DERRY CITY’s ‘A’ team are matching their senior counterparts stride for stride as they battle for honours this season, having progressed to next month’s Newstalk ‘A’ Championship Final for the first time in the club’s history.
SIMON COLLINS was at Brandywell Stadium
Photos: GLEN McINTYRE
Jointly managed by John Quigg and Hugh Harkin, the young ‘Candy Stripes’ dug deep to defeat an experienced Shamrock Rovers second string at Brandywell on Saturday afternoon, earning their place in the 2011 showpiece against either UCD or Bray Wanderers on September 18th next.
Under the watchful gaze of Derry City boss, Stephen Kenny, who was present in the stand, there were several notable performances from the youthful ‘A’ team and, on the evidence of Saturday’s display, there are certainly a few players on the brink of breaking through.
Impressive performances from Mathew Harkin and Michael McCrudden, who have already flirted with first team duties and right back, Michael Barr, who managed to contain the threat of lively Rovers winger, Paddy Kavanagh, were among the stand-out performers against the 2009 Newstalk ‘A’ Championship winners.
Indeed, it was McCrudden and Harkin who combined to break the deadlock 38 minutes into what was a competitive, yet disjointed first half, the former heading deftly past Rovers keeper, Craig Hyland.
And it was the industrious Harkin who sealed the victory with 12 minutes remaining when sending Hyland the wrong way from the penalty spot having drawn a rather innocuous foul inside the area by Lorcan Shannon.
It was a deserved victory for the home side and one which will have provided invaluable experience against a 25 man strong Rovers panel which included senior members of the Dublin club’s first team squad, including Pat Flynn and Kavanagh.
Derry City coach, John Quigg, was delighted to reach the final and he believes it is just reward for the time and effort put in throughout what has been a long season.
“The young boys have put in a lot of work,” explained Quigg. “They’ve been out Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and sometimes on Friday nights and then playing on a Saturday, so it’s four or five days a week and it’s been a long season, but they’re getting their reward now.
“It’s a great result,” he added. “Shamrock Rovers are a massive club and Derry are chasing them in the Premier Division, so it’s great to send a message to Rovers, that we’re here and we’re not going away.
“I thought our young boys were fantastic. Michael Barr was playing against Paddy Kavanagh who is an experienced player in the League of Ireland so Michael did excellent against him.
“I thought Mathew Harkin was superb out on the right side and Michael McCrudden who has come down from the first team, has been a revelation. They’re just waiting on their chance and if they get a chance with Stephen (Kenny), they’re more than capable of playing at the top level.
“It wasn’t a great game of football but it was a battle and it was a semi-final,” he continued. “We’re now in the final and it’s a fantastic achievement, it’s been a great year for us and, hopefully, we can go on now and win it.”
There’s certainly no reason why they can’t go on and lift the trophy judging by Saturday’s performance, having contained the ‘Hoops’ for large periods of the game.
The home lot appeared the most likely to break the stalemate in the opening exchanges and the lively McCrudden tested the Rovers keeper with a well executed half volley from 25 yards in the second minute which Hyland gathered safely.
The Derry winger was causing problems once again ten minutes later when delivering a dangerous cross from the left side which was taken off the head of the onrushing Thomas McMonagle at the back post by a vital defensive header by Pat Flynn.
Neither side were able to retain possession, however, Rovers midfielder, Kavanagh was proving a thorn in the side of the Derry defence and when he was given time and space to surge through the heart of the defence on the half hour mark, he eventually ran out of steam and scuffed his shot wide of the mark.
Rovers were gradually pushing high up the pitch but there was just no end product and they were punished by a sweeping Derry attack on eight minutes before the interval.
Harkin ventured forward and tested Jack Memery for the first time, leaving the Rovers left-back trailing before delivering a pin-point cross towards McCrudden who drifted in from the far post unmarked and headed into the bottom corner to give his side a half-time lead.
Both sides opted for tactical changes in the second half with Tom O’Rourke introduced to the fold in replace of Niall Forrester, allowing Kavanagh to take up a more central midfield role for Rovers while Tony McNamee replaced Raymond Foy for Derry which gave McCrudden the opportunity to occupy an advanced position.
The ‘Candy Stripes’ breathed a sigh of relief when Kavanagh curled his free-kick on the edge of the area on 73 minutes onto the crossbar and behind.
That incident seemed to spark Derry into life and when McCrudden sent a looping cross to the back post, Harkin’s first touch took him past Shannon but the Rovers defender clumsily lunged in and brought the Derry winger crashing to the ground, Donegal referee, Terence Moyne hesitated before awarding the penalty kick.
Harkin dusted himself down before dispatching the spot-kick into the bottom corner of the net to give his side a comfortable advantage with 12 minutes remaining.
The ‘Hoops’ began to throw caution to the wind and Kavanagh’s cross found Pat Flynn, however, the defender’s header was blocked on the line by McNamee as Derry soaked up the pressure and held on for the victory.
The winner of last night’s semi-final between UCD and Bray Wanderers await the young ‘Candy Stripes’ in the final and Quigg knows his side will face a tough challenge as they attempt to secure their first ever A Championship success.
“This keeps our season going. UCD gave us our toughest game at Brandywell last week when we drew 2-2 and they’re a good side. If you get to the final you’re a decent side so I’m just hoping we can keep everyone fit and maybe one or two of them will get a run out in the league Cup on Tuesday night.”
DERRY CITY – 4-4-2 – Rory Kelly; Michael Barr, Thomas McMonagle, Caoimhin Bonnar, Barry McNamee; Mathew Harkin (Seanan McColgan 87 mins), Raymond Foy (Tony McNamee 69 mins), Jack Heaney, Michael McCrudden; James Henry, Ryan Curran (Robbie Hume 82mins).
SHAMROCK ROVERS – 4-4-2 – Craig Hyland; Dean Power, Pat Flynn, Donal Branagan, Jack Memery; Lorcan Shannon (Bobo NKanu, 80 mins), Paul Moffat, Niall Forrester (Mark Keeley 56 mins), Paddy Kavanagh; Sean Dixon (Thomas O’Rourke 71mins), Dean Ebbe; Subs Not Used – Robert Hughes, Karl McGrath, Gary Comerford.
REFEREE – Mr. Terence Moyne (Donegal).