Donegal 1-15, Derry 0-12
Derry’s National League campaign started with a disappointing six point defeat as Odhran McNelis’ 52nd minute goal proved decisive for Donegal in Ballybofey on Saturday evening.
In a game that played out as almost a carbon-copy of last season’s Ulster Championship encounter in Celtic Park, Derry dominated the opening half and deservedly led at half time before Donegal emerged reinvigorated to take control early in the second half and eventually win comfortably.
The game’s pivotal moment arrived midway through that second half with the sides level at 0-11 apiece and Derry on the offensive close to the Donegal goal. Possession was lost though and once Benny Heron’s last ditch attempt to retrieve it failed, Derry were in trouble. Led by Christy Toye, Donegal charged down the field with the ball eventually landing at McNelis. He still had plenty to do but his low shot seemed to deceive Thomas Mallon who stood rooted to the spot as the shot flew in at his near post.
From there, there was only ever going to be one winner which considering Derry’s first half display will have been a huge disappointment to the Oak Leaf management team.
Donegal fielded 10 from the 15 that started that Ulster Championship meeting last year while Brian McIver retained seven from his starting line-up and the opening half had a lot in common with the game in Celtic Park.
With new Donegal manager Rory Gallagher maintaining the defensive shape employed by Jim McGuinness, Derry mimicked the system with both teams flooding back inside their own ‘45 as soon as possession was lost.
If the two team shapes were similar it was Derry who used it better, dominating possession and displaying great patience on the ball. They might even have grabbed a goal inside the opening two minutes when a poor kick out from Paul Durkan, reminiscent of his mistake in last year’s All Ireland, was intercepted by Emmett McGuckin but, clean through, the Magherafelt man blazed over the bar for the opening point.
Patrick McBrearty was Donegal’s most dangerous forward throughout and he equalised through a fifth minute free but Oisin Duffy was otherwise doing a decent marking job on him. Martin O’Reilly and Toye established a two point lead for Donegal with scores inside 60 seconds of each other but there was little between the sides.
As if to prove the point, Barry McGoldrick strode forward to send over an excellent score at the other end before Hugh McFadden was lucky to escape a black card for a blatant block on Mark Lynch. The Banagher man exacted revenge of a sort with his first score of the game from the free to tie the game on nine minutes.
The second quarter of the half was all about Derry. With Donegal retreating Derry went sideways, back ways, inside and out in an effort to draw the home team out and it worked to an extent with Derry’s fourth point typifying the half. The ball had been moved through the hands of almost every Derry player over a prolonged period of possession that ended with a superb Benny Heron point.
With the visitors now ahead, Lynch took centre stage with the first of two huge frees from outside the 45m line. In between the brace, Conor McAtamney worked himself into a great position to shoot for goal but, with McGuckin free at the back post, McAtamney’s drive was inches over the bar. Another Lynch free made it 0-9 to 0-5 on 28 minutes although a cheap off the ball free conceded by John O’Kane on O’Reilly allowed Donegal to reduce that deficit to three points by the break.
Derry deserved their half-time lead but, just like in Celtic Park last May, Donegal flew out of the blocks and wiped out the visitors’ advantage within five minutes as McBrearty (free), O’Reilly and Murphy (free) made it 0-9 a-piece by the 40th minute.
Murphy was beginning to find himself increasingly one-on-one with Niall Holly from which he manufactured himself a free to edge Donegal ahead but Lynch brought Derry back level with another placed ball on 44 minutes.
McBrearty and Lynn swapped scores for 0-11 each before the game’s pivotal moment saw Derry caught up field as Donegal galloped into the wide open spaces and McNelis finished low at Mallon’s near post. An outrageous McBrearty score off his left foot from wide on the right hand side gave Donegal some breathing space before substitute Eoin Bradley’s first touch since coming on made it 1-12 to 0-12 on 58 minutes.
Once ahead though Donegal rarely looked like letting the lead slip and Murphy, from a free, and the impressive Christy Toye established a 1-14 to 0-12 lead that had Donegal comfortable. Murphy’s late free merely confirmed the inevitable and McIver will be looking for a big improvement next week at home to Kerry.
Donegal: Paul Durcan; Paddy McGrath, Eamonn McGee, Frank McGlynn; Ryan McHugh, Karl Lacey, Ciaran McGinley; Neil Gallagher, Christy Toye (0-2); Mark McHugh, Hugh McFadden, Odhran McNelis (1-0); Patrick McBrearty (0-5, 2f), Michael Murphy(0-5, 4f), Martin O’Reilly (0-2). (Subs) Daniel McLaughlin for C McGinley, 26mins; Martin McElhinney (0-1) for H McFadden, H/T; Darach O’Connor for D McLaughlin, 68mins; Gary McFadden for M O’Reilly, 70mins.
Derry: Thomas Mallon; Oisin Duffy, Niall Holly, John O’Kane; Kevin Johnston, Gerard O’Kane, Mark Craig; Mark Lynch (0-6, 5f), Conor McAtamney (0-1); Benny Heron (0-1), Daniel Heavron, Enda Lynn (0-1); Sean Leo McGoldrick, Emmett McGuckin (0-1), Barry McGoldrick (0-1). (Subs) Brian Og McGilligan for C McAtamney, 467minutes. Liam McGoldrick for N Holly, 53mins; Eoin Bradley (0-1) for E McGuckin, 57mins; Terence O’Brien for B McGoldrick, 57mins; Ciaran McFaul for B Heron, 64minutes. James Kearney for E Lynn, 69mins;
Referee: Martin Duffy (Sligo)