Derry and Tyrone battle it out in Ulster minor semi-final
Ulster Minor Football Championship semi-final: Derry v Tyrone (tonight, the Athletic Grounds, 8pm)
DERRY, finalists in the last four seasons and Ulster champions in 2015 and 2017, battle it out with neighbours Tyrone tonight for a place in this year's decider.
Tonight's clash is a repeat of the counties' meeting at the same stage and the same venue last season which Derry won 2-10 to 1-8 and the young Oak Leafers have beaten Armagh (1-5 to 0-4) and Cavan (0-19 to 1-12) to set up this rematch.
Meanwhile, after seeing off Donegal in their opener, the Red Hands recovered from losing to Monaghan by beating Down in the Qualifiers to make the last four.
Derry return to the Cathedral City almost eight weeks after seeing off Armagh in a dour opener that was decided by a moment of precocious brilliance from PJ McAleese in the closing stages. The Orchard county youngsters had set their stall out from early on and defended in numbers from the throw-in. Derry had struggled to break them down – registering just a point in the first half - until McAleese chipped Shea Magill late on to decide the outcome with the only goal of the game.
After that win, Derry showcased their attacking quality in an entertaining encounter against Cavan. Jack Tully's goal meant the Breffni outfit led 1-9 to 0-10 in the second half but Derry caught them repeatedly on the counterattack in the closing stages and, with Enda and Matthew Downey providing the finishing touches, Paddy Campbell's youngsters emerged with a four-point win to make it to the semi-finals.
Meanwhile, league winners Tyrone have taken a more circuitous route to the last four. Collie Holmes's side were led to victory against Donegal by an early goal from Trillick's Sean and O'Donnell, three points from Mark Devlin and a combined seven from Carrickmore clubmen Daniel Fullerton and midfielder Michael McGleenan, both veterans of last year's campaign.
But goals from Kyle Connolly, Darragh Dempsey and Liam McDonald saw reigning Ulster champions Monaghan to victory in the quarter-final. Devlin and Fullerton were among the scorers in a gutsy comeback but Tyrone headed for the backdoor route after a 3-8 to 0-13 defeat.
At Pairc Esler a week later, John McGovern's superb second half goal saw Down briefly lead 1-8 to 0-8 but with McGleenan (son of former Tyrone full-forward Mattie) outstanding in midfield, the Red Hands literally raced away down the stretch to win by five points.
Once again, Tyrone's bench strength was apparent and Fullerton (0-6) and Devlin (1-7) ran riot as the Red Hands progressed to tonight's rematch with Derry.
“Last week just wasn't good enough,” said manager Holmes after the win in Newry.
“It was a four-point hammering, Monaghan really just took us to pieces but the scoreboard didn't show it. In the second half we came out and we showed closer where we'd need to be to be pushing on in this competition.”
Derry have well-schooled talent, knowhow and pace throughout their team but Tyrone's power and strength-in-depth allied to the finishing ability of Fullerton and Devlin means they go into tonight's duel as slight favourites.