So Good

AS STARTS GO, it hasn’t been bad, has it?

Three McKenna Cup games gone, three wins, 4-48 scored, 2-28 conceded and a semi-final meeting with Antrim at Celtic Park on Saturday evening to look forward to. It’s so far, so good for John Brennan’s new-look Derry.

MICHAEL WILSON was at Celtic Park

Photographs: JOE BOLAND

The Oak Leafers’ latest victory came courtesy of a splendid second half performance, kick-started by five points in five minutes after the restart with Conleith Gilligan’s fantastic soccer style volley into the net on 49minutes the icing on the Derry cake.

That goal was deserved reward for another energetic and clinical display from the Ballinderry man whose non-stop running has provided Derry with an extra outlet to the normal and reliable Paddy Bradley option. In tandem that pair destroyed Eamon McEnaney’s team and contributed 1-13 but they were far from alone.

The Derry boss had sprung a surprise by naming Brian McCallion at right corner back but the young Greenlough man played with the composure of a seasoned inter-county player, even breaking forward for two superb second half scores from distance.

In front of him Michael Drumm and newly appointed county captain Barry McGoldrick were excellent with the half-forwards again getting through a mountain of work, Sean Leo McGoldrick particularly impressive. Derry keeper Danny Devlin also did his own selection chances no harm with his second penalty save in three games when he dived full length to his left to turn away Paul Finlay’s late spot-kick.

That miss was the only blot on Finlay’s copybook though as only his accuracy stood between Monaghan and a second half rout. The full forward contributed 0-09 and kept his side well in the game during a first half in which Gerard O’Kane struggled at times to get to grips with him.

However, once Gilligan(2) Bradley(2) and James Conway pointed without reply at the beginning of the second period it was game over and another two points for Brennan.

“I was satisfied,” explained the Lavey man, “As you could see we were a bit leg-weary in the first 15 or 20 minutes. Last Saturday night took a lot out of us in Cavan and so did the midweek game against Queens, both played in tricky conditions. After we got over those initial stages when we were a bit uncertain and got to half-time a point up, I was satisfied with that.

“We realised we were playing a very good team in Monaghan with lots of experience, particularly around the midfield. We got things sorted out at half-time thankfully and as you could see we got our forwards - our inside-forwards in particular - more into the game and the result then speaks for itself.

“As I said, we got it sorted out at half-time and got the ball in more direct and you could see the end result. We have clinical inside-forwards and I’m not afraid to use that term. They put the scores on the scoreboard and that’s what it is all about.”

The Derry manager has said from the competition’s outset he wanted to progress to give his side an extra game in preparation for the National League which begins in two weeks time.

“We’re looking forward to the semi-final. We have this week to prepare, the boys are going now to recover and we’ll sort things out during the week. It is an extra game which is what I wanted from the start because this day fortnight we are back at Celtic Park against Tyrone and we have to be ready for that.”

Derry top Section B from Cavan who have yet to meet Monaghan but with the Oak Leafers four points clear and boasting a scoring average of 1.765 per game, qualification looked a formality from a long way out against the Farney county on Sunday.

A tight, scrappy first half saw the teams exchange the lead on a couple of occasions once Giligan’s first minute free got the scorboard ticking over in the first minute. Finlay’s first point, a fantastic effort over his right shoulder soon levelled but Bradley quickly had Derry ahead again.

With Bradley and Gilligan breaking right and left, the movement was creating problems for the visitors and when Niall McNicholl got himself on the scoresheet in the 9th minute, it meant Derry’s three full-forwards had scored inside the opening ten minutes.

Monaghan led 0-04 to 0-03 on 20 minutes but further points from Bradley and Gilligan had the home side back in front inside two minutes, Monaghan fought back to lead once more but a superb Sean Leo McGoldrick point and one from Michael Drumm saw Derry lead by 0-08 to 0-07 at the interval.

Rejuvenated Derry

If the opening 35 minutes had been close, the second 35 were anything but as Derry blitzed Monaghan within seconds of the restart and the visitors never looked like recovering. The single point advantage Derry enjoyed at the break quickly became six at 0-13 to 0-7 by the 40th minute and Derry were now flying.

A Finlay free briefly stopped the home onslaught but it was only temporary respite as Derry, with McCallion twice knocking over excellent scores, engineered a 0-16 to 0-10 lead with 50 minutes on the clock.

Gilligan’s fierce finish into the top corner after he reacted quickly once Sean Leo McGoldrick was tripped on his way to goal merely confirmed what everyone already knew, Derry were heading for the last four. McGoldrick looked set to score himself before he was upended but as he fell the ball hopped up which allowed Gilligan to meet it first time and volley across Padraig McBennett high into the roof of the net.

Monaghan did find the net themselves with their three substitutes combined in a flowing move in the 55th minute. First Darren Duffy made a break through the middle before picking out Martin McElroy whose pass left Owen Duffy to tap into an empty net.

That brought it back to 1-18 to 1-11 but there was no suggestion of a fightback even when Declan Mullan’s trip on Dick Clerkin as the midfielder burst through the middle meant a penalty for the visitors. Up stepped Finlay but Devlin was equal to his kick as he dived left to push the ball away to safety.

Derry introduced a number of late substitutes, including Marty Donaghy’s return to the Oak Leaf jersey, as the men in red and white secured the points with ease.

Derry: Danny Devlin; Brian McCallion (0-2), Gerard O’Kane, Dermot McBride; Michael Drumm (0-1), Barry McGoldrick (0-1), Aidan McAlynn; PJ McCloskey, James Conway (0-1); Declan Mullan, Sean Leo McGoldrick (0-1), Mark Lynch (0-1); Niall McNicholl (0-1), Paddy Bradley (0-7, 4f), Conleith Gilligan (1-6, 3f).

Subs: Niall Holly for J Conway, 59mins; Barry McGuigan for B McGoldrick, 65mins; Marty Donaghy for M Lynch 67mins; Ciaran McGoldrick for C Gilligan, 68mins; Danny Mulholland for P Bradley, 69mins.

Monaghan: Padraig McBennett; Drew Wylie, Stephen Driver, Kieran Duffy; Paddy Kieran, James O’Hara, Shane Smyth; Dick Clerkin, Francis Caulfield; Gavin Doogan, Mark Downey (0-1), James Turley (0-1); Keith Hill, Paul Finlay (0-9, 5f), Ted Duffy.

Subs: Darren Connolly for S Driver, 28mins; Owen Duffy (1-1) for S Smyth, H/T; Darren Duffy for J O’Hara, 52mins; Martin McElroy for T Duffy, 53mins.

Referee: Jimmy White (Donegal)