Ryan McNicholl injury mars Derry Minor’s comfortable victory over Donegal

Electric Ireland Ulster Minor Football Championship, Quarter Final

By Bernie Mullan
Sunday, 8th May 2022, 8:02 pm
Buncrana man Sean McLaughlin grapples with Ryan McNicholl during the Ulster Minor Championship game between Derry and Donegal at Owenbeg on Sunday afternoon last. Photo: George Sweeney. DER2218GS – 023
Buncrana man Sean McLaughlin grapples with Ryan McNicholl during the Ulster Minor Championship game between Derry and Donegal at Owenbeg on Sunday afternoon last. Photo: George Sweeney. DER2218GS – 023

Derry 2-11 Donegal 1-9.

Just four minutes after he had brilliantly lobbed Donegal goalkeeper, Zach Conlon, to give his county the dream start, Derry captain Ryan McNicholl was writhing in agony with a knee injury which saw him stretchered off with just six minutes on the clock.

McNicholl's brilliant goal after four minutes opened the scoring and from there to the finish Donegal never looked like winning the game. They had broken Derry’s league run at Celtic

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Derry’s Fionn McEldowney evades a challenge from Donegal’s Karl Joseph Molly during the Ulster Minor Championship game at Owenbeg on afternoon last. Photo: George Sweeney. DER2218GS – 021

Park back in March but this was a changed and more purposeful Derry team. Early on the Oak Leafers looked like running away with the game but Donegal battled bravely and probably had the edge in the second half during which both teams hit aimless long range balls either wide or into the opposing goalkeeper's hands.

Derry had to make a late change to their line out with full back, Eoin Scullion out injured. In came Conal Higgins with the impressive Johnny McGuigan dropping into the defensive zone

where he and Fionn McEldowney were absolutely outstanding. Odhran Crozier dropped back to the number three spot and filled in admirably.

Donegal too made a late change with Cian Magee replacing Padraig Coyle as the good sized crowd were treated to some fine football in the first half. With Derry 1-9 to 1-2 ahead at the

interval, Martin Boyle's men went into game management mode, defending in numbers and leaving Luke Barrett’s side to indulge in long range pot shots.

Five points in it at the end but Derry were never in any danger. Aided by the slight breeze on the big Owenbeg pitchm, Derry bombed forward but their first two efforts resulted in wides by Shea Birt and Cahir Spiers.

However, the Donegal keeper’s second kick out was intercepted by Derry captain Ryan McNicholl and with Conlon off his line, McNicholl superbly lobbed the ball back over his head and to the net.

Donegal got their opening score from late call up McGee who was alert to a ball coming off an upright and popped it over the bar.

With McPeake and Forbes in control at midfield Derry moved through the gears. After six minutes Odhran Murphy pointed from the right wing before a Ciaran Chambers free and long Ruairi Forbes effort had Derry five in front by the 13th minute. Eoin Higgins, from a free, hit the fourth point as Derry dominated in all sectors. Notably at this stage Donegal’s attempts to get into scoring positions were repelled by a solid Derry defence with McGuckin, McEldowney and the powerful Odhran Crozier prominent.

In the 20th and 21st minutes Eoin Higgins and Ciaran Chambers converted frees and Donegal were struggling but after a 20 minute drought, captain Donal Gallagher from Glenswilly

came up from corner back to score a fine point. Notably Gallagher’s mother is from the McDermott family of Limavady. His grandfather and uncles are all former Wolfhounds players.

In the concluding stages of the half Donegal began to get a grip around the middle of the field. In the 25th minute Mark McDevitt was fouled in forbidden territory and Cian McMenamin slotted the penalty low to the left of keeper O’Connor.

Derry returned to the offensive, Eoin Higgins hitting a spectacular long range point before Spiers sent over after claiming the Donegal kick out. In the 33td minute a brilliant move ended with a point from defender Birt which gave Derry a 1-9 to 1-2 interval lead and saw the Oak Leafers in pole position for a semi final spot.

Derry added to their total in the opening seconds of the second period with a fine Ruairi Forbes point and that was the signal to put up the shutters. With space to built attacks, Lorcan McGee quickly cancelled out the Forbes point. Donegal picked up two successive yellow cards in as many minutes, Cian McGee for pulling down Fionn McEldowney and Mark McDermott for a foul on McGuckin.

McEldowney soon recovered and made a great run before passing to Forbes who returned the compliment and the Slaughtneil player sent over to put Derry 1-11 to 1-3 ahead with over

20 minutes still to play it was Derry’s last point.

A Daithi Gildea free closed the margin to seven points but any chance of a Donegal revival was soon put to bed. In a Derry attack, visiting keeper Conlan fouled Ciaran Chambers and

Dungiven’s Odhran Murphy made no mistake from the spot leaving Derry 10 points in front.

From there to the finish Derry got a bit careless with intended passes going elsewhere. It developed into a scrappy affair with poor finishing at either end, In the 43rd minute Conor McGinty posted a long range point and luckily for Derry, Karl Joseph Molloy missed a goal chance.

At the three quarter stage Finbar Roarty found the range and Donegal could have been closer but for some sloppy wides. Eventually Cian McMcMenamim hit over a 46m free to reduce the margin to seven points.

Derry did get forward a few times but the fluency of the first half was missing. Six minutes of added time was called but points from Molloy and Kevin Lynch were not enough to

block Derry’s path to the semi final where they will meet one of the qualifiers.

Derry scorers Odhran Murphy (1-1,1pen, Ryan McNicholl (1-0), Eoin Higgins (0-3,2f), Ruairi Forbes (0-2), Ciaran Chambers (0-2,1f), Cahir Spiers (0-2) and Shea Birt(0-1).

Donegal scorers Cian McMenamin (1-0pen,0-1f)), Daithai Gildea (0-1f), Cian McGee, K.J Molloy, Lorcan McGee, Donal Gallagher, Mark McDevitt, Conor McGinty, Padraig Coyle and Kevin Lynch, (0-1) each.

Derry: Ben O’Connor, Fionn McEldowney, Odhran Crozier, Danny McDermott, Johnny McGuckin, James Murray, Shea Birt, Dara McPeake, Ruairi Forbes, Conal Higgins, Ryan

McNicholl, Cahir Spiers, Eoin Higgins, Ciaran Chambers, Odhran Murphy. Subs Conor Downey for R McNicholl (7, inj), Eoin McCracken for J Murray (45), Paddy McMullan for S Birt (57), Tom Quinn for C Downey (61)

Donegal. Zach Conlon, Shaun McMenamin, Niall Prenderville, Donal Gallagher (c). Finbar Roarty, Eoghan Kelly, Sean Martin, Cian McMenamin, Lorcan McGee, Karl Joseph Molloy, Conor McGinty, Sean McLaughlin, Mark McDevitt, Daithi Gildea, Cian McGee. (Subs) Padraig Coyle for S McLaughlin (h/t), Kevin Lynch for D Gildea (46), Odhran Doherty for C McMenamin (56).

Referee: Enda Mallon (Armagh)