be the two climbing back up the ladder in a couple of months’ time.
Antrim: P Nugent; E McCabe, R Johnston, P Gallagher; N Delargy, M Sweeney, M McCarry, D Lynch; F Burke, M Johnston; K Quinn, M Fitzpatrick, P McBride (1-3, 0-2f); C Duffin, R Murray (0-3, 0-2f)
Subs: E McKeown (0-1) for McCabe (44), S Beatty (0-1) for Quinn (46), R McCann (Aghagallon) for Fitzpatrick (47), P McCormack (0-1) for M Johnston (58), R McCann (Creggan) for Burke (63)
Yellow cards: M Fitzpatrick (30), M McCarry (41), E McKeown (45)
Derry: T Mallon; SF Quinn, K McKaigue, E Concannon; E McGill, C McKaigue, J Rocks; C McAtamney (0-1), C McFaul (0-2); P Coney (0-1), E Bradley, P Cassidy (0-1); E Lynn (0-2, 0-1f), S McGuigan (1-0pen), C Bradley (0-3f)
Subs: M McEvoy for Rocks (42), J Doherty for E Bradley (58), N Toner for McGuigan (58), P McNeill for Quinn (70)
Yellow cards: C McFaul (18), C McKaigue (30), C McAtamney (52)
Referee: P Faloon (Down)