Derry defeat Donegal to claim first league win of season

Allianz hurling League, Division 2B

By Michael Wilson
Sunday, 6th June 2021, 8:57 pm
Updated Sunday, 6th June 2021, 8:58 pm

Derry 3-22, Donegal 3-21

Captain Cormac O'Doherty was Derry's injury time hero as the Oak Leafers recorded a thrilling one point league victory, their first of the season, against Donegal at Ballinascreen on Sunday.

The two counties racked up 6-43 between them in a shoot-out of a game peppered with controversial moments and excitement. The one that mattered most though didn't arrive until deep into added time when, from wide out on his own 65, Derry's captain stepped up to split the posts for the final time in a game the Oak Leafers should probably have put to bed in the first half.

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Derry hurlers in a huddle after defeating Donegal at Ballinascreen on Sunday.

Instead, the game hinged on a 68th minute decision from Cavan referee James Clarke. With Derry leading 3-21 to 3-20, Donegal dangerman Declan Coulter dropped a high hanging ball in toward the edge of the Derry square. Ritchie Ryan did superbly to win it under pressure from Conor McAllister. The Donegal forward turned into bodies which now included Derry keeper Oisin O'Doherty but managed to bundle the ball into the net. It looked a clear throw ball but suddenly the referee was discussing a possible foul on Ryan with his umpires despite nothing having been signalled as he tried to engineer his way through.

After an anxious few seconds, the referee decided it was no goal but that Ryan had been fouled, only OUTSIDE the square, a decision which pleased neither county. Coulter duly tied the game up from the ensuing free.

That incident occurred only minutes after Donegal's Conor O'Grady had been red carded for a dangerous tackle on O'Doherty, and seconds after the Donegal man had finally brought the visitors level at 3-20 a-piece in a breathless second period where defence seemed an afterthought.

You keeping up, because the drama wasn't finished there?

The clock ticked on into injury time when Derry won a free wide out along their own 65' line. There was only one man to hit it and having already contributed 0-12, the Slaughtneil man made it look like 20m free with a monster effort that sailed over the black spot with plenty to spare.

There was still time for a Donegal attack. They won a side-line and flashed a ball goal wards but a Derry hand plucked it from the sky to clear. Yep, O'Doherty again.

A real captain's performance but every Derry player showed superb resilience, constantly digging deep against a Donegal team that had already accounted for Mayo and Roscommon this season.

Add in the fact Derry had started with defeats to Mayo and Kildare, with several notable departures from the panel during that same period, and it's testament to the character of the side that they dug in to secure the two points.

Ironically, the victory changes very little in terms of Derry relegation fears. Despite siting two points above Roscommon, whom they face next Saturday in Celtic Park, the final game still becomes a play-off given head-to head records are the first port of call should sides finish level on points in the table. With the bottom side dropping down, Derry have to to avoid defeat to ensure survival in Division 2B for next season.

To that end this was a much needed shot in the arm for the Oak Leafers. Joint manager Cormac Donnelly and Dominic McKinley had called for their team to become more clinical in front of the posts and Derry were certainly more attacking. If anything though, the pendulum perhaps swung too much which resulted in a fantastic spectacle for fans but probably a much too open game for the respective management teams.

And while Derry racked up the scores, they still failed to take advantage of numerous promising positions that would have had the game sewn up long before O'Doherty's dramatic winner.

The opening quarter was tit-for-tat with neither getting more than a point ahead and the sides tied at 0-7 a-piece when the game's first major arrived on 16 minutes. Se McGuigan had plenty to do when he picked up possession on the right, but a lovely turn and a step inside bought him enough space to fire a lovely low finish to pout Derry in charge at the first water break.

On the resumption, O'Doherty and Richie Mullan extended the lead and when the home side's second goal arrived on 27minutes courtesy of Brian Cassidy Derry looked to be taking control. Cassidy's finish was a delightful shot into the far corner but the goal owed everything to a superb assist from Gerald Bradley who flicked up a loose ball and hand-passed first time to send Cassidy clear.

Both sides tagged on scores but as the first half clock wound down, Derry led 2-13 to 0-11 and it was fully deserved. The game however would in the 60 seconds either side of the half-time whistle.

First, Derry had cause for complaint when, following an unbelievable save from Oisin O'Doherty to deny Ryan, Ronan McDemott was adjudged to have bundled the rebound over the line despite Derry insistence it hadn't crossed.

That meant a half-time Derry lead of 2-13 to 1-11 but it got better for Donegal with a whirlwind start to the second half that brought 1-01 inside the opening minute as McDermott pointed and Ciaran Mathewson hit the net to bring it back to a one point game at 2-13 to 2-12.

A Sé McGuigan point stemmed the tide and when the impressive John Mullan produced a brilliant surging run through the heart of the Donegal defence to flash a brilliant third goal for Derry on 41minutes, the Oak Leafers looked to have reasserted their authority. Well, for 30 seconds any way!

That's because with their next attack, Donegal had a third goal themselves when Gerry Gilmore ran through an absent defence to drive into the net for 3-15 to 3-13 and set up a thrilling final quarter.

That finale saw O'Doherty step forward to drag Derry over the line. It was thrilling and deserved but Derry aren't out of the woods just yet.

Derry scorers: Se McGuigan (1-1), Cormac O'Doherty (0-13, 10f, 1 sixty-five), Brian Cassidy (1-2), John Mullan (1-1), Richie Mullan (0-3), Odhran McKeever (0-1), Gerald Bradley (0-1)

Donegal scorers: Ronan McDermott (1-2), Ciaran Matthewson (1-4), Declan Coulter (0-10, 7f, 2 sixty-five), Greg Gilmore (1-1), Richie Ryan (0-2), Danny Cullen (0-1), Conor O'Grady (0-1)

Derry: Oisin O’Doherty; Conor McAllister, Brian Óg McGilligan, Darragh McCloskey; Sean Cassidy, Conor Kelly, Meehaul McGrath; John Mullan, Gerald Bradley; Mark McGuigan, Cormac O’Doherty, Richie Mullan; Odhran McKeever, Brian Cassidy, Sé McGuigan. (Subs): Shea Cassidy for O McKeever, 49mins; Brendan Laverty for R Mullan, 67mins;

Donegal: Luke White; Padraig Doherty, Stephen Gillespie, Mark Callaghan; Christopher McDermott, Gavin Browne, Michael Donaghue; Declan Coulter, Danny Cullen; Bernard Lafferty, Richie Ryan, Greg Gilmore; Sean McVeigh, Ronan McDermott, Ciaran Matthewson. (Subs): Sean McVeigh for M Callaghan, HT; Ryan Hilferty for P Doherty, 60mins;

Yellow Cards: P Doherty, 39mins; Sean McVeigh, 53mins.

Red Cards: C O'Grady, 67mins;

Referee: James Clarke