Derry 1-15, Down 1-18
Derry hurlers’ miserable 2016 continued as Down sent them crashing out of the Christy Ring Cup thanks to two injury time points at Owenbeg on Saturday.
The result leaves the Oak Leafers, who have yet to win a game this season, facing a play-off against either Wicklow or Kildare with the loser of that match then meeting the Nicky Rackard winners to determine who competes in the Christy Ring Cup next year.
It is all a far cry from 12 months ago when Tom McLean’s men reached the Croke Park final after a hugely encouraging league campaign, only to lose out to Kerry in the decider.
In the end a wide total of 14 for Derry, against Down’s meagre 4 told its own story with the Oak Leafers also hitting five short into the keepers arms and passing up more than one decent goal opportunity.
Derry began the game well with Na Magha’s Alan Grant impressive around the middle of the field. Early scores from Shane Farren and Paul Cleary were the ideal start for McLean’s team before Danny Toner’s free got Down on the scoreboard after four minutes though it was soon cancelled out by Farren again for 0-03 to 0-01 after five minutes.
Despite Derry’s dominance, the visitors began to find their feet with Aaron O#Prey and Brook Byers bringing them level.
Derry were still on top in midfield though and when a long ball toward the corner was superbly gathered by Oisin McCloskey, he turned Fintan Conway brilliantly before advancing and sending an excellent shot across Down keeper Stephen Keith and into the net from an acute angle.
The goal put Derry 1-03 to 0-3 ahead and should have been the signal for the home side to push on but the second quarter belonged to Down.
They had levelled the game at 1-04 to 0-07 by the 26th minute, Derry’s point coming from a Convery free while Toner, Paul Sheehan, Oisin McManus and O’Prey all split the posts for the Mourne men.
The sides went tit-for-tat until half-time before Derry manufactured a great goal opportunity they could exploit in first half injury time. The impressive Farren found himself going clear with only one defender in his path and Se McGuigan supporting but for probably the only time in the game, the Banagher player was guilty of not getting his head up- quickly enough. By the time he tried to find McGuigan the referee decided he had over-carried and a gilt edged chance was gone.
The sides went in with Derry leading 1-07 to 0-09 but the game was in the balance and a goal at that stage would have been crucial.
The second half started as the first had with Derry enjoying most of the possession but failing to make it count on the scoreboard. Too often the Oak Leaf passes were not sticking in the forward line and as the half progressed the Down counter-attack became more and more dangerous.
McGuigan pointed early in the half for Derry but hesitancy in the home defence then gifted Down a chance in front of the posts and Byers made them pay a heavy price. With Derry failing to clear, the Down corner-forward gathered possession, stepped inside his marker and picked out the far corner with a beautiful low finish to edge Down ahead at 1-09 to 1-08.
From there to the whistle the sides traded scores and were level seven times before the final whistle. And again Derry had chances, notably on 43 minutes when Se McGuigan found himself in space with Paul Cleary in acres in front of the Down goal but the pass was over hit and another potential goal went begging.
Down looked to have won it as the game ticked into injury time when point from Toner and O’Prey gave them a 1-15 to 1-13 lead but the signal of four added minutes offered Derry a lifeline.
They appeared to take it as point from McGuigan and Convery levelled the game in the 72nd minute with extra-time now looking certain.
Certain that is until Down’s James McGrath sent over a brilliant score from wide along the right hand touch line. There was some dispute in the Derry camp over the score but the point looked good.
Derry heads dropped. There may have been time to rescue the game but once Down secure possession, further points from Conor O’Prey and Scott Nicholson put an undeserved gloss on a game which had been in the balance just seconds earlier.
Derry: Darrel McDermott; Meehaul McGrath, Conor Quinn, Sean McCullagh; Breandan Quigley, Conor McSorley, Brian Og McGilligan; Oisin McCloskey (1-0), Tiarnan McCloskey (0-1); Alan Grant, Mark McGuigan, Gareth O’Kane; Shane Farren (0-8, 4f), Ruairi Convery (0-3, 2f), Paul Cleary (0-1). (Subs) Se McGuigan (0-2) for M McGuigan, 33mins; Sean Cassidy for G O’Kane, 53mins; Deaglan Foely for A Grant, 61mins; Sean Francis Quinn for C McSorley, 64mins;
Down: Stephen Keith; Aaron O’Prey (0-3), Fintan Conway (0-1), Michael McCullough; James McGrath (0-1), Conor Woods (0-1, 1f), Caolan Taggart; Sean Ennis, Scott Nicholson (0-1); Paul Sheehan (0-1), Danny Toner (0-4, 2f), Stephen Dineen; Oisin McManus (0-4), Donal Hughes, Brook Byers (1-1). (Subs) Conor Mageen for S Dineen (inj), 6mins; John O’Kane for A O’Prey (Blood sub) 35mins; Conor O’Prey (0-1) for P Sheehan (inj), 54mins; John O’Kane for C Taggart, 61mins;
Referee: Colum Cunning (Antrim).