Donegal . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2-11
Derry . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0-15
DERRY’s Under-21 squad’s Ulster Championship run ended in dramatic fashion in Healy Park on Wednesday night as they lost narrowly to Donegal in the provincial semi-finals.
Goals from Odhran MacNiallais and Caolan Ward paved the way for Donegal to reach their third Ulster Final in four years.
Maxi Curran’s side came out with all guns blazing in the second half to overcome a lively Derry team but, with Patrick McBrearty kicking five points, Donegal were deserved of their final berth on a night of thin margins.
It was a close run thing, though, as Ryan Bell, who had scored six frees beforehand, rattled a shot against the Donegal crossbar in the last minute with Derry three points down.
Derry dominated for larger chunks of the first half but had to be content with parity at the interval, 0-8 to Donegal’s 1-5, after MacNiallais grabbed a Donegal goal to quell the tide on nine minutes.
McBrearty’s pop at goal from the shadow of the stand tailed away but while Derry goalkeeper Christopher Bradley started to come and then stopped, MacNiallias had eyes for only the ball and punched home with both hands from 10 metres out.
That made the score 1-1 to 0-2 following a McBrearty point that was sandwiched between Aaron Devlin and Fintan Bell scores for Derry.
After the goal, though, Donegal played their best football for a spell and looked like tearing Derry asunder as a succession of defenders found bother with McBrearty.
The Derry goal lived a charmed life moments after their concession when Bradley saved firstly from McBrearty, corner-back Gareth McKinless then cleared a Willie Gillespie shot off the line before Conor Gibbons stabbed over the crossbar.
McBrearty and St Eunan’s forward Gibbons fired over quick scores and Donegal momentarily looked comfortable, 1-4 to 0-3 in front on 18 minutes.
Derry, however, grew back into the game and their directness began to cause Donegal problems at the back. They spun off four points in succession, a Devlin effort on the turn before three frees from Bell turned Derry’s four-point arrears into a one-point lead. McBrearty levelled with a late first half score to leave it 1-5 to 0-8 at half-time.
A flowing Donegal move brought a second goal on 32 minutes and once more, McBrearty was the architect. The Kilcar forward broke into a channel of opportunity and Ward had roamed from full-back to slam home.
Again, like after the first goal, it was the highpoint of a period of Donegal dominance when they cashed most of their chips in. McBrearty, McHugh, Leon Kelly and Martin O’Reilly all scored and Donegal were 2-8 to 0-10 up. However, with Bell popping over frees Derry were dangerous. Conor Kearns, Spiers and Ciaran McFaul all scored in a nail-biting finish.
Bell’s shot rammed the crossbar in the final minute in a stage of intense Derry pressure. Donegal survived by the skin of their teeth.