Derry complete perfect league season with Croke Park victory over Leitrim
Allianz League Division Four final
Derry 0-20, Leitrim 0-16
Derry completed a perfect league season with victory over a gutsy Leitrim side in the Divsion Four final in Croke Park on Saturday.
Shane McGuigan hit 0-6 but it was his fellow Slaughtneil triumvirate of Brendan Rogers, Chrissy McKaigue and Padraig Cassidy who provided the platform for a controlled display, Rogers scooping Shane Quinn's late fisted effort off the Derry line with a minute of normal time remaining to seal the victory and a 100% league season.
Eight wins from eight games and a trophy is not a bad return from what was always goign to be a banana skin of the league season.
Both teams showed a plethora of changes from the sides that lined out in their league meeting three weeks previous with Damian McErlain naming nine of the Celtic Park starters in Croke Park and Terry Hyland eight.
As expected Derry dominated the opening exchanges against a Leitrim 15 who flooded their 45 and looked to hit Derry on the break. Indeed Leitrim's ability to score depended almost exclusively on Derry kicking away possession inside the attacking third and the frustration from an Oak Leaf perspective was they had plenty of opportunities.
Indeed, Terry Hyland's team will look back on nine first half wides as the key statistic but Derry deserved their victory as they build toward a huge ulster Championship clash with Tyrone in Healy Park.
Hyland sprung something of a surprise by deploying Emlyn Mulligan inside, rotating him with Evan Sweeney and Ryan O'Rourke in an effort to disrupt the Derry defence.
To worked to a degree but that was largely due to Derry's first half insistence on trying unlikely passes in the Leitrim '45' which offered Hyland's men the perfect springboard for their counter-attacking game.
The scoreboard was tit-for-tat in the first quarter and with Ryan Bell (2) and Enda Lynn on target for Derry, the sides were level at 0-3 a-piece after 10 minutes.
However Derry would go scoreless for 16 minutes as Leitrim became the beneficiaries of some wayward passing as Ryan O'Rourke (2) and Domhaill Flynn took Leitrim into a 0-6 to 0-3 lead.
Derry never panicked and with Cassidy and McKaigue constantly probing they started to find the gaps as the hit six unanswered points in the final 13 minutes took Derry into the interval with a 0-10 to 0-07 lead.
Turnovers won by Rogers proved the catalyst for two of those points as 'Sammy' Bradley, Lynn (2), Bell, McGuigan and Emmet Bradley (2) got themselves on the scoreboard but they also passed up a gilt edged goal chance on 29 minutes.
they move ended with Lynn's third point but after the Greenlough man broken through he had Ryan Bell spare but chose to fist a point rather than go for the goal that may have signalled the end of the contest.
As it was the second half would see Derry through without that decision coming back to haunt them mainly thanks to a welcome first clean sheet of the league season and Rogers was pivotal to that.
Two points would be as close as Leitrim ever got to Derry in the second half. When Derry needed a score, McGuigan proved he was the man for the big occasion. Croke Park has not always been the happiest of hunting ground for the Emmet's forward but after three fruitless visits with school and club, McGuigan made sure he wouldn't miss out a fourth time round.
Derry steadily built a five point lead at 0-15 to 0-10 and could have had a goal in the opening seconds of the half when Paddy Maguire's slip sent Emmet Bradley clean through. The glen men looked to sidestep Cathal McCrann only for the Leitrim keep to produce a brilliant low block tom deny the Derry forward.
Leitrim had little answer to Derry when the likes of McKaigue and Cassidy ran at them but Derry still struggled to finish Terry Hyland's team off.
Indeed 0-19 to 0-15 looked a dangerous lead when, roared on by a very vocal support, Leitrim gave a final throw of the dice. Evan Sweeney hung a high ball up which Shane Quinn read superbly to get up above Thomas Mallon. It wasn't a clear touch but it would have had enough to make the net had Rogers not anticipated and got in behind to grabbed it off the line.
With it went Leitrim's last chance and it was fitting that Niall Toner came off the bench to hit a brilliant injury time insurance point because this has been a squad effort.
before a ball was kicked this season, people said Derry shouldn't be a Division Four team and the players has shown they are not. They question now is can they close what has been a considerable gap to Tyrone before May 12th.
Derry scorers: Ryan Bell (0-3, 1f), Enda Lynn (0-3), Christopher Bradley (0-2, 2f), Shane McGuigan (0-6, 1f, 1m), Emmet Bradley (0-2), Chrissy McKaigue (0-2), Padraig Cassidy (0-1), Niall Toner (0-1).
Leitrim scorers: Dean McGovern (0-1), Shane Moran (0-1), Evan Sweeney (0-2, 1m), Ryan O'Rourke (0-6, 4f), Domhaill Flynn (0-1, 1f), Raymond Mulvey (0-1), Emlyn Mulligan (0-1), Paddy Maguire (0-1), Mark Plunkett (0-1), Michael McWeeney (0-1),
Derry: Thomas Mallon, Karl McKaigue, Brendan Rogers, Paul McNeill, Michael McEvoy, Christopher McKaigue, Niall Keenan, Padraig Cassidy, Conor McAtamney, Emmett Bradley, Enda Lynn, Conor Doherty, Shane McGuigan, Ryan Bell, Christopher Bradley.
Subs: Benny Heron for E Lynn, 49mins; Niall Toner for R Bell, 49mins; Jason Rocks for C Doherty, 58mins; Eamon McGill for K McKaigue, 64mins; Ryan Dougan for C Bradley, 70mins.
Yellow Cards: P Cassidy 54mins; C McAtamney 73mins;
Leitrim: Cathal McCrann, Aidan Flynn, Michael McWeeney, Paddy Maguire, Séan McWeeney, Shane Quinn, Raymond Mulvey, Mark Plunkett, Shane Moran, Dean McGovern, Emlyn Mulligan, Domhnaill Flynn, Cillian McGloin, Evan Sweeney, Ryan O’Rourke.
Subs: Pearce Dolan for C McGloin, 32mins; Darragh Rooney for E Mulligan , 44mins; Damian Moran for S Moran, 49mins; Conor Reynolds for A Flynn, 60mins; Jack Heslin for D Flynn, 64mins;
Yellow Cards: S Quinn, 70mins
Referee: Brendan Cawley (Kildare)