Derry lose out to Mayo in thrilling league opener in Castlebar
Allianz National Hurling League, Division 2B
Mayo 0-21, Derry 1-16
If Derry are to be promoted from Allianz Division 2B they will have to do the hard way after coming up just short in a thrilling league opener in McHale Park on Sunday.
The hosts just about deserved the two point win which leaves them in the box seat for top spot and automatic promotion but Derry will be frustrated after an inconsistent display that highlighted both the Oak Leafers' potential and their lack of recent action. While Mayo looked that little bit sharper, when Derry clicked into gear, which they frustratingly only did for limited spells throughout the game, they had their hosts on the rack without ever being able to fully push home the advantage.
Most notably, after turning around at half-time five points down at 0-10 to 0-5, the Oak Leafers hit the opening three scores of the second half through Paul Cleary and new captain, Cormac O'Doherty and Mayo were reeling. However, just when they should have pushed on, Derry dropped off again and from 0-9 to 0-11, Mayo hit three unanswered scores to give themselves a five point lead that ultimately got them over the line despite a frantic finale.
Niall Ferris' opportunistic goal with 10 minutes left after great work by Richie Mullan had Derry right back in it one handling error too many at just the wrong time let Mayo off the hook in a game from which new management team Dominic McKinley and Cormac Donnelly will still have taken plenty from.
The lack of match practise was obvious and the frustration for Derry is with such a short league season this year, this one result means they are already relying on favours from other sides if they are to stay in the hunt for promotion.
McKinley and Donnelly were forced into two late changes prior to their first match in charge with Paul Cleary and Eoghan Cassidy stepping in for injured duo Brian McGilligan and John Mullan but it was a positive start from the visitors.
Employing Brian Cassidy and Se McGuigan inside with Gerald Bradley sweeping in front of his full back line, it took only one minute for Niall Ferris to grab the first score of the new management team's reign, splitting the posts after good work from Mark McGuigan to level Shane Boland's even earlier free.
Mayo had the benefit of the considerable McHale Park breeze in the opening half and took every opportunity to shoot, Adrian Philips in particular keen to try his luck with three first half points but also five wides.
Derry themselves hit eight first half wides and missed two gilt edged goal chances but Derry's main problem in the opening 35 minutes wasn't the breeze, it was an inability to make possession stick inside the Mayo half. With the full back and defensive line in first operating well, Derry looked to have a good structure, rather it was the mechanics of passing and retaining possession in Mayo's half which let them down as the home side dominated the aerial exchanges
Of course, after the Covid enforced sabbatical of recent months and a very limited pre-season without any challenge games, a certain amount of rustiness was to be expected.
In Shane Boland, Mayo had one of the game's outstanding players and his ability from frees meant even with 13 first half wides, Derek Walsh's side were still in charge. However had Brain Cassidy's second minute shot been two inches to the right it would have nestled in the home net rather than striking the posts and in those moments games are won and lost.
The hosts led 0-5 to 0-2 at the first water break and managed only three Cormac O'Doherty frees in the second quarter but again, the only goal chance belonged to Derry when the excellent Richie Mullan broke clear but with two team-mates on his right awaiting a pass for an easy goal, the Kevin Lynch's man over hit his pass and the ball drifted wide.
Still Mayo were well worth their five point half time advantage but Derry's blistering start to the second half had them rattled and should have been the catalyst for Derry lead.
Instead, Mayo rallied, Boland again the man to settle home nerves and alongside Keith Higgins the Tooreen forward was the main reason for the home victory, finishing with 0-8 (6f) but many of them at crucial junctures in the game.
Derry looked out of it at 0-18 to 0-11 approaching the third quarter but dug deep once more with Ferris' close range finish from Mullan's lovely run and pass sowing a few seeds of doubt in the home team.
O'Doherty and Mayo substitute Brian Hunt swapped scores for 0-19 to 1-12 before Brian Cassidy and O'Doherty (2) had Derry dreaming of the big finish at 0-19 to 1-15.
Mayo were on the ropes and looking dazed but when they needed settling, that man Boland stepped up again, scoring an outrageous over the shoulder effort from out way under the main stand the give his team breathing space.
Derry fought on with a couple of scrambles and Gerald Bradley's flashing effort going over the bar but Hunt's late point on the break confirmed the win and leaved Derry playing catch up.
Mayo scorers: Shane Boland (0-8, 6f), Adrian Phillips (0-3), Keith Higgins (0-3, 1f), Sean Regan (0-2), Gerald Kelly (0-1), John Cassidy (0-1), Cathal Freeman (0-1), Brian Hunt (0-2),
Derry scorers: Cormac O'Doherty (0-11, 9f, 1 sixty-five), Niall Ferris (1-2), Paul Cleary (0-1), Brian Cassidy (0-1), Gerald Bradley (0-1)
Mayo: Gerald Kelly, Stephen Coyne, Michael Morley, Sean Kenny, John Cassidy, Pearse McCrann, David Kenny; Kieran Kiely, Daniel Huane; Adrian Philips, Cathal reman, Sean Regan; Jason Coyne, Keith Higgins, Shane Boland. (Subs) Eoin Delaney for J Coyne, 47mins; Brian Hunt for P McCrann, 50mins; Cormac Philips fort A Philips, 66mins Sean Mulroy for D Huane, 37mins;
Derry: Oisin O'Doherty, Conor Kelly, Sean Cassidy, Darragh Cartin; Darragh McCloskey, Paul Cleary, Meehaul McGrath; Richie Mullan, Gerald Bradley; Mark McGuigan, Cormac O'Doherty, Eoghan Cassidy; Brian Cassidy, Se McGuigan, NiaIl Ferris. (Subs) Ruairi McWilliams for D Cartin (inj) 14mins; Deaglan Foley for M McGuigan, 53mins; Thomas Brady for S McGuigan, 60mins;
Referee: Richie Fitzsimons (Offaly)