Heartbreak for Derry minors as Armagh advance to 2021 Ulster semi-final with single point win

Electric Ireland 2021 Ulster Minor Football Championship Quarter-final

Wednesday, 28th July 2021, 9:31 pm
Updated Wednesday, 28th July 2021, 9:32 pm
Derry’s Ryan McNicholl pulls away from Armagh’s Michael Burnett and Fergal O’Brien during Wednesday evening’s game at Owenbeg. (Photo: George Sweeney).

Derry 0-11, Armagh 0-12

Following the highs of Tullamore a fortnight ago, Derry experienced to opposite end of the Championship spectrum at Owenbeg on Wednesday night as Armagh condemned the Oak Leaf Minors of 2021 to a Quarter-final exit with a single point victory.

A second Ulster run always looked a tall order for Martin Boyle's men given the extended run of the All Ireland winning 2020s but this game was there for the young Oak Leafers who dominated the opening half before being unable to withstand a vastly improved Orchard display in the second half.

Derry’s Ruairi Forbes and Armagh’s Callum O’Neill battle for possession in Owenbeg during Wednesday evening’s game. (Photo: George Sweeney)

Even then, there was little between the sides with Callum O'Neill's injury time point eventually separating the teams with a late free from Derry substitute Conor Bateson drifting inches wide in a game of fine margins.

Armagh's second half changes had a huge influence on proceedings as Ethan McKenna and Bernard Cassidy made impressive cameos. In the end Derry paid the price for missed opportunities and a lack of composure in front of the posts. They had enough chances to win but 22 minutes without a score in the second half ultimately cost them a game they looked in control of prior to that passage.

Bateson's lovely 59th minute free had levelled the game going into five minutes of added time but Armagh had all the momentum with O'Neill's excellent late score a worthy, if harsh, winner.

A low key opening quarter was more chess game than championship as the sides probed and felt their way into a game which was more sanitised than the large Owenbeg crowd would have been expecting.

Limiting mistakes was taking precedence over creating chances and there was a distinct lack of urgency though Derry always looked the more assured team in possession against an Armagh 15 set up to counter attack at speed.

Indeed, the subdued tempo suited Derry more than the Orchard County and as the half wore on Derry's dominance of the ball began to pay dividends before the half-time whistle eventually arrived with the Oak Leafers leading 0-8 to 0-5.

Patrick McGurk and Jack McGroarty were impressing in a Derry performance with plenty of width while Glenullin's Ryan McNicholl and Lavey's Rory McGill was another to catch the eye.

Armagh actually bossed the opening two minutes before Derry opened their account through a McNicholl score but the opening quarter was tit-for-tat on the scoreboard.

Cianan Campbell levelled matters before Niall O'Donnell and Rogan McVeigh swapped scores for 0-2 apiece by the fifth minute. That trend continued until the first half water break with Dungiven's Eion Higgins edging Derry ahead again only for Tadgh Grimley to peg it back, Jack McGroarty and an Aaron O'Neill free ensuring parity at the end of the quarter.

The mini break saw Derry regroup and four successive points upon the restart suddenly gave the tie a very different complexion. Indeed, the tie could almost have been put to bed when, with Derry 0-8 to 0-4 up one minute before half-time McNicholl teed up O'Donnell who hit a fierce low shot seemingly destined for the bottom corner. That it didn't reached it's target owed everything to a superb diving save from Armagh keeper Stephen McMullan whose right hand turned it away from danger.

Not that the Orchard County didn't have chances to goal. A superb move from the visitors at four points a-piece saw Grimley find himself in space only yards from Louie Regan's net but he was denied by a brilliant saving tackle by Derry sweeper Patrick Walls just as he was about to pull the trigger.

As it was those four excellent points from McGroarty, O'Donnell, Walls and McGill had Derry well in charge at the break despite a late free from Armagh's Luke McKeever.

The second half started with a booking for Armagh midfielder Michael Burnett but as the third quarter developed Armagh began to get a grip on proceedings, enjoying much more possession and doing to Derry what the hosts had done to them in the opening half.

Before that though Ronan Walls and McNicholl from a free had seemingly put Derry in the box seat with points that took it to 0-10 to 0-05. McNicholl also saw a goal chances saved by McMullan but Armagh's threat was growing as Derry been to tire. That threat was being given added impetus by a subs bench who contributed greatly to the eventually victory.

Derry's 10th point would be their last until Bateson's late free forced injury time but in between Campbell, McKenna, Bernard Cassidy, Luke McKeever and Tadgh Grimley all pointed to tie the game before the excellent McKenna edged his side in front for the the first time in the game on 57 minutes.

Derry did well to rally and force the free through which Bateson levelled but they couldn't rouse themselves a second time after O'Neill's late heartbreaker.

Derry scorers: Ryan McNicholl (0-2, 1f), NIall O'Donell (0-2), Eoin Higgins (0-1, 1f), Jack McGroarty (0-2), Patrick Walls (0-1), Rory McGill (0-1), Ronan Walls (0-1), Conor Bateson (0-1, 1f)

Armagh scorers: Cianan Campbell (0-2), Rogan McVeigh (0-1), Tadgh Grimley (0-2), Aaron O'Neill (0-1, 1f), Luke McKeever (0-2, 1f), Bernard Cassidy (0-1), Ethan McKenna (0-2, 1f), Callum O'Neill (0-1),

Derry: Louis Regan, Simon Matthewson, Adam McLaughlin, Danny McDermott, Ronan Walls, Patrick McGurk, Jack McGroarty, Patrick Walls, Felix Kilmartin, Ruairi Forbes, Ryan McNicholl, Rory McGill, Eoin Higgins, Ciaran Chambers, Niall O'Donnell. (Subs) Tiernan O'Connor for E Higgins, 35mins; Luke Diamond for C Chambers, 38mins; Conor Bateson for F Kilmartin, 43mins; John Laverty for R McNicholl, 54mins; James Friel for R Forbes, 54mins

Yellow Cards: D McDermott, 49mins;

Armagh: Stephen McMullan, Matthew McCaughley, Gareth Murphy, Emmet Magee, Callum O'Neill, Fergal O'Brien, Aidan Cassidy, Tadgh Grimley, MIchael Burnett, Rogan McVeigh, Aaron O'Neill, Brendan O'Hagan, Rhys Stevens, Luke McKeever, Cianan Campbell. (Subs) Bernard Cassidy for A O'Neill, 38mins; Ethan McKenna for R McVeigh, 42mins; Joe McClelland for A Cassidy, 49mins; Ruairi O'Brien for B O'Hagan, 49mins; James Conlon for C Campbell, 57mins;

Yellow cards: M Burnett, 31mins; E Magee, 44mins; J McClelland, 56mins;

Referee: Michael Moore (Down)