Tyrone Minors' eyes for goals finally see off brave challenge of Derry
Ulster Minor Football Championship Final: Tyrone 4-8 Derry 0-16
TYRONE'S eye for goals, goals, and more goals ensured they just about held off the challenge of a quality Derry side to retain the Ulster Minor Football Championship title.
Red Hand captain Eoin McElholm, the only surviving starter from last year's All-Ireland Final team, sealed the victory with his second major, deflected in during the second minute of added time, as the Oak Leafers pushed hard to force extra time.
The Loughmacrory lad had put Tyrone into a lead they only lost once, briefly, in the second half, when Derry roared back early on to level matters at 0-10 to 2-4, but the holders got back in front and just about kept ahead despite the best efforts of tremendous opponents.
The exemplary free-taking of Dungiven corner-forward Eoin Higgins kept Derry in close contention after the battled back following the setbacks of conceding two goals inside the opening 20 minutes, but Marty Boyle's players just could not grab a major score of their own.
In contrast, Tyrone full-forward Ronan Molloy - one of the Donaghmore 'mullet crew' - and wing-forward Caolan Donnelly both grabbed goals to ensure Derry were behind for most of the match.
The Oak Leafs needed a goal of their own and came desperately close to getting one with just over a minute of normal time remaining, but Tyrone midfielder Conan Devlin stole the ball away from centre-forward Conal Higgins close to goals as the Magherafelt man shaped to net a pass from Dara McPeake.
Even after that Tyrone had to see out more than three minutes of added time, and their nerves were only eased by wing-back Nathan Ferry intercepting and supplying McElholm, who boldly crashed the ball past unlucky Derry goalkeeper Ben O'Connor via a deflection off a defender.
Tyrone manager Gerard Donnelly acknowledge his relief that his charges had squeaked past their neighbours, saying: "I knew it would be a tough battle - Derry is a brilliant side, we played them in the league final a few weeks ago and they're a class team.
"Every time we got a goal we thought 'Right, we have this now', but Derry kept coming back and back, it's a credit to them. They're still in the All-Ireland series and that team is going nowhere, let me tell you."
Even with the valuable goals fired in by his forwards, the Stewartstown man paid tribute to the Tyrone backs, declaring: "Our defence was class, brilliant, starting with big Ben [Hughes] in the full-back line. They fought for everything and we survived, luckily enough."
Derry began brightly, with an early opening score from Dungiven corner-forward Odhran Murphy, and although McElholm soon levelled from a free the young Oak Leafs went ahead again through full-forward Ciaran Chambers.
That score followed Tyrone losing goalkeeper Conor McAneney to injury after less than four minutes had been played, the Glenelly lad having bravely raced off his line to challenge Eoin Higgins to an enticing through-ball.
Donaghmore's Conan McGarvey came on to replace him in nets and immediately had to keep out a near post snapshot.
Yet it was the Red Hands who then struck two goals inside a five-minute spell. First a spell of hand-passing ended with Molloy supplying McElholm to cut through and then sweep in a sweet goal, a lovely left-foot finish guided inside the far post.
Then, in the 19th minute, midfielder Conan Devlin, embarked on a powerful run, breaking Derry defensive lines, before hand-passing across to Molloy, who was able to catch and kick to the net from close range.
All of a sudden Tyrone were in charge, leading by 2-2 to 0-3, and although Derry responded with a couple of converted frees they almost conceded a third goal, but Molloy was unable to turn the ball in at the back post when McElholm sent it across from the right.
Corner-forward Noah Grimes, whose father Conor is Tyrone super-fan 'Datsun Donaghy', won and scored a free to complete the first half scoring and leave his county leading by four points, 2-3 to 0-5.
Derry started the second half superbly, however, and four scores in a row put them on equal footing in the 37th minute, the last of those a great effort from Greenlough defender Shea Birt.
Step up Cookstown's Michael McElhatton with two quick points, the second a fabulous right-footer from the right wing on the run, before he played his part in goal number three.
Grimes delivered an 'eye of the needle' kick-pass to McElhatton, who laid the ball off on the turn to Donnelly and he rattled the onion bag.
The Fintona forward's contribution was all the more remarkable as he was man-marking Derry's new captain Ruairi Forbes, the Ballinderry clubman having taken the armband from Ryan McNicholl, who suffered a season-ending cruciate injury in the round two win against Donegal.
Four points back, Derry kept coming, and even though Birt struck a low shot against the base of the left post they were soon only trailing by a point, 0-14 to 3-6.
Grimes and substitute Ruairi McCullagh gave Tyrone some breathing space but again Eoin Higgins, from a free, and Cahir Spiers, pulled Derry close.
They almost forced themselves in front, but the game's fourth goal instead went to Tyrone, and the Red Hands held on to the trophy, moving them 10 clear of their opponents at the top of the Ulster Minor roll of honour, now on 25 triumphs.
Tyrone: C McAneney; J Clarke, B Hughes, Conor Devlin; B McMenamin; C Daly, N Farry; Conan Devlin, C O'Neill; S Hughes (0-1), E McElholm (capt.) (2-2), Caolan Donnelly (1-0); N Grimes (0-2, 0-1 free, R Molloy (1-1), M McElhatton (0-2).
Substitutes: C McGarvey for McAneney (inj., 6); R McCullagh (0-1) for Hughes (49); N McCarney for Molloy (53); S Fay for Conan Devlin (60); L Hughes for Conor Devlin (63); Charlie Donnelly for McElhatton (63).
Derry: B O'Connor; F McEldowney, E Scullion, D McDermott; J Murray, O Crozier (0-1 '45'), S Birt (0-1); D McPeake, R Forbes (capt.); J McGuckian (0-1), C Higgins, C Spiers (0-2); E Higgins (0-7 frees), C Chambers (0-2, 0-1 free), O Murphy (0-2).
Substitutes: D McGurk for Murphy (58); A Donnelly for Birt (60).
Referee: Pat Clarke (Cavan).