At half time there was little indication that Dungiven would score a comfortable win in this decidely open derby.
Banagher had led by 0-08 to 0-06 and the game had all the hallmarks of a close contest until hot favourites Dungiven cracked in two well worked goals between the 50th and 51st minutes.
Banagher will point to the absence of PJ McCloskey with a severe head wound during the spell that Dungiven scored a match winning 2-02. While there may be some merit in the suggestion it was the winners’ dominance all over the field in the second half that was their source of victory.
When McCloskey did return he was clearly not the same player as he had been in the first half and the game was gone at that stage as Kevin Madden’s men held a six point lead.
The launching pad for Dungiven’s victory was their half back line. Kevin Boyle adequately filled the shoes of county player Kevin Johnston who was out injured. Cathal McKeever, at centre-half, read situations well and always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. When Banagher put on a late burst of pressure he cut out several dangerous situations and was always in control of the situation.
Liam Og Hinphey was solid at left half-back, thus completing an excellent defensive line.
Mark Craig was excellent at midfield and scored the goal that turned the tide in the 50th minute. Despite a heavily strapped knee he trod every blade of grass on the vast Owenbeg pitch and blotted out the challenge of the previously dangerous Gavan O’Neill. His tall midfield partner Sean O’Kane was solid in the second half while James McNicholl, Sean O’Neill and Conor Murphy also made a telling contributions.
There was little wrong with what Banagher did in the first half.
Paul Cartin was driving forward from the half-back line with intent, big PJ was doing his stuff at midfield, embellished by a superb point and Gavin O’Neill was always a threat up front.
Mark Lynch did not look to be at his best and when he moved to the inside line in the final quarter his outfield players were unable to give him any quality ball. Michael Anderson and the promising Conor Feeny could not be faulted for effort.
The first half was a ‘cat and mouse’ affair with both teams probing for weaknesses.
Banagher hit the ground running with Gavin O’Neill landing the first point after only 40 seconds. Banagher supporters were soon able to cheer again as Eoin Devine polished off a slick move with a point.
Dungiven’s were on the score board in the sixth minute when Ryan McElhinney converted his own free. With Conor Lynch dropping back to form a seventh Banagher defender, Dungiven went long and in the 10th minute Murphy levelled.
A good interception from Martin McCloskey prevented a Banagher goal but there was nothing any defender could do when PJ McCloskey landed a monster of a point before Pádraig Murphy doubled the St. Mary’s lead.
Craig was beginning to make his ‘mark’ in the middle third and set up Sean O’Neill for a 16th minute point. It was soon level when Darrell O’Kane pointed a free.
Ten minutes from the break a Ryan McElhinney free put Dungiven in front for the first time but a brilliant score from Anderson saw the teams level for the third time. Four minutes from the break Mark Lynch hit over a stunning free but again the St. Canice’s hit back with a wonderful point from the tall Conor Murphy the son of former Derry captain Plunkett Murphy.
Banagher finished the half on a high with Conor Lynch putting them in front and the promising Conor Feeney sending them in with a 0-8 to 0-6 lead.
It was a more purposeful looking Dungiven who started the second half with Sean O’Neill’s long range effort halving the Banagher lead. Despite their pressure, nine minutes of the half had elapsed before McElhinney tied the game up with a free. It was to be the 22nd minute of the half before Banagher got their first score.
Then it was gone from Banagher in 90 seconds. In the 50th minute Dungiven attacked up the centre as Craig took a Sean O’Neill pass on the run to crash the ball to the net. Next came another slick move when Murphy spotted the over lapping Kevin Boyle who finished deftly to make the score 2-08 to 0-08.
Even the return of the heavily bandaged PJ McCloskey failed to lift the Feeny men and it was a solo flight by Sean O’Neill in the 44th minute that put the winners seven in front. Dungiven defenders were pushing forward with their attack and none other than Liam Hinphey left the eventual winners’ leading by double scores at 2-10 to 0-08.
A faint glimmer of light appeared for Banagher in the 58th minute when Cathal McKeever brilliantly blocked a Gavin O’Neill effort but the ball broke to Conor Feeney who slotted into the net to leave five points between the teams but Dungiven never looked like letting this one slip.
Dungiven: Kevin Farren, Martin McCloskey, Gavin McLaughlin, Davy McLaughlin, Kevin Boyle (1-0), Cathal McKeever, Liam Hinphey (0-1), Mark Craig (1-1), Sean O’Kane, James McNicholl, Conor Murphy (0-2), Sean Murray, Sean O’Neill (0-3), Darrell O’Kane (0-1, 1f), Ryan McElhinney (0-3, 3f) (Subs) Craig Chewning for G McLaughlin, 47mins; Fergal McGuigan for R McElhinney, 50mins; Martin Burke for S Murray (53); Padraig McCloskey for S O’Neill, 60 mins.
Banagher: Daryl McDermott, Sean McCullagh, Ruairi McCloskey, Oisin McCloskey, Paul Carton, Micheal Anderson (0-1), Peter Hagan, PJ McCloskey (0-1), Brian Og McGilligan, Eoin Devine (0-1), Mark Lynch (0-2, 1f), Conor lynch (0-1). Gavin O’Neill (0-2), Padraig Murphy (0-1, 1f), Conor Feeney (1-1). (Sub) Stefan McCloskey (blood sub) for PJ McCloskey, 33mins (rev 43mins; Shane Farren for C Lynch, 53 mins;
Referee: Barry Cassidy (Bellaghy)