Derry dig deep to defeat Westmeath and make All Ireland knock-out phase

Diarmuid Baker was superb as Derry defeated Westmeath to make the All Ireland knockout phase. Photo: George SweeneyDiarmuid Baker was superb as Derry defeated Westmeath to make the All Ireland knockout phase. Photo: George Sweeney
Diarmuid Baker was superb as Derry defeated Westmeath to make the All Ireland knockout phase. Photo: George Sweeney
All Ireland Series, Group 1

Derry 2-07, Westmeath 0-09

Derry took an important first step on the road to recovery as goals from Conor McClusky and Emmett Bradley secured victory over Westmeath and with it passage into the knockout phase of the All Ireland Senior Football Championship.

This four point win over Westmeath won't quiet all the critics - and it was far from perfect - but this was Derry fighting for their pride. And Derry won, at least this battle.

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The victory was anything but straightforward for Mickey Harte's men but with Conor Glass excellent as Derry's defensive shield and corner back Diarmuid Baker setting up both goals in a 'Man of the Match' display, this was a much improved display from the league champions.

The result was as much about character as anything else, especially when Westmeath had the game back to the minimum in the second half and looked well set to score a shock victory. Derry's season was in the balance but the Oak Leaf players came out swinging to land a knock-out blow courtesy of Bradley's goal which secured a deserved victory.

Eoin McEvoy and Ciaran McFaul were two Derry changes from the 15 that started against Armagh, injured duo Conor Doherty and Niall Toner dropping out, but there was no great tactical switch from the Oak Leafers other than to drop Glass that bit deeper. He was detailed to patrol the edge the of the scoring zone and ensure nothing easy slipped inside but Derry by and large persisted with their high pressing pressure game. And there was the odd nervous moment, Brendan Rogers and Bradley both turned over inside the opening 15 minutes and leaving Westmeath with grass to run into.

And that was particularly dangerous given the form the lively Ronan O'Toole was in for Westmeath. The Mullingar flyer was at the heart of everything positive his side managed in an eye catching performance.

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But by and large, however, the first half was about Derry. With confidence having taken a hit Derry were in rebuilding mode but they slowly played their way into a deserved three point interval lead thanks to McCluskey's cracking 32nd minute goal.

Harte's men were a one behind at that point with Westmeath's counter attacking game-plan aimed at playing on Derry's defensive insecurity but the goal put a different complexion on the game.

A Glass '45' got Derry up and running bu there was never more than a point between them until McCluskey hit the net, although Odhran Lynch had to be alert to block a goal-bound James Dolan effort. O'Toole grabbed a brace to ease Westmeath 0-2 to 0-1 in front 11 minutes in before a lovely Lachlan Murray brought parity.

Twice more Dessie Dolan's men hit the front through Jamie Gonoud and another O'Toole score and twice more Derry responded through the impressive Eunan Mulholland and a Shane McGuigan free.

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Then came the goal which owed everything to a brilliant inside run from corner-back Diarmuid Baker. The Steelstown ghosted through the Westmeath rearguard and had the presence of mind to pick out club mate, Donncha Gilmore. McCluskey arrived right on cue to take the pass and blast a lovely finish high into the Westmeath net.

With Mulholland tagging on his second score of the half, Derry went into the break three to the good at 1-05 to 0-5.Ronan Wallace almost sneaked in on goal upon the restart, McGuigan of all people the player to win the ensuing break only yards from the Derry goal. James Dolan did reduce the deficit with the half's opening point but it was quickly cancelled out by another McGuigan free.

Glass proved his worth at both ends of the pitch by plucking Wallace's '45' out of the air from under his own crossbar before splitting the posts with a great score at the opposite end to take Derry lead out to four on 49 minutes.

The Oak Leafers seemed to have the game where they wanted it but the instant impact of three Westmeath substitutes swung the pendulum once more as Robbie Forde, Stephen Smith and Jack Smith scored within minutes of entering the fray, the latter's a sublime long range effort.

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With one between them at 1-07 to 0-9 and the game inside its final 10 minutes, the momentum was with Westmeath. Derry needed a response and got it from Emmet Bradley but once again the goal was down to Baker who burst through the Westmeath defence, drew the defence and teed up Bradley to crash home a winning strike that carried Derry through.

Plenty of work remains but these Derry players proved they are not about to go quietly.

Derry scorers: Emmett Bradley (1-0), Conor McCluskey (1-0), Shane McGuigan (0-2, 2f), Conor Glass (0-2, 1 '45'), Lachlan Murray (0-1), Eunan Mulholland (0-2)

Westmeath scorers: Ronan O'Toole (0-3), Jamie Gonoud (0-1), Ray Connellan (0-1), James Dolan (0-1), Robbie Forde (0-1), Stephen Smith (0-1), Jack Smith (0-1),

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Derry: Odhran Lynch, Conor McCluskey, Christopher McKaigue, Diarmuid Baker, Ciaran McFaul, Eoin McEvoy, Donncha Gilmore, Conor Glass, Brendan Rogers, Ethan Doherty, Emmett Bradley, Paul Cassidy, Eunan Mulholland, Shane McGuigan, Lachlan Murray. (Subs) Declan Cassidy for L Murray, 61mins; Ruairi Forbes for E Bradley, 64mins; Cormac Murphy for E Mulholland, 64mins; Shea Downey for P Cassidy, 70mins.

Westmeath: Jason Daly, Jamie Gonoud, Charlie Drumm, Kevin Maguire, James Dolan, Ronan Wallace, #david Lynch, Ray Connellan, Andy McCormack, Jonathan Lynam, Ronan O'Toole, Sam McCartan, Luke Loughlin, John Heslin, Senan Baker. (Subs) Robbie Forde for J Lynam, 49mins; Stephen Smith for L Loughlin, 49mins; Jack Smith for S Baker, 56mins; Shane Allen for J Gonoud, 57mins; Kieran Martin for J Dolan, 70mins.

Referee: Paul Faloon (Down)

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