Ulster Minor League
‘A good start’ is how new Derry minor football manager, Damian McErlain described his side’s opening league game win over Tyrone on Saturday at Celtic Park.
It was a big step up for a lot of lads making their inter-county debut. You have to remember that. They all did themselves proud but we know we have a lot to work on.Derry minor manager, Damian McErlain
And a good start is what the young Oak Leafers delivered through midfielder, Conor Glass - the Glen man putting the home side ahead from close range after only 25 seconds.
With a single point between the teams after one minute, the same margin would separate them after 64, yet. that fact fails to tell the story of an eventful and entertaining game.
With Barry Grant and Eunan Murray looking lively in either corner up front for the home team, it was full-forward Francis Kearney who produced a classy finish for the game’s only goal after 11 minutes. Now four ahead, Derry suffered a major setback with Murray seeing red for what was adjudged to be dangerous play.
“It’s pleasing of course that even though we went down a man it didn’t faze the team too much. These are things you have to deal with from time to time but they stuck to their task well,” said McErlain afterwards.
Michael Mullan and Barry Grant (free) steadied the ship, both adding points, before the Drumsurn man was black-carded and replaced with Dungiven’s Seamus Higgins.
With Dromore’s Emmet McNabb looking ever dangerous up front for the Red Hands, it was Cormac O’Hagan – one of several starting players fresh from Dungannon Academy’s MacRory Cup final appearance – who curled over one of the first half’s best scores with five minutes to the break, leaving Kearney’s goal still between the teams.
After both sides missed goal chances, it was left to Glass to conclude the scoring for the first half - following up cooly after Barry Grant drew a point-blank save from Brendan Gallen in the Tyrone goal.
Five ahead at the interval, the second half began in the same vein with Higgins proving accurate from a long range free within two minutes of the restart. In the 10 minutes that followed, the game should have been over as a contest. Three wides from scoreable chances for the Oak Leafers were followed up by a narrow miss from Dara McPeake when through on goal – the Lavey man sending the ball rolling agonisingly past the upright following a forceful run.
“It’s something we’ll have to work on alright,” said McErlain on his side’s missed chances, “You have to take your chances at this level, but it’s still early days. It’s only really in these games that you get to see the areas we need to work on. That’s part of what the league is about, getting a look at players with the championship in mind.”
With McClure, Harkin and McNabb adding points, Tyrone fought back bravely in the final quarter to ensure a close finish. Again, it need not have been.
Following a flowing move, Grant again cut through the Tyrone defence, being dragged down before he got a shot away. The resultant penalty rebounded back off the post before cool heads saw a series of quick off-loads and a quality finish by Loup’s Caolan Devlin. It was another goal chance gone, but as events turned out, a valuable point, and Derry’s final score of the game.
Even though Tyrone hit four unanswered points in the closing stages, it would be wrong to conclude that Derry sat back defending their lead as yet another goal chance was squandered at the pavilion end goals.
Derry led by a single point deep into injury time before Glass claimed Callum Mullan-Young’s final kickout, securing vital possession and two league points.
“I couldn’t fault the effort of the lads out there,” concluded McErlain. “It was a big step up for a lot of lads making their inter-county debut. You have to remember that. They all did themselves proud but we know we have a lot to work on. It’s early days yet.”
Derry: C Mullan-Young; N Smyth, C McGrogan, C Maunsell; E Concannon, N Keenan, O Duffin; C Glass (0-02), N McAtamney; B Cassidy, M Mullan (0-01), D McPeake; B Grant (0-02), F Kearney (1-00), E Murray.
Subs used: S Higgins (0-02) for M Mullan (black card), S Downey for N Smith, C Devlin (0-01) for B Cassidy, J Diamond for F Kearney, C Darragh for D McPeake, P Coney for E Concannon.
Tyrone: B Gallen; P Mackle, C McGuigan, K McConnell; C Shields, T Corr, E Murray; J Harkin (0-01), C Campbell; C Fullerton, C O’Hagan (0-02), M Corless; E McNabb (0-05), R Coleman (0-01), J Darcy.
Subs used: M McKernan for J Darcy, L Rafferty for P Mackle, F McClure (0-01) for T Corr, L Molloy for C Fullerton, C Kilpatrick for Rafferty, D Kerr for R Coleman.
Referee: James Lewis (Fermanagh).