Derry start 2023 with Fermanagh victory after improved second half display

Bank of Ireland Dr. McKenna Cup, Section B

Fermanagh 1-04, Derry 0-11

Derry are off and running in 2023 after an ultimately deserved - if at times unconvincing - Dr McKenna Cup, Section B victory over a dogged Fermanagh side in Ederney on Sunday.

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Rory Gallagher's men trailed by 1-02 to 0-04 at half-time after 35 minutes in which Kieran Donnelly's team registered seven wides. The Erne county's deep lying counter attacking game was feeding off too many uncharacteristic errors from the Ulster champions whose first half display had pre-season ring rust stamped all over it. Even the ever reliable Shane McGuigan was sending routines frees high and wides during a half which Fermanagh should have been further ahead.

Derry manager Rory Gallagher.

The question at half-time was could the home side maintain the ferocious pace and intensity they had shown before the whistle or would Derry's undoubted quality, even minus their Glen contingent - eventually show. The answer proved the latter as Derry set up a 'winner take all' clash with Tyrone in Owenbeg on Wednesday night.

Despite the low key nature of the season opener, played out on the immaculate Ederney surface which the constant rain made increasingly slippery, a number of Oak Leaf players impressed, notably Conor McCluskey, who was the catalyst for most of Derry's attacking play. All Ireland winning minor, Eoin McEvoy, also slotted in seamlessly with another of Martin Boyle's 2021 heroes, Lachlan Murray scoring two lovely points.

Using 11 of the players that started against Galway in Croke Park last July, Derry started with Brendan Rogers - despite wearing his traditional No. 3 shirt - deployed at midfield alongside Paul Cassidy and Anton Tohill acting as a target man beside Niall Loughlin. Fermanagh, knowing only a win would keep them in the competition their an opening day defeat to Tyrone, used Ultan Kelm as a target man, but sat deep and looked to get runners up in support of him. If anything, the Fermanagh shape and tactics mirrored Derry's and the home side's greater intensity and longer preparation time gave them the edge in the opening half and they would pay for not making the most of their superiority.

The opening exchanges were tit-for-tat, the impressive Johnny Cassidy opening the scoring only to see it cancelled out McGuigan who was teed up by Tohill. There was little between the teams until Fermanagh put together the one quality move of the half and it resulted in a superb goal for Garvan Jones. McGuigan was caught in possession yards inside the home half and in an instant, Fermanagh were off into the space. Kelm made ground, fed the supporting Ryan Jones who picked out his brother Garvan to produce a lovely low finish under Odhran lynch for a 1-1 to 0-1 lead 10 minutes in.

The goal galvanised Fermanagh but they would hit only one more point in the half despite plenty of chances while Derry eased their way back into the game through points from Murray (2) and a McGuigan free as the teams turned around with one between them.

Derry introduced Benny Heron for Niall Toner at the break and with their manager's half-time words no doubt ringing in their ears, produced a much improved second 35 which limited Fermanagh to only two second half points, only one of which was from play, substitute Conor McGee's late effort.

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Otherwise it was a tale of Derry control as they ate into the Fermanagh lead through Conor Doherty and Niall Loughlin before, almost inevitably, taking the lead on through Shane McGuigan midway through the half.

A brilliant '45' from Loughlin followed and was added to by another McGuigan effort, this time with the fist for 0-9 to 1-03. Two more McGuigan efforts, the last with the game's final kick, rubber stamped the victory and while it was never pretty, it was a more than useful first run out of 2023.

Derry scorers: Shane McGuigan (0-6, 3f), Lachlan Murray (0-2), Niall Loughlin (0-2, 1 '45'), Conor Doherty (0-1),

Fermanagh scorers: Garvan Jones, (1-2, 2f),Jonathan Cassidy (0-1), Conor McGee (0-1),

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Derry: Odhran Lynch, Chrissy McKaigue, Brendan Rogers, Conor McCluskey, Conor Doherty, Gareth McKinless, Padraig McGrogan, Eoin McEvoy, Anton Tohill, Padraig Cassidy, Paul Cassidy, Lachlan Murray, Niall Toner, Shane McGuigan, Niall Loughlin. (Subs) Benny Heron for N Toner, HT; Oisin McWilliams for A Tohill, 48mins; Declan Cassidy for Padraig Cassidy, 66mins;

Fermanagh: Sean McNally, Garrett Cavanagh, Che Cullen, Luke Flanagan, Shane McGullion, Jonathan Cassidy, Declan McCusker, Ryan Jones, Ryan Lyons, Fionan O'Brien, Ultan Kelm, Aidan Breen, Conor McShea, Garvan Jones, Brandon Horan. (Subs) Conor McGee for F O'Brien, 60mins; Danny Leonard for C McShea, 60mins; Diarmuid King for G Jones, 62mins; Danny Leonard for C McShea, 63mins;

Referee: Conor Curran (Down)