GAA Football

Derry minors deservedly defeat defensive Armagh in wind-affected contest

Derry Minor PJ McAleese celebrates his coolly taken goal against Armagh on Saturday evening. 
Kenny Archer at The Athletic Grounds

Electric Ireland Ulster MFC quarter-final: Armagh 0-4 Derry 1-5

MANY of the names remain the same – but the game has changed.

Several Downeys, a J McGurk, and a McGuckin helped Derry minors defeat an Armagh outfit including a P McGrane, and a McConville, McKeever, King and Cunningham – although the crucial goal came from a McAleese, PJ of Kilrea, converting in sublime style in the 53rd minute.

Wind remains a problem for young and old, though.

From the warmth of the press-box it might have looked like perfect playing conditions with the sun splitting the trees, but other elements meant there was little splitting of the posts.

Out on the pitch the wind would have cut you, which was one reason why hosts Armagh wrapped themselves in the safety of a blanket defence.

Another was an acknowledgement that they were up against a dangerous Derry side, which could do serious damage if allowed room to manoeuvre.

Armagh boss Ciaran McKeever admitted as much: “From day one when I took this job, I knew teams like Derry, Tyrone, Monaghan, and Donegal were 10 points better than Armagh. Our aim this year was to narrow the gap on those teams.

“Derry are a very athletic team and would hurt us if we were naïve and pushed up on them, left gaps in behind. We tried to mirror them as much as possible but they got in behind us in the last 10 minutes and got the decisive goal, which was the difference in the end.”

The hosts had that wind at their backs before the break, and turned around leading by three points to one, although the Cullyhanna clubman argued that it wasn’t as big an advantage as it may have appeared:

“I don’t think the wind was favouring anybody, it was blustery and swirling the whole time. It wasn’t a great day – both teams have good forward lines but unfortunately it wasn’t a day for those lads to shine.”

However, Derry manager Paddy Campbell said he was surprised that Armagh hadn’t been more attacking with that wind behind them: “They had the breeze with them, they probably could have gone at us.

“It was a tough breeze even to work the ball out from defence against, we were struggling to work the ball up the field, but they gave us loads of possession round the middle of the field, switching play over and back.

“To be fair, we probably were running the clock down a little bit, killing the game, hoping that we’d get enough scores in the second half – that was the game-plan.”

Arguably, both men were right: each side only scored once against the breeze, Derry just did more when it was in their favour, outscoring Armagh by 1-4 to 0-1 in the second half.

Armagh’s defensive system, mostly deployed 11 outfielders back inside their own ‘45’, combined with the intensity of their tackling, also contributed to Derry’s limited scoring before the break.

Campbell commented: “It was a very tough breeze to kick into; we only got one point out of 10 chances.

“We’ve worked very hard in training on breaking down blanket defences. Most teams play it now, Tyrone, Monaghan, Armagh – anybody you meet. We’re doing a lot of good work on that, but I suppose we didn’t translate that effort today, but that gives us something to work on. We look forward to improving on that aspect of our game.”

The game might have opened up had Derry converted their first opportunity as early as the third minute, when the ball was worked to McAleese, but his shot on the turn skimmed wide rather than into the net.

It took more than 20 minutes for either side to score and despite Derry’s dominance of possession it was Armagh onto the scoreboard, through Ciaran Donnelly.

Enda Downey did quickly level from a free but could not find the net after he rose to challenge for a high ball delivered in by the lively Jamie Duggan, ’keeper Shea Magill leaping to tip the ball wide. The resultant ‘45’ was, of course, not converted.

With an added time flurry, an Oisin King free and fine Michael McConville point gave Armagh a three points to one lead at the interval.

Derry largely breezed the second half, though. Despite blowing a couple of early chances they showed impressive patience to keep probing for openings.

Seeking the ‘X’ factor, Derry sent on Mark Dixon and then Ryan Lennox, although the former was soon hooked for what seemed a very harsh black card.

Still, Armagh’s blanket was gradually being stretched to breaking point, and the Downey cousins, Matthew and Enda both converted frees, before the former put them in front for the first time with a great point.

The key moment then came when Derry unlocked the Armagh rearguard with a blur of hand-passing – and McAleese coolly clipped the ball over the advancing Magill and into the net.

Armagh attacked, forcing fouls, with Dara O’Callaghan sending one free over the bar, but at the other end an even better effort from out on the right sideline by Enda Downey was tipped over to give the visitors some valuable breathing space.

Into added time, only Magill was not inside the Derry ‘45’, but Armagh shot one poor wide and then saw a close range effort from substitute Sean Rocks blocked on the goal-line by James McGurk.

Derry definitely deserved to progress to the ‘winners’ side of the competition, but in better playing circumstances Armagh are capable of making progress next time out.

Armagh: S Magill; P McGrane, R Shortt, O McKeown; L Rice, S McVerry (capt.), R French; D O’Callaghan (0-1 free), J Walsh; M McConville (0-1) C Donnelly (0-1), S Quigley; C Reavey, M McKeever, O King (0-1 free).

Substitutes: R Kearney for Quigley (28); J Cunningham for Walsh (h-t); A Garvey for McConville (44); S Vallely for French (57); N Dummigan for Rice (59).

Derry: P Hasson; O McLarnon, R McFaul, J Duggan; J McGurk, A McCluskey (capt.), L Brady; T Higgins, D Gilmore; M Downey (0-2, 0-1 free), E Downey (0-3 frees), C Downey; S McGuckin, PJ McAleese (1-0), O McMenamin.

Substitutes: M Dixon for Gilmore (37); R Lennox for Brady (40); C Diamond for Dixon (42, black card); D Madden for C Downey (56) A McGonigle for McLarnon (62, inj.); J O’Moore for McAleese (63).

Black card: Dixon (42, replaced by Diamond).

Referee: Kieran Eannetta (Tyrone).



Enda Downey (Lavey)

His Lavey club-mates Jamie Duggan and James McGurk both regularly brought the ball forward to good effect, and the latter made a smart block to prevent a goal late on, but there’s no doubting the class of Enda Downey. Struggled to score against the fierce breeze but converted three frees overall, troubled Armagh with his movement, and played a part in the game’s only goal.



Lee Rice (Killeavey)

Armagh’s forwards didn’t get much chance to impress, although Caolan Reavey was well-watched by Derry captain Aidan McCluskey. Wing-back Lee Rice did catch the eye, the Killeavy lad getting on the ball often and attacking with vigour, as well as doing his defensive duties, before going off late on.


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