Derry stumbled to a place in this year’s Ulster Minor final against Antrim, six points a reasonably comfortable margin of victory, even though the performance would not have caused much of a frisson among the watching Saffron management.
SEAMUS MULLAN was at Casement Park
After Armagh’s stunning, not to mention hugely embarrassing 4-15 to 2-14 defeat for Derry at the quarter final stage last season, the young Oak Leaf side came into this game determined not to suffer a similar reversal in successive years.
But when Armagh’s outstanding corner forward Matthew Lennon - who finished with a goal from play and seven converted frees - outpaced the Derry defence in the 43rd minute to flick the sliothar to the net for 1-08 to 1-07 there was more than a hint of another shock.
Indeed Armagh, who had a stiffish breeze at their backs in the second period, were playing with a lot of confidence against a Derry side that had few players playing to their potential.
However with Brian Og McGilligan in commanding form at centre-half back, Caolan McGurk outstanding in the middle third, 15-year-old Cormac Doherty superb in attack and Darragh McCloskey accurate with four frees in his 0-05 haul, Derry took control in the final quarter to run out comfortable winners.
When it was suggested to Derry manager Brian McGilligan that really the only positive thing that could be taken from the game was that Derry had won he retorted, “You nailed it there but I thought as the game went on we got into it. The first half was anything but pretty hurling. The conditions did not help, some of the refereeing decisions did not help but it was one of those days when so many players were off form with the exception of Caolan McGurk who was excellent, Liam Murphy who came into it in the second half and Cormac (Doherty) who led by example. Other players should have taken a leaf out of his book
“Our defence was very good, although they did give away some easy frees, pushes in the back and things like that. The basics!”
There was certainly an absence of basic skills in the opening quarter, neither side shining in the scoring department as they traded just four points, Lennon from a free and Davis McCreesh scoring the first and fourth for Armagh, Cormac Doherty twice on target for the Oak Leafers.
However Derry broke the deadlock two minutes later when McGurk was fouled and Shane Farren sent the ball long to the goalmouth where it fell to Doherty and he whipped it low along the ground to the back of the net for 1-02 to 0-02.
By the 20th minute Derry had extended the lead with a Farren free and a Doherty point from a long McGilligan clearance. Seven minutes from half time Tiarnan McCloskey got his radar right with 50m free after Eoin Crossan was fouled.
In the final minutes of the half Doherty had a Derry point, Lennon landing two Armagh frees for 1-06 to 0-06 at half time.
McCloskey and Lennon exchanged points from frees inside three minutes of the restart, Murphy taking a pass from Farren to race away for an exhilarating point.
However a 43rd minute goal from Lennon was a shuddering jolt for Derry, one point between the sides, Armagh in the ascendancy and with the wind at their backs.
However just when a shock beckoned Derry roused themselves, McGilligan, McGurk, Murphy and the irrepressible Doherty leading the charge.
In the 46th minute, after Derry had recorded their eleventh wide, substitute Brendan Rodgers pointed, Doherty and Tiarnan McCloskey from a free extending the lead to 1-11 to 1-07. Lennon pulled back a point but Derry responded with two points from McCloskey, one a free and Gerald Bradley to close out the game in Derry’s favour.
“That performance would not be good enough against Antrim but I suppose we have three weeks to work on the mistakes that we were making,” confessed the Derry manager afterwards.
“All really we wanted from today’s game was to get to an Ulster final after what happened last year and that really was the only positive from the performance.”
“There is definitely room for improvement. We have been working hard in training this past few weeks but we seemed to leave our form on the training pitch. All the good things that we were doing in training during the week seemed to fall apart. Maybe the boys were a bit too confident but I cannot nail it down. Over the next couple of weeks we’ll address that.
“We didn’t take some goal chances, the woodwork saving Armagh on a few occasions but you can make all the excuses you want. You had forwards of the calibre of Shane Farren and Gerald Bradley out there who did not hit form. We were lucky enough to get the victory.
When it was suggested that Derry had now beaten Tyrone, Down and Armagh and, with only a few good spells here and there in each game and reached an Ulster final, the Derry manager responded, “We have not played particularly well but we did not have any league preparation. You’ll have noticed that in every game that we’ve played we’ve had three or four positional changes.
“We’re still trying to fill two or three positions. That ‘s difficult with the panel we have but we’ll try and address the problems and get the players to play the way that I want them to play. We still have problem areas but we’ll work on them and try and fix the problem.”
Derry scorers: Cormac Doherty 1-05, Tiarnan McCloskey 0-05 (4f), Liam Murphy 0-01, Shane Farren 0-01f, Gerald Bradley 0-01, Brendan Rodgers 0-01
Armagh scorers: Matthew Lennon 1-07, 0-07 frees and David McCreesh 0-01
Derry: Conor O’Kane; Pearse McGrath, Michael Warnock, Joseph O’Loughlin; Tiarnan McCloskey, Brian Og McGilligan, Ryan Farren: Liam Murphy, Caolan McGurk; Gerald Bradley, Kieran McIntyre, Eoin Crossan; Cormac Doherty, Michael Taggart, Shane Farren. (Subs) Brendan Rodgers for S Farren 40 mins; Niall Farren for G Bradley 58 mins
Armagh: Connor McAnallen; Daniel Mone, Reese Magee, Sean Colton; Tom Marley, Tiarnan Donnelly, Ethan Carville, Finnaun Burns; Mark Toal, Stephen Renaghan, Shea Gaffney; Rory Fullerton, David MCreesh, Matthew Lennon. (Subs) Stephen King for R Fullerton 52 mins; Nathan Anscombe for S Colton 58mins; Paudie Lappin for Shea Gaffney 58 mins
Referee: James Clarke (Cavan)