DERRY Minor manager Paul McIver says bigger challenges lie ahead for his squad after they emphatically booked a spot in the Ulster Championship semi-final thanks to a comfortable five-point win over Donegal in Healy Park, Omagh on Sunday evening.
Michael Wilson reports
The victory was the Oak Leaf county’s first in the competition since the 2008 victory over the same opposition in Ballybofey and while the final scoreline flattered the Tir Chonaill side, McIver was refusing to get carried away despite the impressive display.
“It’s a monkey off the back for the county, but not for these boys,” explained the Donegal native, “The last three or four years has nothing to do with us. But look, it’s only a win. It’s only the first round and there will be bigger obstacles in the semi-final.
“We will keep things low key. We know we are not a bunch of superstars. We’re here to work and that’s what we’ll keep doing.”
A goal from the penalty spot three minutes from the end of normal time only served to give a better look to the scoreboard from a Donegal point of view. Derry led by 2-8 to 0-4 with eight minutes of the second half played and, despite dominating the reminder of the half, only added one more point yet were never in any danger such was their dominance.
The writing was on Donegal’s wall from early on despite John McGarvey hitting the opening point on 26 seconds. One minute later Donegal keeper Daniel Mullarkey came off his line to deal a dangerous ball but failed to adequately protect possession and was dispossessed leaving Loup’s Terence O’Brien with the simple task of finding the unguarded net.
Slaughtneil’s Gerald Bradley, who was a strong contender for the Man of the Match accolade, added a point immediately and even though Donegal dangerman Ryan McHugh pointed a free, the same player hit an upright with a 13m free from in front of the goals on six minutes and the miss seemed to drain the confidence from the Kilcar man, who had no real influence on the contest thereafter.
With heads beginning to fall, Derry took advantage by controlling the middle third. Ballinderry’s Ryan Bell added a point and even though Conor Harkin fielded well and burst forward for one of the scores of the half, the Donegal challenge was wilting in the heat.
Peter Cassidy hit two points either side of a Gerald Bradley free to stretch the lead to five points and it could have been more on 29 minutes when Swatragh’s James Kearney cut through the Donegal defence like a knife through butter but pulled his effort for goal wide of the posts.
In added time Ryan McHugh grabbed Donegal’s fourth point while Terence O’Brien added a point from a ‘45 for the Derry men but the frustration was showing for Donegal with the McHugh cousins, Eoin and Ryan, yellow carded within seconds of each other.
Whatever chance Donegal had of a comeback were well and truly crushed in the opening minutes of the second half. First O’Brien was almost in for a second goal but the ball broke to Bradley to fist a point.
Bradley added another on 36 minutes and two minutes later a mistake in the Donegal defence allowed O’Brien through again and this time he made no mistake for his and Derry’s second goal.
Conor Harkin, from a free, and John McGarvey had Donegal points by the 42nd minute. McGarvey had the chance of going for goal but pulled his effort over the crossbar.
There was a period of a full 15 minutes without a score before Donegal were gifted a penalty on 57 minutes. The Derry defence had won the ball but somehow Donegal substitute John Fitzgerald turned it over and was hauled down. Ryan McHugh placed the penalty to the ‘keeper’s left, but it was nothing more than a consolation score.
For the Derry manager who has had only limited time with his panel since taking over, the victory is a major step forward but McIver knows there is still plenty of room for improvement.
“We seem to be putting 20 minutes here and half an hour there but struggling to put it back to back for a full hour,” added the Derry manager.
“Tonight I felt we showed great workmanship more than anything. The talent’s hanging out of these boys if they could use it in the right way at times. We worked an awful lot in training as regards keeping the ball and kick-passing and I think it showed there in the end.
“But look, let’s not get carried away. Donegal had only seven days to prepare after a massive game against Cavan, who were Ulster champions. We will not get carried away and we were a bit sloppy near the end, letting them in for a goal and a couple of points. But there will be bigger challenges the next day against either Tyrone or Armagh.”
Donegal: Daniel Mullarkey; Gary Kelly, Conor Parke, John Rose; Eoin McHugh, Mark Gallagher, Ryan McHugh (1-2,1-0pen, 1f); Darragh Mulgrew, Raymond McNamee; Conor Harkin (0-2,1f), John McGarvey (0-2), Aodhan McGinley; Stephen McBrearty, Brendan McNelis, Willie Gillespie. (Subs) Hugh McFadden (0-1) for A McGinley ht; John Fitzgerald for Rose 41; Callum Gallagher for Gillespie; Cathal McGettigan for McGarvey, both 52
Derry: Christopher Bradley; Declan Brown, Michael Sweeney, Gary Doyle; Gareth McKinless, Conor Carville, Ryan McDonnell (0-1); Peter Cassidy (0-2), Conor McAtamney: James Kearney, Ciaran McFaul, Terence O’Brien (2-1,0-1’45’); Gerald Bradley (0-4), Ryan Bell (0-1), Ryan Moore. (Subs) Conor Gallagher for Doyle 20; Ryan Dougan for Moore 38; Neil McNicholl for Kearney 57; Danny Tallon for Carville 62
Referee: Brendan Rice (Down)