None of the present crop of Claudy players have tasted success against Foreglen in either league or championship.
Indeed it’s at least a dozen years since the Mitchel’s won in what is the oldest ‘derby’ encounter in the Oak Leaf County, a championship replay in 1990 at Celtic Park unconfirmed as the last Claudy victory.
This midweek game seemed like the perfect opportunity to end the losing streak. Claudy had shown their best early season form in a lifetime with a very young team.
Barry Murphy and Paul White are the only two on their starting 15 with any notable experience at this level. But those young boys learnt the same harsh lesson their predecessors had learnt in games against Foreglen.
That was very much the case in front of a big, vocal crowd at Pairc Úi Neill. For 20 minutes Claudy won enough ball and created enough scoring chances, to suggest they could get a result. But all they had to show for their efforts at the end of this period was a solitary point and one sensed the end result would be a similar one the recent results. Without Marty Donaghy, ineligible because of county commitments, and Gareth McCloskey among others, it was too big a task.
In the third quarter, Foreglen’s hunger really showed. The first half had been a stop-start affair. A couple of knocks here and there disrupted the flow, though there wasn’t any of the niggle you’d associate with such a derby.
Early on, Claudy showed the belief and perhaps if they could have got the scores their dominance of the first five minutes alone might have brought them, it could have been a different story.
The first move of the game brought promise. Claudy kicked the ball early in to Aaron Kerrigan, out in front of Ruairi Duffy. The Claudy man took Duffy on, drew his free, and popped it over the bar. This will be the way of it, you thought.
It was very seldom that move was replicated over the hour. Claudy played with Kerrigan and Blaine Carlin inside and Paul White in a roving role, sometimes filling the hole in front of them, other times coming deeper to get the ball. Foreglen didn’t use a sweeper but Claudy didn’t kick much early ball in. However, Duffy and Cathal O’Hara were marking their men from in front and the movement inside wasn’t good enough, making it difficult to kick the ball in too.
They were getting joy in the first five minutes, except in front of the posts. Carlin was unlucky, White hit a bad one, and Paddy Hargan made it three wides when there were scores for the taking. It could have been 0-04 to 0-00, but instead it was 0-01 to 0-00. And Foreglen punished them.
Eoghan McFeely, wearing 23 as a last-minute replacement for a warm-up hamstring victim Kevin O’Neill, played a superb ball over heads and right into Eunan McFeely’s run. He found Nigel Bradley, who steadied up and rifled it into the back of Kieran McCloskey’s net.
From their first five chances of the game, Foreglen gathered up 1-03. Bradley, from two frees, and the outstanding Sean Morahan, who put in a great shift before picking up a knock that forced him off, kicked scores that left Foreglen 1-03 to 0-01 ahead. Their only wide was a half goal-chance, when Conrad Sheerin went low from 20 yards.
From then on, they exerted a measure of control until the game was effectively over. There was little primary possession on offer at midfield, with both ‘keepers struggling with kickouts, so everything was constantly being built from half-back.
Claudy had a case when Barry Murphy’s shot crept inside the post but with referee Barry Cassidy, caught on the wrong side by a quick switch of play, it was signalled wide by a Foreglen umpire.
Aaron Kerrigan then sped off along the endline and coolly clipped one over from a tight angle while Aidan McLaughlin was unlucky to see one from 30 yards flick the outside of the post and go wide.
The big chance came after 20 minutes, when a long ball into the goalmouth fell the way of Eoin McGahon but his side footed effort went wide of the gaping goal from eight yards. Claudy were on top at that stage but they didn’t take their chances.
At the other end, Darren O’Kane made no mistake under pressure from 30 yards and put Foreglen 1-04 to 0-03 ahead, which is how it stayed until half-time. Given Claudy’s missed chances, Foreglen were lucky to be leading at all.
The visitors then lost Nigel Bradley at half-time to a recurrence of the shoulder injury which has plagued him since he dislocated it in a championship game against Craigbane a couple of years ago.
But while Kevin O’Connor had a terrific second half, kicking a couple of great scores and holding the ball up brilliantly, it’s fair to say that it was the attitude of the Foreglen forwards that made the difference.
In the 11 minutes after half-time, the O’Brien’s hit seven unanswered points. Claudy had one attack in those same 11 minutes, and it was right from the throw-in, when Paddy Hargan was wide from 30 yards.
It started with a brilliant Darren O’Kane tackle that dispossessed Aidan McLaughlin. O’Kane won a free, which Marty Farrell pointed, and it went on from there. The next point, Ciaran McFeely stole possession and Kevin O’Connor scored. Then McFeely stole it off Lee O’Kane and Eoghan Duffy might have had a goal, but lashed over. Eugene McLaughlin was dispossessed and Eoghan Duffy sped down the line and flashed over from a narrow angle.
All that meant that four of those seven points came from turnovers forced within 40 yards of Claudy’s own goal. They simply couldn’t get out. Foreglen were pressing them so relentlessly that Claudy were getting sucked deeper and deeper, leaving their full-forward line more and more isolated. The blue shirts couldn’t get it past halfway, and when they lost it, Foreglen were ruthless.
Marty Farrell and Oisin Duffy were so important to them in the second half. They had the game won at 1-11 to 0-03 up, but still that duo kept picking the ball up and finding gaps, driving through them. Farrell wanted the ball everywhere on the field. Barry Murphy posed a real threat for Claudy, driving from six in the opening quarter, and Farrell was let know about it from the sideline but from then on he made Murphy follow him and defend by going and demanding the ball all over. It started attacks and it drew frees.
Oisin Duffy did likewise for the final 20 minutes, and one instance in injury-time summed it up. He had lost control of the ball but the three blue shirts hesitated in coming to take it. Duffy didn’t hesitate. He ploughed straight into them and took the ball back. He wanted it more.
To their credit, Claudy battled in the final quarter, but even when they were completely in control again, they could still only outscore Foreglen by four points. The big chance came after 42 minutes. They were 11 behind when Foreglen when to sleep and Blain Carlin played a ball over the top for sub Kieran Reilly, but he misjudged it and the ball ran away from him as he went through on goal. He was able to recycle it for a Paul White point but a chance had been lost.
Claudy started to go a bit more direct, with long ball into the goalmouth and it did bring some joy. It was the younger Kerrigan, Shea, who had a decent second half, that got in behind and was tripped by Ronan Tracey as he went around the ‘keeper.
Shea Kerrigan dusted himself down but opened his body up too much on the penalty and allowed Tracey to read it. The big Foreglen stopper still got across well to turn it away for a 45’. Typically, though, it was played short and the long ball ended up in the net anyway, with Eoin McGahon getting a fist to his brother Shane’s delivery.
Claudy: Kieran McCloskey; Barry Cartin, Conor Johnston, Lee O’Kane; Eugene McLaughlin, Barry Murphy, Christy Wood; Shea Kerrigan (0-01), Shane McGahon; Aidan McLaughlin, Eoin McGahon (1-00), Paddy Hargan (0-01); Paul White (0-01), Blaine Carlin, Aaron Kerrigan (0-04, 0-03f). Subs: Kieran Reilly (0-01) for A McLaughlin (35), John Enda Burke for Cartin (57)
Foreglen: Ronan Tracey; Padhraic Sheerin, Cathal O’Hara, Ruairi Duffy; Conrad Sheerin, Oisin Duffy, Sean Morahan; Darren O’Kane (0-01), Mark McCormick (0-01); Ciaran McFeely (0-03, 0-02f), Marty Farrell (0-01f), Eoghan Duffy (0-02); Eunan McFeely (0-01), Nigel Bradley (1-02, 0-02f), Eoghan McFeely. Subs: Kevin O’Connor (0-03, 0-01f) for N Bradley (HT), Paul Keeley for Morahan (45)
Referee: Barry Cassidy (Bellaghy)