Cruel end to Ulster Minor Football Final for Derry who lose out to Tyrone

Derry 0-16, Tyrone 4-08

By Michael Wilson
Sunday, 29th May 2022, 8:17 pm

In many ways, this final was a tale on two No. 11s - one hitting 2-01 as Tyrone lifted the Ulster Minor football title in dramatic fashion; one watching on unable to influence a game he would have undoubtedly enhanced by his presence.

Tyrone captain and centre-half forward Eoin McElholm was 'Player of the Match' as the Red Hands' ability to grab goals proved the difference against a Derry team who were the better side for long periods but paid the price a slightly lacklustre opening half.

It was ironic though, that as McElhom's goals were giving his side the platform for victory, Derry captain Ryan McNicholl was only able to watch on, his season ended by a cruciate ligament injury in the quarter-final victory over Donegal.

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Derry Minors came out the wrong end of a dramatic Ulster Minor Football Championship Final in Clones.

McNicholl's team-mates did him proud with a performance that should give them plenty of confidence going into the all Ireland series but the Glenullin player's 'x' factor was notable by its absence on a day when his attack prowess could have proved critical.

Derry had their chances, Shea Birt's brilliant run and shot that struck the Tyrone upright on 44 minutes; Conal Higgins fisted effort being scrambled off he line by Conan Devlin. The turning points were plentiful but at the end of the day, goals from McElholm (2), Ronan Molloy and Caolan Donnelly proved too much for Derry to fight back from.

The opening half was a curious tale of decent Derry possession but ruthless Tyrone efficiency ij front of the posts as goal from McElhom and Ronan Molloy gave the young Red Hands a 2-03 to 0-5 lead.

The irony of that four point interval lead was it was Derry who had started the better side, controlling possession and looking composed as they sought to plot a path through a well marshalled Tyrone back line for whom full-bacl Ben Hughes was in sparkling form.

Derry Minor manager Martin Boyle was frustrated with how the Ulster Final ended but was 'proud' of his players.

Danny McDermott was the man detailed to pick up the Tyrone captain McElholm and by and large he did an effective job but in two moments of brilliance the centre-half forward showed his worth.

The first was the game's opening goal which arrived after 13 minutes in which Derry had been the better side. Tied at two points apiece, a flowing Red Hand move saw the ball moved between the hands of Callum Daly, Barry McMenamin, Molloy and eventually find it's way to McElholm.

It danger didn't appear easily apparent and he ran across the face of the goal but McElholm produced a lovely reversed finish back, across the face of goal and into the far corner of Ben O'Connor's goal for a momentum shifting moment.

Prior to that Derry had led twice, Odhran Murphy getting the game off to a great start with a point after only 33 seconds. It was cancelled out by McElholm's first first of excellence minutes later only for Ciaran Chambers to edge Derry back in front again.

A fisted effort from Molloy tied the game at 0-2 apiece but by that stage the Red Hands had already lost keeper Conor McAneney to injury following a clash with Eoin Higgins, the keeper out bravely to block the Dungiven player before being forced off and replaced by Conan McGarvey.

Not that it was step down for Tyrone because with seconds of his introduction, McGarvey had brilliantly turned away Murphy's fierce shot after the Derry player superbly caught a wayward '45', turned and shot for goal.

It could have been the opening goal, instead McElholm's handed Tyrone the confidence booster and while chambers responded within seconds of Tyrone's opening goal, they soon had a second.

Five minutes after his captain had struck, a superb run down the left by Conan Devlin saw his effort strike the underside of the crossbar and rebound down onto the line. Luckily for Tyrone, Molloy was in the right place at the right time to fire home from close range and give his side a 2-03 to 0-3 lead with 18 minutes gone.

Derry responded well to the double blow by hitting the next two points through two Eoin Higgins' frees. A placed ball from Tyrone's Noah Grimes broke the sequence to secure Tyrone their four point half-time lead but Derry were far from out of it.

To prove the point, Boyle's team had levelled the game within seven minutes of the restart as a Crozier '45' kicked off the second period. Sean Hughes replied with a free of his own but successive scores from Cahir Spiers, Higgins (f), Murphy and Shea Birt saw Derry right back in it at 0-10 to 2-04 with 37 minutes played.

Derry had their tails up but a third body blow wasn't far away. Michael McElhatton had edged Tyrone back in front with two points but Eoin Higgins had already brought that advantage back to the minimum only for Tyron to grab a third goal.

Again it was a flowing move, instigated by Noah Grimes' sublime ball inside to corner forward McElhatton who turned to feed to onrushing Caolan Donnelly who fired the ball home for a 3-06 to 0-11 lead.

That might have finished lesser teams but this Derry side has proved their character more than once and again, they refused to buckle, answering the goal with three successive points of their own through Johnny McGuckian and two more Higgins' frees to leave it 3-06 to 0-14.

The sides traded blows and Derry had it back to 0-16 playing 3-08 as the clock ticked into injury time. Conal Higgins had seen his effort cleared and Derry were pushing forward when Tyrone turned them over in midfield, allowing McElholm to race forward and fire home the clinching goal.

It was a cruel finale on a Derry side who will think they left this one behind them but that frustration can be a powerful tool as they face up to an All Ireland quarter-final against the winners of Cork and Kerry.

Derry scorers: Odhran Murphy (0-2), Ciaran Chambers (0-2, 1f), Eoin Higgins (0-7, 7f), Odhran Crozier (0-1, 1 '45'), Cahir Spiers (0-2), Shea Birt (0-1), Johnny McGuckian (0-1)

Tyrone scorers: Eoin McElholm (2-1), Ronan Molloy (1-1), Caolan Donnelly (1-0), Noah Grimes (0-2, 1f), Sean Hughes (0-1, 1f), Michael McElhatton (0-2), Ruairi McCullagh (0-1)

Derry: Ben O'Connor, Fionn McEldowney, Eoin Scullion, Danny McDermott, James Murray, Odhran Crozier, Shea Birt, Dara McPeake, Ruairi Forbes, Johnny McGuckian, Conal Higgins, Cahir Spiers, Eoin Higgins, Ciaran Chambers, Odhran Murphy. (Subs) Dara McGurk for O Murphy, 57mins; Antain Donnelly for S Birt, 59mins.

Yellow Cards: J Murray, 38mins;

Tyrone: Conor McAneney, Joey Clarke, Ben Hughes, Conor Devlin, Barry McMenamin, Calum Daly, Nathan Farry, Conor Devlin, Conor O'Neill, Sean Hughes, Eoin McElholm, Caolan Donnelly, Noah Grimes, Ronan Molloy, Michael Elhatton. (Subs) Conan McGarvey for C McAneney (inj), 5mins; Ruairi McCullagh for S Hughes, 49mins; Niall Carney for R Molloy, 52mins; Sheehan Fahy C Devlin, 59mins; Charlie Donnelly for M McElhatton, 61mins; Leo Hughes for C Devlin, 61mins

Yellow Cards: C Devlin, 50mins;

Referee: Pat Clarke (Cavan)