AFTER 35 minutes in Celtic Park on Sunday, things were looking up for a bright young Derry team against league favourites, Westmeath.
Just a point adrift there was real cause for optimism but it all unravelled in the second half as the slicker and more experienced visitors upped the ante and Derry slipped back from their first half performance.
“Nerves and inexperience did not hep our cause out there but the lads gave it all they had and it did not just work on the day overall I am not too disappointed, we will learn from game like this” reflected manager Ger Rogan after the game.
His young side trailed by 2-9 to 2-8 at half time but on the balance of play should have been well in front. One of the goalscorers, captain Ruairi Convery, missed a clear cut opportunity at a stage when Derry were making all the running. He sliced the ball wide from the edge of the square just after finding the net from a similar situation.
In the second half Derry moved the big Swatragh man to the edge of the square and sent in the long ball but Westmeath nullified the move by double marking the Derry captain and with superb centre half Eoin Price having the game of his life, that door was bolted against most of Derry’s second half attacks.
In the first half Derry were quick and direct but in the second they delayed too much on the ball and the faster Westmeath team quickly closed them down. Even during some good first half play Derry gave away a few silly frees and with Brendan Murtagh deadly they were made to pay as the Clonkill man posted nine.
As Westmeath tightened their grip Derry’s lack of experience was evident, Frank Boyle unmarked four times in a row when he cut through for well taken points.
After seventeen minutes of the second Derry trailed by 2-18 to 2-9 but from there to the finish they restricted Westmeath to a rather fortunate Gilligan goal.
Derry’s first half goal from the towering Alan Grant was a real cracker. Shane Farren picked up an astute pass from Liam Hinphey, played the ball inside to the big Na Magha man and from a narrow angle on the left he gave keeper Shane McGovern no chance with a powerful low drive to the net. Westmeath were deadly accurate scoring from every conceivable angle inside 70m. They had seven different scorers and had many more scoring options than the hosts who depended largely on the brilliant free taking of Paddy Henry to keep them in touch. One bit of good news for the Derry camp is that Kevin Hinphey is fit again and will be available for the trip to Ulster rivals Down next Sunday.
Derry’s inexperience was underlined six minutes from the end when a long ball from Westmteath half back John Gilligan dropped into the goalmouth and two defenders got in each others way and the ball came off Ruairi McCloskey and into his own net to put the game completely out of the Oak Leaf lads reach.
The Derry manager Rogan pointed to the great advantages Westmeath have, “They are surrounded by teams like Kilkenny, Laois, Offaly and Wexford,” he explained, “They play these teams regularly in the O’Byrne Cup and challenge games. Geographically we are not in such a fortunate position.
“We can learn from playing teams like Westmeath, Derry hurling cannot be that bad when we are competing well against teams who make an impression in on the Leinster Senior Championship,” he added.
Westmeath scorers: Brendan Murtagh (0-9, 7f, 0-1 ’65), Dan Carthy (1-2), Frank Boyle (0-4), John Gilligan (1-0), Paul Greville (1-1), Joe Clarke, Andrew Dermody and Paddy Dowdall (0-1 each).
Derry scorers: Paddy Henry (0-9, 8f), Ruairi Convery (1-2), Alan Grant (1-0) and Patrick McCloskey (0-1).
Westmeath: S. McGovern, P. Fennell, D. McCormick, C. Jordan, J. Gilligan, E. Price, P. Gilsenan, P. Dowdall, J. Clarke, F. Boyle, B. Murtagh, P. Greville, A. Dermody, C. Boyle, D. Carthy. Subs A. Clarke for C. Boyle (50) E. Clarke for P. Fennell (66) and K. Orme for P. Dowdall (66)
Derry: C. Doherty, J. McCloskey, C. Quinn, L. Hawkins, R. McCloskey, L. Hinphey, M. Warnock, O. McCloskey, D. McCloskey, S. McNicholl, R. Convery, A. Grant, P. Henry, P. McCloskey, S. Farren. Subs J. Mulholland for S. McNicholl (20) C. Gilmore for D. McCloskey h/t C. McSorley for L. Hawkins (55). A. McCloskey for J. McCloskey (60) and K. Hinphey for S. Farren (66)
Referee: D. Magee (Down).