Derry defeat Leitrim in Division Four final dress rehearsal
Allianz League Division Four
Derry 2-16, Leitrim 1-12
Two second half Shane McGuigan goals mean Derry are the only unbeaten side in Division Four as Saturday's encounter between the two league finalists ended in a comprehensive victory for the Oak Leafers.
A tight first half with never more than two between them was transformed by the half-time introduction of Padraig Cassidy whose direct running opened up the visitors and took Derry to a deserved victory
Of course, with the Division Four final on the horizon, neither manager will be reading too much into the 70 minutes and while it was first blood Derry, this game will have little bearing on the final.
In truth, this was more shadow boxing than dress rehearsal as both sides made wholesale changes with the Croke Park final in mind on March 30th.
Damian McErlain brought in eight players from the side that secured promotion in Limerick while Terry Hyland went one better with nine changes from the side that defeated London to ensure their Division Three spot for next season.
Despite the changes, it was a lively opening period in atrocious conditions. The visitors set up defensively when out of possession with only Darragh Rooney left in the Derry half but their ability to break at pace after winning turnover ball gave Derry plenty of problems.
And Rooney didn't mind the extra space the formation afforded him as three times in the opening half he won offensive marks and three times he split the posts, including the game's opening score after only 25 seconds.
Derry had to be patient and they were as they headed into the interval with a one point lead which could have been more had Leitrim keeper Cathal McCann not recovered from his poor kick-out to save brilliantly at the feet of Christopher Bradley as the Slaughtneil playmaker tried to round the keeper and roll into an empty net.
It was tit-for-tat in the opening half, Derry controlling possession, Leitrim dangerous on the counter with neither opening any real breathing space.
It took 15 minutes for the game's first point from play with Leitrim's midfielder Sahen Moran the man responsible for the point which levelled the game at 0-4 a-piece.
There was never more than two between the sides, Shane McGuigan and Christopher Bradley the main Oak Leaf scorers with 0-7 between them in the first half but it was controlled rather than enthralling as Derry led 0-8 to 0-7 at the break.
Both counties made two substitutions at half-time, possibly reflective of game-time rather than result being the primary target for the two managers.
A lovely Conor McAtamney effort from play extended the Derry lead to two five minutes into the second period with that man Padraig Cassidy, the catalyst for much of his side's attacking play.
Two points then became three thanks to an audacious 'Sammy' Bradley free from along the touchline under the main Celtic Park stand.
That was the biggest lead either side had managed at that point and Derry should have had a penalty seconds later when the best move of the game saw the ball moved between Cassidy, 'Sammy' Bradley and McGuigan to send Conor Doherty in on goal but despite his shirt being pulled as he shot, the referee waved appeals away.
Undeterred, Shane McGuigan and Bradley added scores to take the Derry lead to five at 0-12 to 0-07 with 10 minutes of the second half gone.
McGuigan's superb finish on 47 minutes all but sealed the game, the Slaughtneil man seizing the breaking ball after Chrissy McKaigue's high free to send McCrann one way with an dummy before rolling into the unguarded net.
From there it was in danger of becoming exhibition stuff from the Oak Leafers as points from Conor Doherty (offensive mark), McAtamney and Michael McEvoy took the Derry tally to 1-15 against Leitrim's 0-07.
Gary Plunkett's deflected finish to the net from Shane Quinn's pass did offer brief hope for Terry Hyland's men but Derry remained in control as Bradley took the score to 1-16 to 1-08.
Leitrim though, never let heads drop, two points from substitute Domhaill Flynn and Quinn brought the deficit back to five points.
Any hope Leitrim had though was extinguished by McGuugan's second goal which owed everything to Sean Quinn's superb tackle on halfway. Quinn won a ball he had no right to before releasing substitute Dedclan Hughes who combined with McAtamney to feed McGuigan. Once in on goal, the Slaughtneil man rarely misses and while his shot barely had the legs to get over the line, it managed it to crawl over and give Derry the win but the real business is still two weeks away.
Derry scorers: Shane McGuigan (2-5, 2f), Christopher Bradley (0-6, 3f), Niall Keenan (0-1), Conor McAtamney (0-2), Conor Doherty (0-1, 1m), Michael McEvoy (0-1)
Leitrim scorers: Gary Plunkett (1-0), Darragh Mooney (0-3, 3m), Emlyn Mulligan (0-2, 1f), Shane Moran (0-2), Fergal McTague (0-1), Cillian McGloin (0-1), Domhaill Flynn (0-2, 1f), Shane Quinn (0-1)
Derry: Ben McKinless; Conor McCluskey, Brendan Rogers, Sean Quinn; Eoghan Concannon, Christopher McKaigue, Niall Keenan; Michael McEvoy, Conor McAtamney; Patrick Coney, Christopher Bradley, Conor Doherty; Jason Rocks, Shane McGuigan, Enda Lynn.
(Subs) Karl McKaigue for E Concannon (inj), 12mins; Padriag Cassidy for P Coney, HT; Padraig McGrogan for J Rocks, HT; Declan Hughes for E Lynn, 57mins;
Leitrim: Cathal McCrann; Aidan Flynn, Fergal McTague, Conor Reynolds; Oisin Madden, Mark Plunkett, James Rooney; Shane Moran, Dean McGovern; Shane Quinn, Emlyn Mulligan, Eoin Ward; Cillian McGloin, Pierce Dolan, Darragh Rooney.
(Subs) Sean McWeeney for F McTague, HT; Gary Plunkett for E Ward, HT; Nicholas McWeeney for A Flynn, 43mins; Domhaill Flynn for P Dolan, 60mins; Conor Cullen for S Q
Yellow Cards: A Flynn, 18mins; S Quinn, 47mins;
Referee: Patrick Maguire (Longford)