Derry are Ulster Champions after dramatic extra-time victory over Donegal

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Ulster Senior Football Championship final

Derry 1-16, Donegal 1-14

The sea of red and white that sweep across St. Tiernach's Park, Clones told its own tale. DERRY ARE ULSTER CHAMPIONS!

It was difficult to tell if it was joy or relief; maybe it was a mixture of both after 24 long years but the swarm of smiles that engulfed players, management, stewards, media and indeed anything that crossed its path spoke volumes of what Rory Gallagher and his team have done for the Oak Leaf county. It was chaos, it was bedlam but it was beautiful bedlam.

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Derry players celebrate in Clones after defeating Donegal to become Ulster senior football championsDerry players celebrate in Clones after defeating Donegal to become Ulster senior football champions
Derry players celebrate in Clones after defeating Donegal to become Ulster senior football champions

And after waiting more than two decades, why do things the easy way? As if defeating Tyrone, Monaghan and Donegal wasn't tough enough, let's throw in two agonisingly long 10 minute periods of extra-time in the final during which everyone inside Clones was put through the emotional mill from first second to last.

It's wasn't a classic but it didn't have to be. The drama was intense and coming from where Derry were, it was only ever about getting across the line which they did. The dramatic finale just made it all the sweeter.

Two and a half years ago when he took over Rory Gallagher talked about changing the psychology within the Derry county set-up and this was prove that he has succeeded in his mission. It wasn't a one man job as Gallagher is a pains to point out with the likes of Peter Hughes, Ciaran Meenagh, Enda Muldoon, Thomas Mallon, Hugh McGrath and others all playing pivotal roles. Nor is it at at end with hopefully plenty more to come. But for now, it is only about the Ulster Championship and for the first time in 24 years the Anglo Celt Cup is heading to the Oak Leaf County after a richly deserved victory.

The finale was like something out of Hollywood, every Derry players lining up on his own line to ensure Michael Murphy's short free would not be entering the Derry net. It didn't and the celebration could be heard back over the Glenshane Pass.

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Derry captain Chrissy McKaigue gets his hands on the Anglo Celt Cup after their victory in Clones on Sunday.Derry captain Chrissy McKaigue gets his hands on the Anglo Celt Cup after their victory in Clones on Sunday.
Derry captain Chrissy McKaigue gets his hands on the Anglo Celt Cup after their victory in Clones on Sunday.

The opening minutes wasn't so much 'cat and mouse' as a test of wills, Declan Bonner's seasoned championship finalists probing and testing Derry to see if the new team on the Ulster Championship block were ready for the battle ahead.

Oak Leaf fans needn't have worried, their team were as a fascinating tactical opening saw Chrissy McKaigue pop up at full-back full forward and in the corner while Benny Heron was occupying the Oak Leaf full back role at one stage such is the fluidity of modern football.

A full 10 minutes would pass before the game's first score but just as the cynics among the capacity crowd were joking about witnessing the Ulster Final's first scoreless draw, Derry struck to prove they hadn't arrived at Clones just to make up the numbers.

If goal wins championship matches, Derry had the perfect start and it owed everything to a man whose unheralded improvement under Rory Gallagher mirrors Derry's renaissance. Despite some considerable underage success, Niall Toner's senior county career had never really hit the heights man predicted, well not until this year.

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Over the course of the past 18 months the little Lavey forward slowly cemented himself a place in Gallagher's team to the extent that seeing his name among the substitute list in the Clones programme was fooling nobody. And 10 minutes in, he highlighted just why that was, linking superb with Ethan Doherty to speed along the by-line and pick out Niall Louglin who kept his composure to fire into the net from close range.

Derry were off and running.

Donegal had already seen captain Michael Murphy send to '45s' wide but they weren't about to panic and eventually got themselves off the mark though Shane O'Donnell two minutes later but scores from Paul Cassidy, Shea Downey and a Shane McGuigan free had Derry 1-03 to 0-01 up by the 17th minute.

If the first quarter belonged to Derry, the second was more even as Donegal fought back with but Derry were still in control, Loughlin adding an excellent point and a free with 'Man of the Match' Brendan Rogers taking the Derry half-time tally to 1-06 to Donegal's 0-06.

Clones awaited Donegal's response and they didn't have to wait long as within 50 seconds of the restart Michael Langan and stormed in from a angle to force a save from Odhran Lynch. The shot was too fierce to hold though and Odhran McFadden Ferry was on hand to tap home the rebound and tie the game up.

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That was the cue for a tit-for-tat second half with neither county able to put the other away and the more the clock ticked away the more nerves played a part. Twice Donegal manufactured two point leads but twice Derry fought their way back. Indeed the second time should have brought a black card for Donegal Stephen McMenamin who felled Shane McGuigan after he intercepted a bad kick from Shaun Patton.

The card was yellow but the free brought Derry levels again at 1-12 a-piece. Derry had a couple of chances in injury time to win it but the dram would go to an extra 20 minutes.

Donegal substitute Aaron Doherty took first blood in extra time but Emmett Bradley this time equalised as players cramped up and the game became more of an endurance test than football match.

And so to the final 10 minutes. A foul on Padraig McGrogan allowed Shane McGuigan to kick Derry into the lead for the first time since the second minute of the second half and it was a lead they would not relinquish.

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The Oak Leaf spirit was typified five minutes before the end when the brilliant Conor Glass half blocked Hugh McFadden's shot and it was McGuigan who caught it on the Derry goal-line. This is a Derry team united.

Donegal hammered the door, Derry refused to open, Glass fittingly breaking upfield to kick the insurance point. Had there been a Clones roof it would have come off. Derry had done it and the scenes on the pitch afterwards said everything about what it meant to the county.

Derry scorers: Niall Loughlin (1-2, 1f), Shane McGuigan (0-6, 5f), Paul Cassidy (0-1), Shea Downey (0-1), Brendan Rogers (0-3), Conor Doherty (0-1), Emmett Bradley (0-1), Conor Glass (0-1),

Donegal scorers: Odhran McFadden-Ferry (1-0), Shane O'Donnell (0-1), Peadar Mogan (0-4), Michael Murphy (0-2), Patrick McBrearty (0-2, 2f) Jason McGee (0-2), Ryan McHugh (0-1), Aaron Doherty (0-1), 1m)

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Derry: Odhran Lynch, Chrissy McKaigue, Brendan Rogers, Conor McCluskey, Conor Doherty, Gareth McKinless, Padraig McGrogan, Conor Glass, Niall Toner, Paul Cassidy, Shea Downey, Ethan Doherty, Benny Heron, Shane McGuigan, Niall Loughlin. (Subs) Emmett Bradley for N Loughlin, 47mins; Lachlan Murray for B Heron, 63mins; Ben McCarron for N Toner, 67mins; Paul McNeil for S Downey (inj), 71mins; Benny Heron for L Murray, HT (et); Niall Toner for B McCarron, HT (ET); Oisin McWilliams for E Doherty, 17mins (ET);

Donegal: Shaun Patton, Caolan Ward, Brendan McCole, Stephen McMenamin, Ryan McHugh, Eoghan Ban Gallagher, Odhran McFadden Ferry, Caolan McGonagle, Jason McGee, Peadar Mogan, Shane O'Donnell, Michael Langan, Patrick McBrearty, Michael Murphy, Jamie Brennan. (Subs) Conor O'Donnell for J Brennan, 57mins; Niall O'Donnell for S O'Donnell, 71mins; Aaron Doherty for O McFadden-Ferry, 63mins; Hugh McFadden for J McGee, FT; Ciaran Thompson for C McGonagle, 10 (ET); Ethan O'Donnell for P Mogan, HT (ET); Paul Brennan for M Langan, HT (ET);

Yellow Cards: S McMenamin, 62mins; R McHugh, 18mins (ET).

Referee: Sean Hurson (Tyrone)

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