Derry 3-16, Down 3-14
Derry staged a superb second quarter comeback from 3-7 to 0-2 adrift midway through the first half to trail by just four points at the break.
Hard though they fought in the second half, Down looked to have done enough as they led by a point with only seconds of the three additional minutes remaining before super-sub Tommy Gallagher netted in the final seconds to take Derry into the final against Antrim.
Down made an extraordinary start in perfect conditions at Owenbeg. Three superbly taken goals from Oisin McManus, Conal Fitzsimmons and Brooke Byers in the opening quarter seemingly put them in total control, Derry scoring just two points from Deaglan Foley.
However Derry fought back to trail by four at the break, 3-8 to 1-11, Foley finishing the half with six points and Mark McGuigan with three, Cormac O’Doherty scoring a stunning goal in the final minute of the half with a deft aerial touch that sent the sliothar past stranded Down keeper, Jamie Crowe.
Midway through the second half O’Doherty gave Derry a lifeline when he blasted to the net from a 20m free for 3-11 to 2-13, Down then going four ahead five minutes from time before Foley, Bradley and McGuigan set up the dramatic late victory thanks to Gallagher’s late, late goal.
A delighted Derry manager, Tom McLean, said the performance showed the character of his players.
“That’s Under 21 hurling. It’s that time of year where there’s not a lot of preparation put into it. Derry came together and it took them a while to get settled but before they were, three goals were past them.
“But that’s a seriously good Down team. Let nobody be under illusions about that, so that was a powerful victory for Derry to get. It was a great team effort. We could name individuals but everybody out there played their part. There were fine individual displays but really everyone put in a great team effort. It was a massive effort. These fellas really wanted to win that game. I am so proud of all of them.
“It takes character when you go 14 points down by the 16th minute. They just kept pegging away and did not drop the heads and battled right to the end and it was nice to see wee Tommy (Gallagher) getting the winning goal.”
Derry: C Owens, C Quinn, B Óg Corbett, S Doyle; M Mulgrew, M McGrath, N Farren; T McCloskey, G Bradley 0-3; J Shaw, M McGuigan 0-4, D Foley 0-8, 0-5 frees, ; J O’Dwyer, C O’Doherty 2-1. (Subs) G Farren for B Óg Corbett 20 mins
T O’Kane for J McEldowney 37 mins; T Gallagher (1-0) for J Shaw 49 mins
Down: J Crowe; M Fisher, R Branagan, D Mallon; C Taggart, C O’Neill, J McGrath; B Byers 1-2, R Courtney 0-1; J Doran 0-2, M Nicholson 0-1, R McCusker 0-1; O McManus 1-2, C Fitzsimmons 1-4, E Sands 0-1C Fay 0-1for J McGrath, 33 mins
Referee: Owen Elliott (Antrim).