ULSTER CHAMPIONSHIP: We must up our game for semi-final, warns Johnston

Derry's Eoin Bradley takes on Down's Kevin McKernan in Celtic Park on Sunday.''(Photo Lorcan Doherty / Presseye.com)
Derry's Eoin Bradley takes on Down's Kevin McKernan in Celtic Park on Sunday.''(Photo Lorcan Doherty / Presseye.com)

Kevin Johnston believes Derry will have to improve to have any chance of reaching a first Ulster Senior Football Championship Final since 2011.

The Dungiven player’s lung-busting injury time run brought the foul from which Eoin Bradley was able to hit the Oak Leafer’s late winner against Down but Johnston warned a similar performance won’t be enough against either Donegal or Armagh in the last four.

“I’m happy enough to get through but our second half performance was disappointing,” admitted the Derry half-back, “We’re going to be coming up against either Donegal or Armagh - probably the two best teams in Ulster - so the performance will definitely have to be seriously upped. We’ve just got over the line (against Down) and we’re happy enough with that but we know that performance won’t be good enough.”

The second half dismissal of Down’s Conall McGovern seemed to inspire Jim McCorry’s team but Johnston says Derry were guilty of easing off with the man advantage.

“I think it can sometimes happen when you go a man up. You protect what you have but they pressed up and threw everything at us. I thought Down were excellent with the 14 men and we were maybe lucky to come out with the win in the end up.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by the returning Eoin Bradley who believes the manner in which Derry were forced to dig deep in the second half on Sunday could prove crucial in the semi-final.

“We’re home by a point and that’s all that matters. We’re into the next round,” explained the Glenullin forward.

“Second half we were poor enough whenever they went down to 14-men. Sometimes, though, whenever teams do go down to 14 men it’s easy enough to become a bit complacent but Down were always going to come back at us and come back into the game.

“Look, we won by a point and we’re happy enough to be in the semi-final. We have a bit to work on with our performance but that’s a good thing.

“In another two or three weeks Patsy (Bradley) and a few other players will be fit, so there’s going to be a push for places. “Next Saturday, Donegal play Armagh which will be a good game and a tough, tough game for both. Two of the best teams in Ulster but we’re in the next round which is what we wanted to do.

“In the last few minutes Down scored two or three on the bounce so we showed a bit of character to come back. It was a good team performance first half, but we’ve plenty to work on after that second half.”

Bradley’s match-winning return was a major positive for Brian McIver, the forward scoring five points but conceding he faded physically toward the end of the first half.

“It was tough and the heat didn’t help me. For 15 or 20 minutes I started off well but faded out of it a wee bit.

“There’s a lot of men back the way football is played now and it’s hard. You just have to bide your time and keep on moving.

“I came out in the second half and I think I got a bit more of the ball. It was a good first half team performance and second half we were poor, but we won by a point which is the main thing.”