Derry headed to Casement Park with expectations of victory, and a first Ulster final place in nine years, but not with the ease that it was achieved as the final score line bears witness.
SEAMUS MULLAN reports from Casement Park
Photographs: Declan Roughan (Presseye)
Down were virtually out of contention after an unanswered seven point scoring blast inside 15 magnificent minutes.
Yet it could have all been so different but for Derry keeper Darrell McDermott who pulled off a string of point-blank saves that denied Down four goals and preserved Derry’s comfortable half-time position.
The spurned chances proved costly for Gerard Monan’s Mourne side who never got into it after the break and finished the game with 13 men after Fintan Conway and Ben Toner were sent off in the final ten minutes.
Chief Derry marksman Ruairi Convery continued to cause serious trouble for the Down defence and finished with nine points to his name.
Derry will now face Antrim in next Sunday’s decider, back at Casement Park.
When asked if he was pleased with the performance Derry manager Ger Rogan commented, “Certainly, we played some really quality hurling but you can hear, the changing room is quiet. The boys aren’t celebrating. They expected to win and we expected them to win.”
When asked if he’d expected such an easy passage to the provincial final, the Derry manager denied it had been straight forward.
“Not against Down, you don’t win comfortably against Down. Even when I was hurling, it didn’t matter how good a side you were, Down always put it up to you. From that point of view, it was an excellent performance to match them physically and in their hurling.
“You see the spread of scorers from all around the pitch, but there was a big commitment from players in defence and some great defensive displays. All around the field, our movement was very, very good.”
When asked about the importance of the four saves made by his keeper during the opening stages he retorted, “We lost young Barry Robinson, who has been the most improved player in our squad last year, when he dislocated his shoulder on Friday night week ago.
“Then Oisin O’Doherty did his ligaments on Tuesday night, so we had to send for a goalkeeper from Scotland. Darrell came in and you saw how good he is, he’s a quality goalkeeper. They were super saves and at that particular stage of the game, we needed that.
“But all around the field, there were players making interventions when we needed it, catching great balls, blocking, hooking, all around the field.
“It was a great team display more than about individuals. Ruairi (Convery) certainly stood out because some of the catches he made were outstanding. We’re well pleased but there’s still plenty of stuff to work on.”
Derry hit the ground running with Kevin Hinphey and Ruairi Convery landing two apiece in that early blitz.
Convery was proving a real handful at full-forward for the Oak Leafers and Oisin McCloskey, Paddy Henry and Paddy Kelly also hit the target as Ger Rogan’s charges raced into a healthy early lead.
But Down began to fight back in the second quarter as the game became a personal duel between Paul Braniff and Darrell McDermott.
Four times in15 minutes Derry goalkeeper McDermott kept Down at bay from point blank range, three of his incredible saves denying Braniff.
It was still Braniff leading the charge for the Mourne men though, hitting four points before the break, while Paul Keith chipped in with three after moving from midfield to the half-forward line in an early reshuffle.
Convery continued to win a lot of ball for Derry at full-forward and with Alan Grant excellent at wing forward, the Oak Leafers led by 0-13 to 0-07 at the interval.
Down never closed the gap to less than five as Convery continued to terrorise them, finishing with six from play, leading a Derry scoresheet that carried nine different names.
Down offered little outside of Braniff’s contribution and lost their discipline in the final quarter, with Fintan Conway earning a second booking and then substitute Daniel Toner picked up his second yellow right on the final whistle.
Derry scorers: Ruairi Convery 0-09 (0-03f), Alan Grant 0-04, Paddy Henry 0-03 (1f), Oisin McCloskey 0-02, Kevin Hinphey 0-02, Paddy Kelly, Paddy McCloskey, Conor Quinn and Liam Craig 0-01 each
Down scorers - Paul Braniff 0-07 (0-03f, 0-01 ‘65’), Paul Keith 0-02, Scott Nicholson 0-02, Conor Mageean and Michael Turley 0-01 each
Derry - Darrell McDermott; Sean McCullagh, Conor Quinn, Michael Warnock; Ruairi McCloskey, Liam Hinphey, Conor McSorley; Oisin McCloskey, Kevin Hinphey (Captain); Paddy Henry, Paddy McCloskey, Alan Grant; Paddy Kelly, Ruairi Convery, Shane Farren. (Subs) Chrissy McKaigue (0-1) for Paddy Henry, 51 mins; Sean McGuigan for Shane Farren, 51 mins; Charles Gilmore for Conor Quinn, 63 mins; B Quigley for P McCloskey, 67 mins; John McCloskey for L Hinphey, 68 mins
Down: Graham Clarke; Joe Smyth, Michael Hughes, Sean Ennis; Ben Toner, Connor Woods, Fintan Conway; Andy Savage, Paul Keith; Darragh Hobbs, Michael Ennis, Eoin Clarke; Aaron O’Prey, Paul Braniff, Michael Turley. (Subs) Conor Mageean for Darragh Hobbs, 42 mins; Paul Sheehan for Michael Turley, 53 mins; Scott Nicholson for Aidan O’Prey, 53 mins; Declan McManus for Michael Turley, 53 mins
Referee: Patrick Murphy (Carlow)