TWO fortunate first half goals from Aaron Devlin provided the platform for what turned out to be a comfortable Ulster Under 21 Championship quarter-final victory for Paddy Crozier’s young Derry team over Antrim at Casement Park on Wednesday night.
Having eased to a 0-03 to no score lead after eight minutes, and having enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, the Saffrons were rocked by Devlin’s double strike. The first ‘gift’ was presented by Antrim defender Fionnbarr O’Neill, whose attempted cross-field pass went straight to the Derry captain who showed no mercy with an emphatic finish.
Then, following a Conor Kearns pointed free from the right, a similar effort from Ryan Bell from play on the left rebounded off the post and straight to the waiting Devlin. The Ballinderry man cooly lobbed the ball back over the stranded Antrim keeper for his second goal of the night and a four point lead.
The goals knocked Antrim and things went from bad to worse for the Saffron’s a minute before the break when a pile-driver from Glen’s Ryan Dougan was deflected into the roof of the net to give the visitors a 3-03 to 0-05 interval lead.
Just as in the first half, the Saffrons began the second brightly but a series of missed frees meant they could not capitalise on their otherwise impressive play. Points from Chrissy Spiers and Dougan ensured it was Derry who got the scoreboard moving again to lead by those three goals on 36 minutes.
Owen Gallagher grabbed a goal for the home side on 46 minutes but any hope of a fightback evaporated soon after. Following a Ryan Bell point, Devlin turned provider to tee up Spiers who punched into the net to finish the game as a contest.
Paddy Crozier then ran his bench in the closing minutes as late points from Rory Moore and Bell took the margin of victory to a comfortable 12 points. With six of the 2012 minors starting this game, it was a very young Derry team for Under 21 level who will face a more intense challenge in the semi-final against Donegal who accounted for a highly fancied Tyrone team.
Featuring All-Ireland senior winner Patrick McBrearty and the hotly tipped Ryan McHugh, Donegal will be installed as favorites for what promises to be an intriguing clash in two weeks time but on this evidence, Derry are capable of rising to the challenge.
Derry: C Bradley; G McKinless, P Quinn, D Brown; K McKeague, C McAtamney, J Morgan; R O’Kane, R Dougan (1-1); C Kearns (0-2f), R Bell (0-3), C McFaul; D McKinless, A Devlin (2-1), C Spiers (1-4, 1f)
Subs: R Moore (0-1) for R O’Kane, M McCloskey for R Dougan, F Bell for D McKinless, K Conway for C Kearns
Antrim: K Allsopp; F O’Neill, M Johnson, C Hamill; D Stranney, D Lynch, N Delargy; C Sheerin, J Carron (0-2); O Gallagher (1-2), S Tully, P McBride; R Murray, C Duffin, B Bradley (0-3, 2f)
Subs: N McKenna (0-1) for S Tully, M McGarry for F O’Neill, A McKeown (0-1) for C Duffin, M Jordan for P McBride, A Taylor for R Murray
Referee: M McNally (Monaghan)