Derry lose out to Monaghan but plenty of positives for Rory Gallagher
Bank of Ireland Dr. McKenna Cup, Section A
Monaghan 1-17, Derry 0-14
Rory Gallagher's debut ended in defeat but there was more than enough to encourage the new Oak Leaf boss against Monaghan in Inniskeen on Sunday.
Monaghan's ability to introduce experience off the bench in the final quarter ultimately decided this season opener after Derry had fought back from a disastrous first eight minutes which saw them trail 1-03 to no score.
If those opening eight minutes had Derry fans worried, the next 50 gave plenty of reason for optimism as the visitors fought back to lead by three points late in the second half before the Farney county's Division One nous helped them edge an encounter that rarely looked a six point game.
There was a youthful look to Gallagher's first selection as Oak Leaf boss in which Conor McCluskey and Padraig McGrogan backboned the defensive unit alongside Ryan Dougan who had license to roam and was superb throughout.
At the other end, Streelstown's Ben McCarron was back in the competition he lit up so memorably 12 months previously with a hat-trick on his senior debut against Fermanagh. The Brain Ogs man was operating inside with Ryan Bell who provided an ideal target for Ciaran McFaul's exquisite passing the opening half.
The Glen playmaker filled the quarter-final role as Derry's middle section moved as one, dropping back within their 45 out of possession but bursting forward as soon as possession was secured. It was transition football rather than defensive, a tag Derry's new manager is often tagged with.
Bell and McCarron remained inside throughout the opening half with Gallagher charging the likes of Danny Tallon, Paudie Cassidy, Declan Cassidy, Eoghan Duffy and Emmet Bradley with providing the support.
In all, there were five debuts handed out as Shea Downey, Declan Cassidy, Oisin McWilliams, Eogahn Duffy and Alex Doherty made their first senior appearance in the red and white.
Monaghan themselves deployed only big target man Gary Mohan at full forward but had any number of willing off the shoulder runners ready to join the attack as the game developed into a fascinating counter attacking battle in which turnovers were worth their weight in gold.
That battle came later. First up was a Monaghan team flying out of the blocks to shell shock Derry. The home accrued four yellow cards in the opening 12 minutes, an indication of the intensity of their approach and it took Derry time to adjust.
By the time they had, Conor McCarthy, Rory Beggan (45) and Micheal Bannigan had registered points with the excellent aaron Mulligan taking advantage of a loose Derry pass out of defence to slid a low finish under Thomas Mallon for the game's only goal.
Derry had dug themselves a six point hole but the manner in which they got themselves out of it offered a glimpse of Gallagher's new Oak Leafers.
Patience was key with Derry players recycling possession, often well inside their own '45', in a bid to entice Monaghan onto them before then springing into the spaces and hitting Bell with the long ball.
It worked well as Derry hit five successive points through Emmet Bradley (free), McCarron (free) and Ryan Bell (3), two of Bell's scores coming after he had won the new attacking mark but chose to play on.
Dessie Ward got Monaghan's first score for 18 minutes to stretch the home lead to two but the remainder of the opening half belonged to Derry. first Emmet Bradley spotted a gap to surge through and tap over before McCarron and Padriag Cassidy combined to tee up McFaul for another lovely score.
Cnor Mccluskey had to be alert at the other end as Mohan flashed a centre across goal which only need the faintest of touches but a late Bell free capped a seven point first half turnaround of the Oak Leafers went into halt-time leading by 1-4 to 0-08.
Monaghan manager Seamus McEnaney introduced Kieran Hughes at half-time and Gallagher responded by handing Dougan the job of keeping him quiet.
McCarron's second point of the game got Derry off and running but a huge Bannigan point kept Monaghan in touch.
Jack Doherty then got himself on the end of a flowing Derry move instigated by the impressive Downey and when a lovely Christopher Bradley shimmy bought the Slaughtneil man enough space to point from an acute angle, Derry were 0-11 to 1-5 up and in control.
Mulligan and Emmet Bradley swapped points before the Monaghan man narrowed the gap to two points with Hughes getting his first of the day to make it a one point game by the 53rd minute.
When Ward levelled minutes later Monaghan had wrestled control back, Derry seemingly paying the price for the effort put into closing the first half deficit.
Jack McCarron's impressive cameo for Monaghan included two points, the first of which put Monaghan in front for the first time since the 17th minute but this time they would not lose it.
Hughes extended the gap to two points before Emmet Bradley brought it back to the minimum with 10 minutes to play.
With the game in the balance, Karl O'Connell sent Mulligan through to put but crucially, the Derry kick-out misfired on the restart handing Mulligan a second point for a three point lead that was the cushion Monaghan needed.
Two Rory Beggan frees, O'Connor's second score and a barry McBennett point in between another Emmet Bradley score gave the hosts' victory a gloss it probably didn't merit.
There was still enough time for Monaghan's Dermot Malone and Derry Ciaran McFaul to experience the new sin bin but with only seconds remaining, it mattered little.
Derry move on to a home tie against Donegal in Celtic Park on January 8th and despite defeat, this was a positive performance they can build on.
Monaghan scorers: Aaron Mulligan (1-4, 2f), Conor McCarthy (0-1), Rory Beggan (0-3, 2f, 1 '45'), Micheal Bannigan (0-2), Dessie Ward (0-2), Kieran Hughes (0-2), Jack McCarron (0-2), Barry McBennett (0-1),
Derry Scorers: Emmet Bradley (0-5, 2f), Ryan Bell (0-4, 1f), Ben McCarron (0-2, 1f), Ciaran McFaul (0-1), Jack Doherty (0-1), Christopher Bradley (0-1),
DERRY: Thomas Mallon, Conor McCluskey, Padraig McGrogan, Ryan Dougan, Ciaran McFaul, Shea Downey, Declan Cassidy, Padraig Cassidy, Emmett Bradley, Danny Tallon, Christopher Bradley, Oisin McWilliams, Ben McCarron, Eoghan Duffy, Ryan Bell.
(Subs) Jack Doherty for O McWilliams, HT; Niall Toner for D Tallon, 49mins; Alex Doherty for B McCarron , 54mins; Conor McAtamney for E Duffy, 60mins;
Sin Bin: Ciaran McFaul, 68mins.
MONAGHAN: Rory Beggan, Ryan O'Toole, Conor Boyle, Colin Walshe, Padraic Keenan, Ryan Wylie, Micheál Bannigan, Barry McBennett, Darren Hughes, Aaron Mulligan, Andrew Woods, Philip Donnelly, Conor McCarthy, Gary Mohan, Dessie Ward.
(Subs) Kieran Hughes for G Mohan, HT; Dermot Malone for P Donnelly, 37mins; Jack McCarron for Andrew Woods, 50mins; Niall Kearns for D Hughes, 56mins; Karl O'Connell for P Keenan, 60mins;
Yellow cards; Dessie Ward 1mins; Micheal Bannigan 1mins; Ryan Wylie 6mins; Darren Huges 11mins, Colin Walshe 50mins;
Sin Bin: Dermot Malone, 68mins.
Referee: Padraig Hughes (Armagh)