An historic opportunity beckons for the Derry Minors

James Kielt was staying in the home of the Conroy family whose young son, Paul, was playing for the local club in the competition. The two players competed against each other that weekend.

And by a remarkable coincidence they will meet again in Croke Park this Sunday and they could well be in direct opposition as Paul Conroy will be in midfield, with James Kielt more than likely to also be in that sector for long periods!

At the final whistle, however, Kielt will be hoping to emulate Gerard O’Kane in 2002 by lifting the Tom Markham Cup. Derry will be appearing in their ninth final and will go in search of their fifth All-Ireland Minor football title this weekend.

Derry won their first title back in 1965 when Bellaghy’s Tommy Diamond led the side to a glorious 2-08 to 2-04 win over Kerry, a side that contained the late Eamon Coleman.

On that famous occasion the flame-haired Phil Friel from the Sarsfields club in Derry City ran riot in the second half. On Sunday that accolade could fall to one of the three Steelstown players in the squad, defenders Mickey McKinney or Neil Forester or forward Stephen Cleary.

Whatever about individual plaudits 2007 captain, James Kielt, will be hoping to emulate his near neighbour Tommy Diamond by receiving the Tom Markham Cup from Kilkenny born GAA President, Nicky Brennan.

Derry were unsuccessful in their next three final appearances, twice beaten by Cork in 1969 and 1981, and in between by Kerry in 1980 when Tom Spillane and Ambrose O’Donovan were in the Kingdom line-up.

Derry returned to Croke Park for the third time in four years in 1983 when Eamon Coleman was at the helm. Incidentally Derry defeated Galway at the All-Ireland semi-final stage in a thriller, 0-16 to 3-05, a late rally by the Tribesmen almost catching out Derry.

by Dermot McNicholl, Derry defeated Cork 0-08 to 1-03 in a low scoring decider.

Derry were back in 1989 for another tilt at the title and this time they overcame Offaly. Since then they lost to Westmeath in 1994 and then of course came that wonderful success in 2002.

‘Tribesmen’ seek

sixth title

Meanwhile, Galway will be looking to lift their sixth title having won five, the last time they won the All-Ireland was in 1986. The Tribesmen last appeared in a final in 1994 when they lost to Kerry, their 1986, 1976 and 1960 victories against Cork, and that of 1970 against Kerry. Back in 1952 they beat the Ulster champions of that year, Cavan in the final.

Galway came through winning the Connacht title beating Roscommon by 2-07 to 0-09. Michael Martin scored 2-02 in that game against the reigning All-Ireland champions who were leading 0-08 to 1-04 after forty minutes when Roscommon had a player harshly sent off.

In the quarter-final at Tullamore they then accounted for Carlow 3-13 to 0-07, with Michael Martin 1-04, Tomas Ryan 1-04, Paul Conroy and Damian Reddington 1-00 the main scorers.

The westerners then had a thrilling 2-14 to 0-17 win over Kerry in the All Ireland semi-final. Kerry 0-17. The Tribesmen struggled to contain a brilliant Kerry attack in the first half, but emerged a different side in the second period to gain a three-point win in an enthralling game with Conor Doherty and Tommy Walsh each contributing 1-01.

Galway corner forward Damien Reddington was the hero as he pitched in with four points from play. He was ably assisted by full forward Michael Martin, who also managed four points. Two goals in a minute from Tommy Walsh and wing back Conor Doherty turned the tide in favour of Galway. Martin, Reddington and Walsh are the main scorers for Galway while Derry must be wary of raiding wing back Doherty.

Derry’s path to the All-Ireland final began back in June when they had a very comfortable 1-10 to 0-03 win over Antrim in Casement Park. A solid defence was the platform for victory.

Derry were back in Casement Park on June 24th where they met Monaghan in the semi-final. This time the defence was even more solid as it gave up just a single point, Derry reaching the Ulster final with a 1-11 to 0-01 win.

The Ulster final in Clones on July 15th proved to be very controversial as Derry lost by a single point to Tyrone, 0-10 to 1-06. However one of Tyrone’s ‘points’ in the first half was later shown to have been clearly wide but despite an official protest the result stood and Derry had to take the qualifier route.

The Oak Leaf boys were pitted against the Munster champions Cork on August 11th in a thrilling Croke Park showdown. Derry played very poorly in the first half but came out a rejuvenated side for the second period.

Their charge to the semi-final was kick started by two brilliant points from Coleraine’s Declan Mullan early in the second half. Then a stunning James Kielt goal gave them a lead they would not relinquish.

Derry were back in Croke Park on August 26th for the All-Ireland semi-final where they met Leinster champions Laois. Again this was an absolute thriller, Derry racing into a big lead, Laois reeling them in but again Derry pulling away for an eight point advantage with just seven minutes remaining on the clock.

With thoughts turning to the final Derry lost their way, a stunning goal brought Laois right back into contention and a late point from Donal Kingston levelled matters. A brilliant save in added time from Derry goalkeeper, Andrew Warnock ensured the semi-final would go to a replay, Laois 2-12, Derry 1-15 the final score.

The trail led to Navan on Saturday evening September 1st for the replay against Laois, the big question being asked - had Derry missed the boat? Well the answer was an emphatic no as Derry went on to reach the final with a four goal blast to win 4-07 to 1-11.

The platform for victory was set with a three goal blast in the first half, Laois’ cause not helped in having two players sent off in the second half.

All-Ireland minor finals are always notoriously difficult to call as the formbook can often be shredded when young players go head-to-head in the cauldron that is Croke Park on finals day.

Derry have shown character and resilience, and a propensity to score goals, and they will need all three attributes to come through to beat a very talented Galway side. Since losing to Tyrone they have improved with every game. This is another step up but Derry can become the first team in history to win an All-Ireland title by beating the winners of the other three provinces.