A kicked goal three minutes from time by Kevin Hinphey took Derry into a one point lead in this intensely physical encounter, but the home side then needed a Paddy Kelly point in added time after substitute Jimmy Mulcahy had levelled, to give them victory and a place in the league final.
It had been a tough, physical battle throughout with the London backs in particular not standing on ceremony. Unfortunately the referee, even though he sent off two players from each side and issued a number of yellow cards (mostly when his umpires/linesmen drew his attention to misdemeanours) failed to control the game in the manner expected at this level.
Paddy Henry came in for too much physical attention, on one occasion dumped unceremoniously into the fencing after he’d released the ball on the side-line. No action was taken and London then won the ball and went through to score the goal that took them to parity at half time, 0-09 to 1-06.
Leigh Hawkins, who had an outstanding game in defence, was manhandled over the end line but a ‘65’ was awarded to London. An umpire drew the referee’s attention to an off-the-ball foul by a London defender in the first half but he chose to ignore the matter. In the second period Cathal McKeever was shoved over the end line by a couple of tacklers but again no action was taken. In essence Derry players were not protected by the referee and they found it very difficult to get frees.
Indeed it was a frustrating afternoon for both sides, the only redeeming factor from a Derry perspective being that they won the game and qualified for a final meeting with Wicklow, the prospect of promotion and a league title the carrot after this hard-earned but very definitely deserved victory.
“The delightful part about it is that they’re such a young squad,” explained Derry manager Ger Rogan. “Lads who’d little experience of hurling at county level showed real character out there today. And I would like to flag up the defensive display of Na Magha’s Leigh Hawkins as he was probably the best player on the pitch. He was outstanding.”
Deep into the second half Derry were reduced to 13 players when Ruairi Convery picked up a second yellow card, Cormac McKenna getting a straight red card ten minutes from half time.
Paddy Kelly was moved to corner-back, Kevin Hinphey dropping deep to cover a defence that was being peppered with long balls by London, who had Martin Finn dismissed, and then Niall Forde on a straight red card eight minutes from time.
On Paddy Kelly and Kevin Hinphey in the final quarter, in defensive roles, Rogan said, “Both were immense. People talk about managerial switches and moves but sometimes they do not work. Sometimes it’s only the ones that do work that people notice. They only notice because it’s the players that do the business. Paddy Kelly’s one of the guys that I talk about when I refer to character because he has never played senior inter-county hurling before. He showed immense character.
“We lost two big players in Paddy McCloskey and Conor Quinn before the game, then to lose Cormac McKenna and Ruairi Convery, all experienced players in a young side, those were massive lows to us. But it seems in every game we play that we have to face a different challenge. These lads have not let themselves down yet.”
Oisin McCloskey was in sensational form, scoring 0-05, 0-03 in the first half. Rogan said, “His scores in the first half were immense. You tell a player when he gets the ball to burst forward, but Oisin knows no other way. He just goes straight through the tackle. His points taking was immense, superb from a midfielder.”
In the Balance
This was a game that could easily have been lost when Derry went two points down with three minutes remaining but the Derry manager put the situation Derry found themselves in for the closing minutes into perspective.
“These players are thoroughly enjoying playing together. That counts for a lot in a very tight game like today. The lads work together, for each other, and they do not want to lose. They want to win together.
“We’ve won nothing yet. We’ve just got to a league final. We have to go out and win that. Some might say the squad is too young to go up but, sure you don’t know how cold the water is until you get into it. I would much prefer to go up with a young squad that will develop and learn than to go up with a more experienced one, where you cannot change their habits.
“From a progression point of view it’s great to get to a league final, but I’m looking forward to getting another crack at Wicklow after the narrow defeat in Arklow. That was a smashing game of hurling, a full blooded affair. So we’re looking forward to it.”
In the final minutes came the kicked goal from Kevin Hinphey, the levelling score from Jimmy Mulcahy and the winning point from Paddy Kelly. Derry held on in a tense finish and will now play Wicklow in the final.
Derry scorers were Kevin Hinphey 1-02, Oisin McCloskey 0-05, Paddy Henry 0-02, Ruairi Convery 0-02 frees, Paddy Kelly 0-02 and Paddy McCloskey 0-01
London scorers were Martin Finn 1-05, 0-05 frees, Patrick Sloane 0-04, 0-02 frees, Jimmy Mulcahy , Michael Walsh, Shane Ryan and Niall Forde 0-01 each
Derry: Darrell McDermott; Anton Rafferty, Mark Craig, Leigh Hawkins; Dara McCloskey, Cormac McKenna, Sean Cassidy; Kevin Hinphey, Oisin McCloskey; Alan Grant, Ruairi Convery, Paddy Henry; Oisin Doherty, Cathal McKeever, Paddy Kelly
(Subs) Paddy McCloskey for Oisin Doherty, 40 mins; Michael Kirkpatrick for Cathal McKeever 52 mins
London: Aidan Ryan; John Hartley, Brian Costello, Colm Burke; Colm Forde, Matt Fitzsimmons, Michael Walsh; Niall Healy, Niall Forde; Keith Kennedy, Shane Ryan, Richard O’Connell; Patrick Sloane, Henry Vaughan, Martin Finn.
(Subs) Thomas Twomey for Matt Fitzsimmons, 29 mins; Dave Maher for Niall Healy, 33 mins; Kevin Walsh for Colm Burke 48 mins; Jimmy Mulcahy for Thomas Twomey 57 mins
Referee: Garrett Duffy (Antrim)