Derry delight as Oak Leafers book Ulster final berth for first time in 11 seasons
THERE was a beaming smile on every Derry face at the end and little wonder.
Just three years' ago, Derry were playing in Division Four, now a team that plays with pace and flair is planning for a first Ulster final in 11 years and hoping for a first title in just shy of a quarter-of-a-century.
Monaghan kept them honest yesterday, they made them earn their win but Derry fully deserved it and, having beaten All-Ireland champions Tyrone in their opener, they'll relish a crack at Donegal in the decider on May 29.
Emmett Bradley will hope to be back in the starting 15 for the decider and, given the size and strength of Donegal around midfield, you'd expect him to be. The Glenn midfielder was a surprise omission yesterday but he proved his worth when he joined the fray early in the second half.
He took a short kick-out from Odhran Lynch and then, with Conor Boyle floundering in his wake, galloped the length of the Athletic Grounds to clip over the point of the game.
“We're delighted that we came through the way we did,” he said after patiently posing for selfies and signing autographs.
“Monaghan were never going to be easy to put away. We ended up with a good enough platform at half-time but we knew they were going to come back at us and throw everything at it and that's what they did. Thankfully the team pulled through and kept it together, there's a lot of experience in this squad, there's a lot of boys with cool heads and we were able to manage the game and see it out.”
Rory Gallagher inherited a Derry side that was in Division Three and over the last two seasons has transformed them into genuine Ulster Championship contenders. Bradley says the belief in the camp all stems from the hard yards done in preparation.
“There's no secret to it,” he said.
“The boys have worked their socks off since the beginning of the year and Rory and the management team have built a really strong platform to play off. We knew this wasn't going to be easy and we know the next one will be equally as tough.
“Donegal are a highly experienced side, probably the most successful side in Ulster over the last decade so we'll prepare as best as we can and we'll try and execute the gameplan and see where it takes us.
“They are littered with experienced, high-quality players. A lot of people have been tipping them to move on to All-Irelands but they'll be looking at this game the same as us. They'll know it will be a tough challenge and I'm sure it'll be a good contest.”
As for his point, he added modestly: “Odhran tipped it out to me and I was very lucky that there was a bit of green grass in front of me. It was on, so I to go for it. Ah, I can't complain.”