Derry 0-09, Cavan 0-11
Derry Under 20s were made to pay for missed opportunities as a late rally sent Cavan through to the Ulster Final at the Athletic Grounds on Friday night.
The Oak Leafers looked to have seized control of a tight game when they lead 0-7 to 0-5 early in the second half with Lachlan Murray having a free to put Derry three points to the good in a match of very small margins. Murray, who was playing despite picking up a midweek injury, dropped his free agonisingly short and it signalled a change of momentum as Cavan grabbed the initiative complete a four point swing and lead 0-8 to 0-7 by the end of the third quarter.
With the game in the balance another three point burst from the Breffni men, inspired by the superb Fionntan O'Reilly took the game away from a Derry side who were unable to turn some promising position into scores at crucial junctures.
Charlie Diamond's late point proved too little, too late but the result was harsh on a Derry panel who have seen their build up hampered by injury and unavailability as names like Matthew and Callum Downey, Eoin McEvoy and Jack Scullion saw no football at the Under 20 grade this year.
There was no lack of effort from a Derry team that gave everything, but given the control they had at times, this was one that got away.
Derry made one change from the team that started last week's victory over Antrim, Odhran McLarnon, who was introduced off the bench against the Saffrons, getting the nod ahead of Ryan McEldowney.
There was an early blow for the Oak Leafers though when Donacha Gilmore was forced off with a dislocated shoulder, McEldowney's sabbatical on the bench lasting only seven minutes before he was on to replace the unfortunate Steelstown man.
That substitution arrived with Cavan already two points to the good courtesy of two of their most impressive performers, Darragh Lovett and O'Reilly, the former operating as a lone inside man but he was well marshalled by Patrick McGurk.
Cavan were on top in those opening minutes but Derry settled and should have hit the net only three minutes in when Cormac McKeogh's loose pass was seized upon by Odhran McLarnon who sent Lachlan Murray clear but the Desertmartin man shot too close to Cavan keeper Jake Norris and the chance was gone.
Both sides were operating identical systems with possession king in an opening half during which both teamss filtered men inside the '45 and sought to hit with pace on the break. Patrick O'Kane was sweeping for Derry, Tiarnan Madden performing a similar role for Cavan.
Despite owning most of the ball for the first 10 minutes, Paddy Bradley's men had to wait until the 12th minute for their opening score, Diamond, who hit six frees against Antrim, again the man on target for Derry to bring it back to 0-2 to 0-1. O'Reilly answered with the second of his three first half points but again Derry came close to a goal when Niall O'Donnell's fierce 25 yard strike ended up over the bar via the top of the crossbar with Norris scrambling to cover the shot.
Seconds later Dan Higgins had tied the game with a lovely score but again Cavan found a reply and again it was O'Reilly on target, this time from a free.
There was nothing between the sides as Jamie Duggan strode up from the back to level for Derry with an audacious effort off the outside of his left foot on 22 minutes and one minute later the Oak Leafers were in front for the first time thanks to another Diamond free.
However, in keeping with a first half of small margins, Cavan were level once more, corner-back Cormac Brady this time the man to split the posts impressively as the sides turned around at 0-5 apiece.
A Diamond free edged Derry back in front two minutes after the restart but there was a let off for the Oak Leafers minutes later when Peter Devine and Cathal Leddy combined to send Niall Carolan clear but the ball slipped from his grasp as he threatened to go clear on the Derry goal.
That miss looked costly as a superb high catch brought Diamond an advanced mark from which he extended the lead to 0-7 to 0-5 and should have been further clear but Cavan rallied to hit three unanswered points as the Derry kick-out faltered for the first time in the game. It allowed substitute Caolainn Reilly, Turlough Madden and O'Reilly again to put Cavan back in front for the first time since the 22nd minute.
Derry reacted by introducing Edna Downey for his first appearance since being injured in the McKenna Cup semi-final against Donegal in February but Cavan's well manned defensive unit was frustrating an Derry attack that was often too intricate with its passing.
Substitute Mark Dixon had Derry level though with a free with his first touch but Cavan's bench eventually proved the difference as Conor Casey became the second Breffni sub to score and O'Reilly added two more points to take the game out of Derry's reach.
A late Diamond point was scant consolation for the Oak Leafers. They left everything on the pitch and Paddy Bradley could ask for no more from his players but this one got away from them with injuries and their disjointed build-up eventually catching up on them.
Derry scorers: Charlie Diamond (0-5, 2f, 1m), Niall O'Donnell (0-1), Dan Higgins (0-1), Jamie Duggan (0-1), Mark Dixon (0-1, 1f),
Cavan scorers: Fionntan O'Reilly (0-6, 1f, 1m), Darragh Lovett (0-1, 1m), Cormac Brady (0-1), Caolinn Reilly (0-1), Turlough Farrelly (0-1), Conor Casey (0-1),
Derry: Kian McGonigle, Patrick McGurk, Jamie Duggan, Adam McGonigle, Aidan McCloskey, Conor Shiels, Donncha Gilmore, Dan Higgins, Patrick O'Kane, Mark Doherty, Odhran McLarnon, Oran McMenamin, Charlie Diamond, Lachlan Murray, Niall O'Donnell. (Subs) Ryan McEldowney for D Gilmore (inj), 10mins; Enda Downey for O McLarnon, 42mins; Ronan McFaul for O McMenamin, 50mins; Mark Dixon for C Shiels, 53mins;
Yellow Cards: P O'Kane, 61mins;
Cavan: Jake Norris, Cormac Brady, Cian Reilly, Eoghan Hartin, Niall Carolan, Cathal Leddy, Cormac McKeogh, Evan Kelly, Brian O'Rourke, Peter Devine, Fionntan O'Reilly, Tiarnan Madden, Darragh Lovett, Fergal Smith, Turlough Farrelly. (Subs) Caolainn O'Reilly for F Smith, 38mins; Daire Madden for P Devine, 47mins; Aaron Reel for C McKeogh, 47mins; Sean Og McGearty for C Brady, 56mins; Conor Casey for T Farrelly, 56mins,
Yellow Cards: F Smith, 36mins; T Madden, 62mins;
Referee: Darren O'Hare (Down)