Saffron in silence!

Ulster GAA Senior Hurling Championship Final - Antrim v Derry - 8th July 2012'Copyright Presseye.com'Mandatory Credit Declan Roughan / Presseye'Derry's Conor Mc Sorley can't hide his disappointment at loosing the Senior Hurling final to Antrim
Ulster GAA Senior Hurling Championship Final - Antrim v Derry - 8th July 2012'Copyright Presseye.com'Mandatory Credit Declan Roughan / Presseye'Derry's Conor Mc Sorley can't hide his disappointment at loosing the Senior Hurling final to Antrim

This 18-point hammering really had nothing to do with Limerick’s eight point rout of the Saffrons in the All Ireland series.

SEAMUS MULLAN was in Casement Park

Ulster GAA Senior Hurling Championship Final - Antrim v Derry - 8th July 2012'Copyright Presseye.com'Mandatory Credit Declan Roughan / Presseye'Antrim's James Campbell and Derry's Paddy Henry

Ulster GAA Senior Hurling Championship Final - Antrim v Derry - 8th July 2012'Copyright Presseye.com'Mandatory Credit Declan Roughan / Presseye'Antrim's James Campbell and Derry's Paddy Henry

Photographs: Declan Roughan (Presseye)

No, it was pure and simply a stark emphasis of the chasm that currently exists between Antrim and the rest of Ulster, just as Derry’s hammering of Down in the semi final emphasised the gulf between the Oak Leaf county and the Mournemen.

As early as the first minute there was a clear signal that this was going to be one of the most difficult afternoons that Derry hurlers might experience for many a day. Neil McManus cut in from the right corner and let fly from close range but keeper Darrel McDermott acrobatically parried the goalbound shot to safety. Fabulous stop!

He really had no chance six minutes later when Conor Carson picked up the sliothar unmarked on the left and raced through unchallenged to bury it in the back of the net.

Indeed, but for the continued heroics of the Banagher netminder, and an outstanding defensive display from Mark Craig - assisted superbly at various stages by Michael Warnock and Chrissy McKaigue - Antrim could have been out of sight at half time.

With Barney McAuley and Shane McNaughton on top at midfield and Neil McGarry, Aaron Graffin and Neal McAuley repelling every effort Derry made, Ger Rogan’s men struggled for scores, not just in the first half when they could only muster five points, but in the second half as well when four points was their response to an ever increasing deluge of Antrim scores.

Yet it took another blinding save from McDermott to deny them midway through the half. Neil McManus took a pass from McAuley but somehow McDermott parried his shot, but only into the path of Barry McFall who flicked the ball to the net from a couple of metres.

However the referee correctly deemed that the St. John’s player was in the square before the ball and ruled out the score.

This vexed ‘square ball’ rule reared it’s ugly head moments before that when a Paddy Kelly free sailed over the bar but the referee invoked the ‘square ball’ rule. However the score should have stood as the ball was high enough to be beyond the reach of backs or forwards!

Then Johnny Campbell saw a shot deflect horribly off Chrissy McKaigue and ricochet to safety off the base of the post with keeper McDermott stranded five metres from goal as he came off his line to try and cut out the cross.

Yet, even though Derry were playing poorly, getting no joy against the Antrim defence and were struggling at midfield despite Ruairi Convery coming into that sector midway through the half, they were still not out of the game at the interval, 1-09 to 0-07 behind, Liam Watson having landed four placed balls for the Saffrons.

Derry captain Kevin Hinphey explained, “We didn’t get out of the blocks at all. There were only seven points in it at half-time which is nothing really in a game of hurling and we tried to regroup at half-time but it just didn’t happen for us. We couldn’t get it going, we couldn’t get any rhythm.

“We could have kept the spare man back and done a damage limitation job but sure that’s good to nobody, we had to go for it. We went man for man and I suppose it opened up a bit and at the end heads maybe went down and they tagged on a few scores that made it look worse. The most disappointing this is that we didn’t perform as well as we could. You don’t mind losing sometimes if you fought the good fight but we just didn’t play well.”

‘Robbing Peter to pay Paul’

Derry moved Mark Craig to the middle of the field but that was a ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ situation as the Derry defence then suffered in the second half from his absence in the ‘sweeping role’.

Derry did have a chance to resurrect their hopes in the 43rd minute when Ruairi Convery tried for goal from a 20m free but the ball rebounded off a defender’s foot to safety. Really nothing went right for Derry on the day.

But again, for the third time in the game, Darrell McDermott made another sensational save to deny Barry McFall a goal, his parry sending the sliothar over the end line for a ‘65,

Then Conor Carson was brilliantly hooked in the goalmouth as he looked certain to goal. All the while Antrim were picking off points, delightful stickwork from Carson controlling the ball and balancing it beautifully on the hurl as he careered through the Derry defence to blast over from 20m.

Michael Warnock and Craig both received straight red cards either side of a cracking goal from Shane McNaughton in the 65th minute.

There were a flurry of scores in the last few minutes including an Eddie McCloskey third goal three minutes from time,

Manager Ger Rogan summed up Derry feelings after a disappointing end to what remains a progressive season for Derry hurling,

“You’re playing at a different level and tempo, and you have to try and increase that yourselves,” explained the Antrim native, “It comes with touch and stickwork, and that comes from playing at a higher level.

“It has to be our aim. You have to be playing at higher level. It increases the players’ belief but it also improves their touch and their speed of thought. Those were evident today. We played some nice stuff when we were able to hurl but the problem is we’re not doing it consistently. I just felt today that I was disappointed for the players because I don’t think they gave the performance they were capable of.”

The Antrim scorers were Liam Watson 0-06, 0-05 frees, 0-01 ‘65’, Eddie McCloskey 1-03, Shane McNaughton 1-02, Conor Carson 1-01, Michael Herron 0-02, Barney McAuley and Conor Mccann 0-01 each

The Derry scorers were Alan Grant 0-02, 0-01 free, Ruairi McCloskey, Paddy McCloskey, Mark Craig, Ruairi Convery, Paddy Henry free, Paddy Kelly ‘65’ and Kevin Hinphey 0-01 each

Antrim: Damian Quinn (captain); James Campbell, Neil McGarry, Aaron Graffin; Michael Herron, Neal McAuley, Johnny Campbell; Barney McAuley, Shane McNaughton; Eddie McCloskey, Conor Carson, Paul Shields; Liam Watson, Neil McManus, Barry McFall. (Subs) Ciarnan Rea for Liam Watson, 66 min; Adrian Downey for Barney McAuley 66 mins; Darren Hamill for Barry McFall 68 mins; Colm McFall for Conor Carson 69 mins.

Derry: Darrel McDermott; Sean McCullagh, Conor Quinn, Michael Warnock; Ruairi McCloskey, Liam Hinphey, Mark Craig; Oisin McCloskey, Paddy Kelly; Alan Grant, Paddy McCloskey, Kevin Hinphey (Captain); Chrissy McKaigue, Ruairi Convery, Paddy Heaney. (Subs) Conor McSorley for Conor Quinn, 21 mins; Sean McGuigan for Paddy Henry 50 mins; Charles Gilmore for Ruairi McCloskey 51 mins; Shane Farren for Paddy McCloskey 58 mins; John McCloskey for Paddy Kelly 69 mins

Referee: Tony Carroll (Offaly)