Derry defeat Antrim as Lachlan Murray and Charlie Diamond set up Cavan semi-final showdown

Ulster Under 20 Football Championship Quarter-final

By Michael Wilson
Friday, 1st April 2022, 11:26 pm
Updated Friday, 1st April 2022, 11:28 pm

Derry 0-12 , Antrim 0-09

Lachlan Murray and Charlie Diamond were the stars of the show as Derry produced a vastly improved second half to eventually see off a stubborn Antrim side by three points in the Ulster Under 20 Championship quarter-final at Owenbeg on Friday night.

Manager Paddy Bradley's preparations had been badly hit by injuries and unavailability and the disjointed nature of that build up showed at times in the opening half as Derry coughed up possession too often and struggled to make inroads against an organised Saffron 15.

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Charlie Diamond battles for the ball with Antrim's Sean Duffin and Cahir Donnelly. The Bellaghy man scored 6 frees in Derry's 0-12 to 0-9 win in Owenbeg on Friday evening. (Photo: George Sweeney)

Turning around at 0-5 a-piece, Derry improved as the game wore on with Murray, who only joined up with the Under 20 panel on Wednesday after featuring in the National League for Rory Gallagher's senior side, coming to the fore with three excellent second half points to eventually wear Antrim down.

It was far from perfect but championship football is all about the winning and the first hurdle if often the most difficult. To that end Bradley will have been happy with what he saw but there's precious little time to dwell on the victory with a semi-final showdown with Cavan now set for next Friday night.

A lacklustre opening half saw Derry manage only one point from play, Murray's superb solo effort in the 25th minute the lone Oak Leaf score that didn't come courtesy of a placed ball.

Otherwise it was the free-taking of Diamond, who finished with 0-6 (6f), that keep Derry in touch against an Antrim side who enjoyed the better of the first period without ever threatening to pull away or put any distance between themselves and their hosts.

The Oak Leafers by contrast were being turned over far too often in the attacking third and it could have been costly against a Saffron side set up for fast transition football but Antrim lacked the cutting edge to take advantage of some promising build up play.

Bradley though still has the likes of Matthew, Enda and Calum Downey, Eoin McEvoy and keeper Jack Scullion to come back in but it will be a race against time to see if they are ready for next Friday.

A foul on Murray gave Diamond the opportunity to open the scoring in the second minute but Sean Duffin's strong run and point cancelled that out in a first half in which there was never more than two points between the teams.

The Derry kick-out was struggling at times and Antrim took advantage to edge in front after Cathal Hynds won the Derry restart, switched it to Benen Kelly who in turn fed Sean O'Neill. His initial shot was well saved by Derry keeper Kian McGonigle but O'Neill was alert enough to pop the rebound over the bar via his fist.

Diamond and the impressive Aidan McAleese swapped frees for 0-2 to 0-3 before a Murray free and a Eunan Quinn point did likewise. Paudie McLaughlin's superb 20th minute score made it 0-5 to 0-3 in favour of the Saffrons but the lead didn't last long.

Another Diamond and Derry's first score from play from Murray tied the game at five points a-piece after what had been an underwhelming half hour of football.

Derry had been slowly wrestling control throughout that first half and despite McAleese shooting Antrim back in front within 43 seconds of the restart, Derry took control after the break.

Murray equalised with the first of his three excellent scores from play only for a McAleese free to illustrate Antrim were not going to lie down despite the Oak Leaf improvement.

The Saffron cause wasn't helped by a 33rd minute black card for Duffin though after a trip on Adam McGonigle though Derry failed to fully capitalise on their numerical advantage. What they were doing though was working keeping the ball better, recycling possession quicker and forcing Antrim to work harder, all of which eventually told as Antrim legs started to tire in the closing stages.

Murray and Antrim's Cahir Donnelly exchanged points for 0-7 to 0-8 but once Diamond had drawn Derry level on 38 minutes, Bradley's team were in charge.

It still wasn't plain sailing though as Calum Higgins edged Antrim back in front but with the momentum now in their favour, Derry found another gear to hit four unanswered points that won them the game.

First Ryan McEldowney levelled at nine points a-piece before, with the black card restored, another Dimond free put Derry ahead on 48minutes, the first time the home side had led since the opening two minutes of the match.

When Murray fired over another lovely score from the left Derry had their cushion, a cushion extended further by Diamond's final free and they rarely looked in trouble.

Given the absentees and the disjointed nature of the preparation, Derry will be better for having this game under their belts. They improved as the game wore on, showing in the second half they had taken lessons from a low key first 30 minutes. Murray was higher up the pitch and Donncha Gilmore and Conor Shiels were more influential at both ends of the pitch. There plenty of work to do yet and not a lot of time to do it but Derry are off and running.

Derry scorers: Lachlan Murray (0-5, 1f), Charlie Diamond (0-6, 6f), Ryan McEldowney (0-1).

Antrim scorers: Sean Duffin (0-1), Sean O'Neill (0-1), Aidan McAleese (0-4, 2f), Eunan Quinn (0-1), Paudie McLaughlin (0-1) , C Donnelly (0-1).

Derry: Kian McGonigle; Patrick McGurk, Jamie Duggan, Adam McGonigle; Aidan McCluskey, Conor Shiels, Donncha Gilmore; Dan Higgins, Patrick O’Kane; Mark Doherty, Ryan McEldowney, Oran McMenamin; Charlie Diamond, Lachlan Murray, Niall O’Donnell. (Subs) Odhran McLarnon for O McMenamin, 42mins; PJ McAleese for R McEldowney, 52mins; PJ Mcaleese, 60mins;

Yellow Cards: M Doherty, 47mins; C Shiels, 50mins;

Antrim: Declan Heery; Conall McGirr, Cahir Donnelly, Sean O’Neill; Miceal Ferris, Cathal Hynds, Ronan Boyle; Eunan Quinn, Callum Higgins; Benen Kelly, Sean Duffin, Aidan McAleese; Ruairi Hagan, Paudie McLaughlin, Rian Lennon. (Subs) Fionn Nagle for R Lennon, HT; Reuben Carleton for C Hynds, 61mins; Eoin Gouhgh for S O'Neill, 61mins;

Yellow cards: S O'Neill, 21mins; C Hynds, 47mins; M Ferris, 59mins. Black Card: S Duffin, 35mins;

Referee: James Lewis (Fermanagh)