For thirty minutes this tepid game in the inaugural U21 North West tournament did little to enthuse the few that came to Celtic Park last Saturday afternoon, Derry struggling to turn abundant possession into scores with the wind at their backs.
At the end of the first quarter the sides were level, 0-01 each, with Derry hitting six wides, mostly from eminently scoreable positions. Derry did take a 0-03 to 0-01 lead but were pegged back to 0-04 each at half time, although Kevin Johnston was denied a blatant penalty in the final minute of the half.
However two minutes into the second period Derry broke the deadlock and it was Johnston who was again involved as he took a pass from Nathan Rocks and burst into the goalmouth. He was pushed as he shot and the ball slewed wide. This time the referee did award a penalty and Aaron Devlin tucked it comfortably into the corner.
Six minutes later Devlin put Conor Kearney through and his blistering shot from 20m rippled the roof of the net to put Derry utterly in control at 2-04 to 0-04.
From that to the end Derry kept Sligo on a tight rein, their only score of the half a Brian Egan point from a free. Oak Leaf manager Barry Dillon admitted Derry had produced a much improved display in the second period playing into a stiffish breeze.
“Yeah it was but it was the first competitive game for this group and there was a fair bit of rustiness,” explained Dillon, “A lot of these boys have just finished exams. Sometimes that takes a lot out of you and you don’t have your bearings about you.
“At half time we got ourselves sorted out. We got back to basics and it worked out well in the second half.”
Derry‘s approach play in the first half was often good but their finishing was frequently lacking in composure and accuracy as they racked up a dozen wides.
The Under 21 manager remarked, “Our play was good in the first half and we were the better team but it was the small details that let us down. Maybe a fumble at the last second, a pass over-hit or the shots that we took! We shot an awful lot of wides in the first half. Once we got it together in the second half we were okay.”
Derry were very solid in defence, both as a unit and individually, especially at full-back where Ryan Ferris was outstanding, with Tiarnan Rafferty and Kevin Johnston very impressive.
Indeed Rafferty scored two second half points while Johnston won the penalty that produced Derry’s first goal two minutes into the second half and should have had another just before half time when he was upended with the scores tied at 0-04 each.
The Derry manager was fulsome in his praise for the Derry number 3.
“I would agree with you about Ryan. He’s just a class act. He doesn’t like to play full back but when you put in a performance like that, what an option to have. He’s equally as good at centre half or further up the field, and you saw him drifting up the field to join the attack. He’s a whole-hearted player with plenty of guts. ”
When he was asked him what the benefit of this competition was, The Derry manager was keen to stress its importance.
“Derry have always been behind other teams at this level as they have not played in competitions like this. Other counties play in the Hastings Cup and a few other U21 competitions that are going. When you have a structured, organised competition to play in then you are not left behind the other counties. It means that we are on an even keel.
“The teams that have beaten us in the past have always played in competitions like this. Games like this bring you on in leaps and bounds. Training games are not the same as games like this. That game will have improved us and hopefully we will see the benefit of it later on in the year.”
Derry scorers: Aaron Devlin 1-02, 1-00 pen, Conor Kearney 1-02, Tiarnan Rafferty 0-02, Kevin Johnston, Benny Heron and Chrissy Spiers 0-01 each
Sligo scorers: David May 0-02, Brian Egan 0-02 frees and Enda Kivlehan 0-01
Derry: Kevin Farren; Karl McKaigue, Ryan Ferris, Peter Quinn; Kevin Johnston, Tiarnan Rafferty, Kieran Conway;
Denver Johnston, Connlan Bradley; Chrissy Spiers, Benny Heron, Nathan Rocks; Conor Kearney, Aaron Devlin, Ciaran Devlin. (Subs) Roddy O’Kane for K McKaigue 40 mins; Ruairi Bradley for N Rocks 53 mins; Emmett McGuckin for C Devlin 53 mins; Fergal Duffin for K Conway 55 mins; Gavan O’Neill for Connlan Bradley 55 mins
Sligo: Vincent Cadden; Johnny Kelly, Sean Gorman, Enda Kivlehan; James Kelly, Micheal O’Hehir, Gareth Ryan; James Clarke, Dennis Coffey; Niall McManus, David May, Pat Hughes; Paddy Herity, Cian Killoran, Brian Egan. (Subs) David Carabine for G Ryan 18 mins; Caolan Watters for P Herity H-T; Kieran Brennan for N McManus 40 mins; Hughie Marron for P Hughes 57 mins
Referee: Ian Molloy (Donegal)