Derry held as Leitrim earned deserved Celtic Park draw
Allianz National League, Division Three
Derry 2-11, Leitrim 1-14
Derry's promotion hopes suffered an early blow as they were held by Leitrim in their Division Three opener in Celtic Park on Saturday evening.
Indeed it took two late points from Ben McCarron and Ciaran McFaul to rescue a game that looked in danger of getting away from Derry who struggled to breakdown a Leitrim team whose counter-attacking game gave Derry problems through the 70 odds minutes.
Keith Beirne was the Leitrim hero, hitting 0-9 which included seven frees and one '45' as Derry's were constant;ly punished in the tackle. A late sin binning for Leitrim's Domhnaill Flynn and a red card for Derry's Carlus McWilliams capped a frantic finale with Leitrim trying to hold possession but the visitors more than deserved their share of the spoils.
It was only 10 months since the side met in the Division Four decider in Croke Park last March but from those respective line-ups Derry retained only six starters and Leitrim seven, the Connacht men also showing eight changes from the team humbled by Roscommon in the FBd Connacht League.
Derry's survivors were Brendan Rogers and Chrissy McKaigue, both returning after All Ireland club hurling duty with Slaughtneil, Conor Doherty, Emmet Bradley, Ryan Bell and Christopher Bradley.
Gallagher was still without Karl McKaigue, Padraig Cassidy, Niall Holly and Ruairi Mooney, all injured, as well as the likes of Shea Downey who had impressed in the McKenna Cup.
Despite the absentees, Derry still went in as favourites but the first half did not unfold as the home fans would have wished with Leitrim's deep .lying defensive formation taking advantage of some very loose Derry passing which all too often proved the springboard for Leitrim counter attacks.
Derry were leaving Ryan Bell and Ben McCarron inside but with 14 Leitrim men back inside the visitors' '45' the two forward were often starved of possession.
It took seven minutes for either side to trouble the scoreboard, Ciaran McFaul eventually splitting the posts for the evening's first score but within four minutes they were 0-3 to 0-1 down as the impressive Keith Beirne grabbed two frees and Shane Moran, wearing nine but operating at full forward, scored for Leitrim.
That was impressive but Terry Hyland's team must have been pinching themselves on 13 minutes their two point lead became five courtesy of the of the game's opening goal. A high Domhnaill Flynn shot dropped short but forced Derry keeper off his line to punch under pressure from Moran. Lynch's punch was decent but a lack of support meant Cillian McGloin was in acres of space as he gathered it, turned and fired an emphatic shot high into the Oak Leaf net.
Derry were stunned but responded well thanks to points from Emmett Bradley (two, one free) and Ryan Bell '45' as Eoghan Duffy had seen an excellent goal chance saved by the feet of Leitrim keeper Diarmuid McKiernan with Ben McCarron free at the back post.
That left only the minimum between the teams at 0-6 to 1-4 but Leitrim quickly dispelled any notion that Derry were now in the ascendency with three points of their own, again, exploiting Derry loose passing to launching counter attacks that ended with points for Beirne and Darragh Rooney before another Beirne point left it 0-6 to 1-07 with three minute sof the half remaining.
Derry looked shell shocked but produced a five point swing in the half's remaining minutes, a momentum swing that owed much to Gavin O'Neill's driving runs from midfield which gave Derry what they had been missing for the majority of the half - someone to break the Leitirm lines.
First O'Neill's acceleration through the middle took him deep inside the Leitrim '45' with Emmet Bradley in support. O'Neill drew the remaining defenders before popping a hand pass right to Bradley who still had plenty to do but the Glen man was more than capable, stepping inside before unleashing a brilliant high finish into the net.
Suddenly, with one between the side again, the wind was in Derry sails and the turnaround was completed thanks to a lovely point from Eoghan Duffy and a superb long range effort from captain Chrissy McKaigue which left Derry going into the changing rooms one to the good at 1-08 to 1-07.
The visitors intentions for the second period were signalled inside 20 seconds of the restart with Domhnaill Flynn scoring a huge point to level matters before Beirne's 45 edged Leitrim back in front, the same player's two subsequent frees leaving the Connacht mean 1-11 to 1-08 up by the 45th minute.
Derry responded by introducing Shane McGuigan and the Slaughtneil's mean impact was instant, holding off three defenders to hit the net from close range after Ryan Bell had done well to recycle a high ball Leitrim keeper McKiernan couldn't hold.
That levelled things once more at 2-08 to 1-11 but almost immediately Beirne edged his side back in front with his eighth free of a very productive afternoon, Shane Moran then extending the lead to 1-13 to 2-08 with his third of the day.
Shane McGuigan replied with a lovely free but entering the final 10 minutes, Leitrim still led and it was an advantage extended by Beirne's ninth score of the afternoon which left two between them.
That set up the grandstand finish with McCarron's and McFaul's points could have been the catalyst for a scarcely deserved victory but not sooner were Derry level, than Leitrim shut up shop once more. Derry had struggled to break it down all evening and couldn't manage it in injury time.
Leitrim were celebrating at the final whistle but it was Derry who should be the more relieved. League's are never decided on opening weeks but there is plenty of work to do.
Derry scorers: Shane McGuigan (1-1, 1f), Ciaran McFaul (0-1), Emmet Bradley (1-2, 2f), Ryan Bell (0-2, 1f, 1 '45'), Eoghan Duffy (0-1), Chrissy McKaigue (0-1), Ben McCarron (0-1); Ciaran McFaul (0-1),
Leitrim scorers: Cillian McGloin (1-0), Keith Beirne (0-9, 7f, 1 '45'), Shane Moran (0-3), Darragh Rooney (0-1), Domhnaill Flynn (0-1)
Derry: Odhran Lynch, Conor McCluskey, Padraig McGrogan, Liam McGoldrick, Brendan Rogers, Chrissy McKaigue, Conor Doherty, Gavin O'Neill, Emmett Bradley, Eoghan Duffy, Danny Tallon, Ciaran McFaul, Ben McCarron, Ryan Bell, Christopher Bradley.
(Subs) Shane McGuigan for C Bradley, 41mins; Niall Toner for G O'Neill, 53mins; Niall Keenan for L McGoldrick, 55mins; Alex Doherty for E Duffy, 60mins; Carlus McWilliams for C Doherty, 65mins;
Yellow cards: C McFaul, 44mins;
Red Cards: C McWilliams, 73mins;
Leitrim: Diarmuid McKiernan, Conor Reynolds, Fergal McTague, Paddy Maguire, Aidan Flynn, Jack Gilheaney, Cillian McGlion, Donal Wrynn, Shane Moran, Shane Quinn, Dean McGovern, Domhaill Flynn, Oisin McCaffrey, Darragh Rooney, Keith Beirne.
(Subs) Oisin McLaughlin for O McCaffrey, 53mins; Riordan O'Rourke for C McGloin, 68mins; David Bruen for D McGovern, 70mins;
Yellow cards: J Gilheaney, 17mins; S Moran 45mins; F McTeague, 64mins; D Rooney, 67mins;
Referee: Noel Mooney (Cavan)