Down 0-15, Derry 0-14
Derry’s hopes of a McKenna Cup semi-final were dealt a blow as Down recorded their first victory over another county side since April 2015 at Pairc Esler on Sunday.
The home side seized the initiative early before the Oak Leafers fought back with never more than a point or two between the side in a close second period. Indeed Derry had opportunities to equalise but with Alan Davidson and Barry O’Hagan in sparkling form in the Mourne front line, Down did just enough to edge a first victory over a county side since they defeated Laois in the National League.
Both sides enjoyed periods of dominance and while, Damian Barton’s team can still qualify for the last four with victory over Queen’s on Wednesday night, it is Down who are now in the driving seat with a final group game to come against Armagh at the Athletic Grounds.
Derry were caught cold from the throw-in against a Down team intent on ending that run of inter-county defeats. Full forward O’Hagan in particular was impressing in the opening exchanges with two points inside the first 60 seconds.
The home side enjoyed the majority of possession but could never put any distance between the sides on the scoreboard, going in only one point in front at 0-09 to 0-08 after a half in which Derry were content to soak up pressure and hit on the break.
If Down were disappointed to be only one in front at half-time, it was not for any lack of effort on the part of Clonduff’s O’Hagan or corner forward Davidson who, alongside Benny Heron, gave a first half exhibition of free taking off the ground. For the second week in succession Heron looked impressive and while had only the two scorers by the interval, Derry had four despite hitting four first half wides.
Carlus McWilliams was anopther Oak Leaf player to excel alongside captain for the day Neil Forester whose ability to find space and drive forward was a constant platform for Derry attacks.
O’Hagan’s early brace rocked Derry back on their heels and like last week against Armagh it took Damian Barton’s side time to settle. With Niall Loughlin and Ryan Bell operating in behind Emmet McGuckin, the home side were three points up before a Heron free got Derry on the scoreboard in the fifth minute but they showed a welcome resilience to stay in the game during difficult spells.
And they needed that resilience at times as 0-3 to 0-1 became 0-06 to 0-01 thanks to points from O’Hagan, who was now being marked by Conor Nevin and two more Davidson frees.
That shouldn’t have been the cue for Eamon Burns team to kick on but Derry refused to yield. With Carlus McWilliams settling in to the sweeper role, the Oak Leafers started getting better ball into McGuckin and, more importantly, getting players up to support him.
A superb Loughlin point was followed by a Heron free and when McWilliams stepped out to set up Ryan Bell for another lovely long range effort the Down’s lead was back to the minimum at 0-6 to 0-5 with 18 minutes gone.
From there until half-time it was tit-for-tat as the visitors responded to each home score but Derry will have been the happier with the 0-9 to 0-8 interval scoreline.
The second half saw an improved Derry performance but too often they yielded turn over ball or chose the wrong option during encouraging attacks.
the Oak Leafers did lead briefly at 0-11 to 0-10 13 during the third quarter but it would be the only time they front Down during the game.
the home side
With neither side managing to fashion any clear goal opportunities it came down to a ‘shoot-out’ with Davidson standing up as the key forward to finish with 0-9, seven from placed balls and bring Eamon Burns a very welcome win.
Down: Michael Cunningham; Ryan McAleenan, Gearard McGovern, Darren O’Hagan; David McKibbon, Conaill McGovern, Brendan McArdle; Peter Turley, Jonathan Flynn (0-1); Shay Millar, Conor Maginn, Joe Murphy (0-1); Alan Davidson (0-9, 7f), Barry O’Hagan (0-3), Pat Havern. (Substitutes) Aidan Carr for P Turley, 43mins; Caolan Mooney (0-1) for D McKibbon, 46mins; Danny Savage for P Havern, 56mins Ryan Mallon for S Millar, 60mins; Gerard Collins for D O’Hagan, 64mins;
Derry: Thomas Mallon; Ronan Murphy, Oisin Duffin, Conor McGrogan; Neil Forester, Conor Nevin, Peter Hagan; Patrick Kearney, Aidan McLaughlin; Gavin O’Neill, Ryan Bell (0-3), Carlus McWilliams (0-1); Niall Loughlin (0-1), Emmett McGuckin (0-1), Benny Heron (0-4, 4f). (Substitutes) James Kielt (0-1, 1f) for P Kearney, H/T; Enda Lynn (0-1) for G O’Neill, H/T; Ciaran Mullan for O Duffin , 46mins; Michael Warnock for P Hagan, 46mins; Mark Lynch (0-2, 1f) for A McLaughlin, 51mins; Conor McAtamney for E McGuckin, 60mins;
Referee: Sean Laverty (Antrim)