ULSTER MINOR HURLING FINAL: Antrim too strong for out of sorts Derry

Derry's Thomas Magee gets in ahead of Antrim duo Ciaran Leech and Cathal McMullan during the Ulster Minor Hurling Championship Final on Sunday at Owenbeg. (Picture Margaret McLaughlin)
Derry's Thomas Magee gets in ahead of Antrim duo Ciaran Leech and Cathal McMullan during the Ulster Minor Hurling Championship Final on Sunday at Owenbeg. (Picture Margaret McLaughlin)

Derry won back-to-back Ulster Minor Hurling titles in 2002 but since then the young Saffrons have been the masters at this level, their third victory over the Oak Leaf County in the four years bringing them their 15th consecutive title at Owenbeg on Sunday.

And there was little doubt - from long way out - that Antrim would annex another Ulster Minor Championship title, even though Derry battled gamely from start to finish, the scoring potential of Christy McNaughton posing a huge threat to the Oak Leafers over the hour.

Derry withdrew John Mullan into a ‘sweeping’ role for the first half to try and contain Antrim and it worked for a while after Ryan McKee, McNaughton, Ciaran Leech and McNaughton again had posted points inside four minutes.

But Antrim always had the extra player in defence and Derry struggled to put pressure on the winners’ rearguard until Keelan Feeney broke through in the 22nd minute to blast the ball to the net for 0-8 to 1-4.

Had Derry been able to maintain that margin to the break they might have given Antrim a few second half scares but a McNaughton major helped Antrim to a 1-10 to 1-4 interval lead and that put them in control of the game, especially as Diarmaid McShane and McKee added points within two minutes of the restart, with substitute Conor Patterson finding the right corner of the net on the 34th minute for 1-13 to 1-4.

Although the tempo of the game lessened thereafter Antrim continues to pick off points at will for a comfortable victory.

Derry's Joseph Grant holds off Antrim's Sean Duffin during the Ulster Minor Hurling Championship Final on Sunday at Owenbeg. (Picture Margaret McLaughlin)

Derry's Joseph Grant holds off Antrim's Sean Duffin during the Ulster Minor Hurling Championship Final on Sunday at Owenbeg. (Picture Margaret McLaughlin)

A dejected Derry manager, Stephen O’Kane, said simply, “I think they did not get going. We are a better side than that. We showed that all season but, whether nerves got the better of them, they did not play to the best of their ability.

“Antrim got a good start and they are good at holding onto a lead and pushing on. I think we just did not do ourselves justice with that performance. That is a better minor side than they showed in the final.”

When it was suggested to Antrim manager, Ciaran Kearney, that Antrim had made a good start and scored a goal just before half time that dented Derry’s challenge and the Cushendall man agreed, “It did! We had talked that there was a good chance of Derry playing with a sweeper, and they did, but, while you can think about it and prepare for it, it is sometimes difficult to counteract.

“We knew that Derry would be strong. They played us twice this year and defeated us twice. When Derry got the goal it asked a few questions off our players.

“At half time the changing room was very quiet as the players knew that they had not hurled like the could hurl.

“But that showed that the players knew that they were not happy with their own performance. They went out and raised it to a new level and we were able to utilise more of the space and got more into our comfort zone and fired over a few points to extend the lead.”

On their quarter final meeting with Dublin he said, “We will be under no illusions about the task ahead of us. But we need games at a high, high level before that game. Without a doubt we can compete with Dublin. We watched Dublin against Kilkenny and Dublin should not hold any fears for our players.”