Brilliant Derry blitz Tyrone to lift first McKenna Cup since 2011

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Bank of Ireland Dr. McKenna Cup FinalDerry 3-11, Tyrone 1-05Derry are the 2023 McKenna Cup champions after weathering an early second half Tyrone storm before recording a resounding 12 point victory in the Athletic Grounds.

Last year in Healy Park, the margin of victory was 11 points, and while this one had nowhere near the same significance, winning is becoming a welcome habit for this Oak Leaf panel still to welcome back its Glen contingent.

After a tentative start, Derry dominated to go in six points to the good at half-time, a lead that really should have been more emphatic after Rory Gallagher's men missed three gilt edged goal chances before the short whistle.

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The expected Tyrone response was swift, wiping out Derry's advantage within 12 minutes of the restart but Derry didn't wilt. The brilliant Paul Cassidy's point signalled Derry resurgence as a Shane McGuigan penalty and first Derry senior goal for Niall O'Donnell rubber stamped a thoroughly deserved victory.

Derry celebrate their McKenna Cup victory in the Armagh Athletic Grounds.Derry celebrate their McKenna Cup victory in the Armagh Athletic Grounds.
Derry celebrate their McKenna Cup victory in the Armagh Athletic Grounds.

Despite playing into the considerable breeze the Red Hands had the better of the opening exchanges with only two points scored in the opening 10 minutes. Derry were sitting deep out of possession, reliant on some superb defending as the spring board to launch lightning quick breaks through any number of wiling runners. The Ulster champions' ability to get up the pitch at pace, be it through the long pass or the short passing fast break, was causing Tyrone all manner of trouble as Derry eased to a 0-7 to 0-1 half-time lead that should have been more emphatic with those three goal chances spurned.

The first arrived four minutes in when Toner found himself in space. He was still 20 odd yards odd and produced a fierce strike but the Lavey man had to content himself with the opening point as his shot cleared the bar by inches.

A superb Liam Nugent point levelled things five minutes later but that would be the sum total of the Red Hands' first half total as Rory Gallagher's men went through the gears in impressive fashion. Lachlan Murray continued his excellent McKenna campaign with a fantastic before a free apiece from Toner and Shane McGuigan made it 0-4 to 0-1 on 19 minutes.

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By this stage Derry were purring, and should have capped a brilliant spell with a goal on 22 minutes when Toner found Rogers who in turn teed up McGuigan but Benny Gallen was quick off his line to save bravely.

After another Toner free had Derry four to the good, Gallen was at it again, producing his second excellent stop as Paudie Cassidy sent Murray clear coming off the right. The Desertmartin man's shot was true but once more Gallen was equal to it with Paul Cassidy poking the follow up inches wide. The save came at a cost though, Gallen being forced off injured in the aftermath, though Tyrone had a more than able deputy in Niall Morgan.

Still Derry controlled proceedings, further points from Murray, after a brilliant Eoin McEvoy break, and Oisin McWilliams following a sweeping counter, underlining Derry's dominance at the Oak Leafers turned around with a six point advantage at the break.

Niall O'Donnell was introduced for Murray at the break with Tyrone bringing in Cathal McShane and Conor Meyler and within three minutes the Red Hand changes had their impact as points from Niall Devlin and McShane had eaten into the Derry lead.

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The momentum was all Tyrone, a fact emphasised by Darren McCurry's first meaningful involvement which resulted in the game's opening goal which owed everything to Michael McKernan. Benny Heron looked to have safely won Odhran Lynch's restart but was robbed by the Tyrone No. 6 who fed McCurry. The angle was acute but it mattered litter as McCurry found the far corner.

Tyrone smelt blood and when Niall Morgan strode forward to level the game via a '45, it looked as if there was going to be only one winner.

Derry's ship needed steadying and it was the often unsung hero Paul Cassidy who stepped forward to halt the Tyrone charge with a well worked point worth much more than it's additional 0-1 on the scoreboard.

Within seconds, Morgan was hauling down Brendan Rogers and McGuigan, just like he had back in May in Healy Park, was beating the Tyrone No. 1 from the spot for a game changing score.

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The tide had turned. Niall O'Donnell provided the icing on the cake with a lovely third Derry goal, sliding superbly under an advancing Morgan and Derry had their first McKenna Cup win since 2011. It may mean little later in the year but silverware is becoming a nice habit for the Derry squad.

Derry scorers: Shane McGuigan (1-2, 1pen, 1f), Oisin McWilliams (1-1), Niall O'Donnell (1-1), Niall Toner (0-3, 2f), Lachlan Murray (0-2, 1f), Padraig McGrogan (0-1), Paul Cassidy (0-1)

Tyrone scorers: Darren McCurry (1-1, 1f), Liam Nugent (0-1), Niall Devlin (0-1), Niall Morgan (0-1, 1 '45'), Cathal McShane (0-1)

Derry: Odhran Lynch, Eoin McEvoy, Padraig McGrogan, Conor McCluskey, Gareth McKinless, Conor Doherty, Padraig Cassidy, Paul Cassidy, Brendan Rogers, Ben McCarron, Niall Toner, Oisin McWilliams, Benny Heron, Shane McGuigan, Lachlan Murray. (Subs) Niall O'Donnell for L Murray, HT; Paul McNeill for O McWilliams, 60mins; Mark Doherty for B McCarron, 68mins; Kevin Johnston for S McGuigan, 70mins; Anton Tohill for B Heron, 70mins;

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Tyrone: Benny Gallen, Nathan McCarron, Cormac Monroe, Padraig Hamspey, Peter Og McCartan, Michael McKernan, Niall Devlin, Brian Kennedy, Richard Donnelly, Conn Kilpatrick, David Mulgrew, Kieran McGeary, Darren McCurry, Matthew Donnelly, Liam Nugent. (Subs) Niall Morgan for B Gallen (inj), 27mins; Peter Harte for R Donnelly, 29mins; Cathal McShane for M Donnelly, HT; Conor Meyler for P Og McCartan, HT; Emmett McNabb for L Nugent, 50mins; Frank Burns for K McGeary 63mins; Niall Sludden for D McCurry,63mins;

Black Card: M McKernan, 59mins;

Referee: Conor Doureen (Cavan)

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