Derry’s hopes of winning a first provincial minor title since 2001 were dashed at Casement Park by a Saffrons 15 that was vastly superior in most areas of the pitch.
SEAMUS MULLAN was in Casement Park
Derry showed plenty of determination in the first half and created some excellent scoring opportunities but eight wides tells the story of the first half from an Oak Leaf perspective as they trailed 0-10 to 0-06 at half time with the stiffish breeze at their backs.
Over the 63 minutes, none of Derry’s starting forwards raised a flag, five of their eight points coming from frees, three by Shane Farren, two by Tiarnan McCloskey. Gerald Bradley scored 1-02 from midfield as Derry struggled against a physically more imposing side.
Time and again Derry forwards took the ball into the tackle and invariably they were either dispossessed or forced to turn away from their intended path.
In contrast, five of Antrim’s six forwards got on the scoreboard with team captain Conor Johnston excelling at centre half forward, the pace and scoring ability of Daniel McCloskey and Daniel McKernan causing endless trouble for the Derry defence.
Gerald Bradley and Caolan McGurk tried hard to give Derry a foothold at midfield and did reasonably well at times, although Antrim’s Stephen McAfee got far too much room to plunder three points from play in the first half.
Brian Og McGilligan stood defiant for the entire game, his tremendously competitive performance keeping Derry afloat much longer than might otherwise have been expected.
Twelve minutes from half time Tiarnan McCloskey had a sniff of a goal chance at 0-06 to 0-02 but he mishit his shot on the 20m line and the ball sailed wide.
Cormac Doherty did well to ‘keep’ the ball in play three minutes later and was heading towards the posts when an umpire signalled, wrongly it seemed, that the ball had in fact gone wide before he set off on his run.
Indeed two erroneous decisions by the same linesman earned him the wrath of the smattering of Derry fans at Casement Park, the second error leading directly to an Antrim goal.
Derry would have been hoping to raise their game in the second half but once corner forward Sean McAfee placed the ball superbly beyond keeper Conor O’Kane for Antrim’s first goal five minutes in, the game was over as a meaningful contest at 1-10 to 0-06.
Four minutes later Daniel McKernan volleyed the ball to the net for the second goal, Daniel McCloskey lashing home the third midway through the half. The fourth from Conor Johnston nine minutes from time extended the lead to 17 points.
Cormac Doherty was twice denied a goal by fantastic saves from keeper Padraig Nugent in the 52nd and 59th minute, Gerard Bradley running onto a Brian Og McGilligan pass in between to smash home Derry’s consolation goal in a comprehensive defeat.
Derry had done reasonably well in the first half, their cause not helped by poor finishing as Derry manager Brian McGilligan attested.
“I think we had seven or eight wides in the first half, some of them very scoreable,” admitted McGilligan. “At training the last couple of weeks, those were efforts that our boys were knocking over the bar with their eyes closed. Maybe inexperience, maybe nerves, but there’s no excuse really for what happened.
When it was suggested that Antrim were more physically imposing in many areas of the pitch and Derry were too easily knocked off the ball the DUngiven man responded, “I asked the boys to present themselves today, stand up and be counted. There were very few men on the Derry team that did that.”
McGilligan was adamant though that the Saffrons deserved theor comprehensive victory.
“We have no qualms about the result. Antrim were superior in every department. Our boys were standing on their heels, waiting for things to happen. Antrim were anticipating, they were making things happen. At this level of hurling, you have to make things happen. We stood back and didn’t do it. It’s stuff you see in Division Two or Division Three hurling. It’s not good enough.
“We can make all sorts of reasons about it. Every match for Antrim is a home match. Derry supporters don’t travel to Belfast because people anticipate what’s going to happen before they come up here. When, and if we do come up here and win, there’s less talk about it because everyone classes it as a fluke. We’re doing a lot of work in Derry and we’re trying as hard as anyone else. Those guys put in as much effort and commitment as any team. On the day, we froze. Antrim are playing at a higher level, they’re playing down in Leinster, they’re developing hurling, whereas we’re just fulfilling fixtures and going through the motions.”
Antrim have not been asked to play in Ulster in a minor championship game until the final, nor do they play an Ulster final outside Casement Park but again the Derry manager argued, “There are a lot of injustices, but the results tell you the truth. Antrim didn’t have to play a match to get to an Ulster final, but they must have been playing something. They’re a lot sharper than our boys.
“We have had four matches, though fair enough, they might not have been of as high a standard as we would have wished. The Tyrone match, no disrespect to anybody, we’ve had better training sessions. We were maybe a wee bit naïve going in here. We had no real preparation because of club football but you can make all sorts of excuses. At the end of the day, our boys just weren’t good enough for them. In too many departments, they were second best. Boys stood back and waited for things to happen, and they don’t just happen at this level. Until boys get that mentality out of their heads, we’ll go nowhere.
“The only positive they might take, if you could call it a positive, is that in years to come, when boys look back at this scoreline, it might give them a wee bit of an incentive to improve.”
Derry scorers: Gerald Bradley 1-02, Shane Farren 0-03 frees, Tiarnan McCloskey 0-02 frees and Michael Warnock 0-01
Antrim scorers: Daniel McCloskey 1-05, 0-03 frees, Conor Johnston 1-04, Daniel McKiernan 1-02, Sean McAfee 1-01, Stephen McAfee 0-03, Jackson McGreevy and Cormac Jennings 0-01 each
Antrim: Padraig Nugent; Niall McFadden, Fergus Donnelly, Luke Peden; Stephen Rooney, Michael McVeigh, Ciaran Johnston; Michael Dudley, Stephen McAfee; Jackson McGreevy, Conor Johnston, Daniel McCloskey; Sean McAfee, Niall McKenna, Daniel McKernan.(Subs) Cormac Jennings for Michael Dudley 52 mins; Michael Bradley for Niall McKenna 52 mins; Eamon Haggerty for M McVeigh 54 mins; Aidan McKinley for L Peden
Derry: Conor O’Kane; Michael Warnock, Dominic Mullan, Joseph O’Loughlin; Eoin Crossan, Brian Og McGilligan, Ryan Farren; Gerald Bradley, Caolan McGurk; Liam Murphy, Kieran McIntyre, Niall Farren; Shane Farren, Tiarnan McCloskey, Cormac Doherty. (Subs) Pearse McGrath for Kieran McIntyre H-T; Brendan Rodgers for N Farren 39 mins; Eanna Cassidy for T McCloskey 55 mins; Michael Taggart for L Murphy 55 mins
Referee: John Devlin (Tyrone)