Under 20 Leo Murphy Cup
Derry 3-05, Donegal 0-14
Two injury time Ronan Frain points meant it was honours even as Derry Under 20s were pegged back late on against Donegal in their opening Leo Murphy Cup encounter at Celtic Park on Saturday.
The Oak Leafers were held scoreless for more than 30 minutes either side of half-time before a burst of 2-02 without reply in 15 second half minutes turned a game that looked to be going away from them and instead left Donegal staring down the barrel.
Defeat would have been harsh on the visitors though against a Derry side who had only played in bursts and when Donegal needed composure, Ronan Frain provided it, twice tapping over in added time, his second point coming with 64 minutes on the clock and salvaging a deserved draw.
With games against Mayo and Roscommon to come, Derry manager Mickey Donnelly will have been encouraged by what he saw even if the central calendar changes which have forced the Under 20 season into an almost pre-season slot, are likely to have the opposite effect.
With an Ulster Championship Preliminary Round date against Fermanagh sitting on the horizon for February 8th, Donnelly's Derry side was still well short of what he would probably consider his strongest 15, due mainly to vocational schools involvement and a few, like Odhran Lynch, Alex Doherty and Ben McCarron, who are with Rory Gallagher's senior squad.
Despite the absentees, there was still plenty of Ulster Minor Championship winning experience in the Oak Leaf panel who started on the front foot with a driving Conleth McShane run from the throw in a signal of Derry intent.
Donegal were far from overawed though and operating with Paddy McGettigan and Johnny McGroddy inside, it was the Tir Conaill men who hit the afternoon's first score through a fisted Keelan McGroddy effort after a poor Oak Leaf kick-out was spilled.
The two sides would have their troubles with the restarts as the half wore on as both tried short kick-out routines which the opposition seemed alert to from the first whistle.
Cormac Murphy levelled the game before McGroddy and Jude McAtamney swapped points for 0-2 a-piece, Murphy's point coming directly from a misplaced Donegal kick-out and the lessons weren't heeded as the game's first goal arrived on nine minutes.
Again the Donegal kick-out presented possession to Derry with Ballinascreen's Ciaran Doyle intercepting before sending Conleth McGuckin clear. The Glen player twisted one way, then the other, before rolling a lovely low finish under Donegal keeper Ronan McGeehan for a three point lead.
Things looked rosy at that point but Derry wouldn't trouble the scoreboard again until the 40th minute by which time Donegal has established a degree of control and a 0-10 to 1-02 lead.
Indeed, a tad more composure from the otherwise excellent Ethan Harkin seconds before Derry kick-started their second half revival may have brought Donegal a goal that could have killed the contest. He fired wide with a man inside and Derry not only survived, they rallied.
Amidst Derry's scoreless run though, Donegal made hay with Aaron Doherty (3) and Harkin (2) pointing Donegal to a 0-7 to 1-02 interval lead.
Peter McEniff and Frain stretched the lead to five points but Derry weren't finished and seconds after watching Harkin waste Donegal's chance, Derry had cut a path through the heart of the visitors defence with McShane setting up Drumsurn's Tiarnan McHugh who blasted a low finish into the bottom corner for 2-02 to 0-10.
Suddenly the complexion of the game had changed but the goal would be McHugh's final touch as Derry introduced Oran Downey and Lorcan Spiers with the substitutions lifting home energy levels.
Keelan Friel and McAtamney (free) tagged on points to level before the latter grabbed Derry's third goal of the game as Donegal lost their defensive shape.
Cormac Murphy was the catalyst, picking out McAtamney in acres of space on the right side of the posts. The Swtragh's man's first effort was superbly stopped by the feet of McGeehan but McAtamney was quick enough to smash the follow-up into the roof of the net for a 3-04 to 0-10 lead with the final quarter of the game to come.
Donegal gathered themselves, Aaron McGlynn and Johnny McGroddy bringing it back to the minimum only for Derry substitute Fergal Mortimer to split the posts at the other end and restore a two point Oak advantage.
Derry were in containment mode now but Donegal had a superb chance to win it when Doherty found himself clear on goal with two minutes left, only to watch as Ryan Scullion brilliantly saved his fierce shot with the follow up being fired wide.
Still the visitors drove forward and they got their reward in injury time with Frain's excellent brace. It wasn't the result either manager will have been hoping for but neither will they be overly disappointed. It's just a pity
Derry scorers: Tiarnan McHugh (1-0), Conleth McGuckin (1-0), Jude McAtamney (1-0), Cormac Murphy (0-1), Jude McAtamney (0-2, 2f), Keelan Friel (0-1), Fergal Mortimer (0-1),
Donegal scorers: Ronan Frain (0-4), Keelan McGroddy (0-2), Aaron Doherty (0-3, 1f), Ethan Harkin (0-2, 1f), Peter McEniff (0-2), Johnny McGroddy (0-1),
Derry: Ryan Scullion; Mark Creane, Tiarnan Walsh, James Diamond; Tiarnan Woods, Conor Logan, Niall Doyle, Keelan Friel, Conleth McShane; Conleth McGuckin, Fintan Bradley, Ciaran Doyle; Cormac Murphy, Tiarnan McHugh, Jude McAtamney.
(Subs) Oran Downey for T McHugh, 40mins; Lorcan Spiers for M Creane, 40mins; Fergal Mortimer for C Logan, 49mins;
Yellow cards: Jude McAtamney, 20mins; Keelan Friel, 32mins; Oran Downey, 47mins;
Sin Bin: Fintan Bradley, 59mins;
Donegal: Ronan McGeehan, Aaron Gillooley, Conor O'Donnell, Oisin Walsh; Peter McEniff, Luke Gavigan, Richard O'Rourke; Aaron McGlynn, Ronan Frain; Keelan McGroddy, Ethan Harkin, Aaron Doherty; Conor McHugh, Padraig McGettigan, Johnny McGroddy.
(Subs) Cormac Finn for A McGlynn, 45mins; Mark McAteer for J McGroddy, 51mins; Carlos O'Reilly for E Harkin, 56mins;
Yellow Cards: Luke Gavigan, 22mins;
Referee: Kieran Eannetta (Tyrone)