These boys are Ulster Champions for the rest of their lives: Derry manager Boyle praises Minor squad after Ulster win

It may be the shortest reign in championship history but the 2020 Derry Minor squad will be Ulster champions for the rest of their lives according to manager Martin Boyle.

Saturday, 3rd July 2021, 1:50 pm
Updated Saturday, 3rd July 2021, 1:52 pm

The Oak Leafers lifted the Fr. Murray Cup after an exhilarating final in Healy Park on Friday, defeating Monaghan 1-15 to 0-15 less than three weeks before the 2021 edition of the provincial competition kicks into gear and having had their own Covid disrupted championship cancelled on three different occasions since last March.

It left plenty worrying that one of Derry's most gifted young squads, a group of players who had already lifted Ulster titles at Under 15 and Under 16 age categories, would never get the chance to complete a remarkable hat-trick of titles.

Those doubts were dispelled on Friday night with Niall O'Donnell's early goal the defining score and Kian McGonigle's remarkable late save the eventual match winner and no matter long they can be labelled reigning Ulster Minor champions for, their proud manager insisted it can never be taken away from them.

Derry celebrate their Ulster Minor Football Championship title after defeating Monaghan in Healy Park on Friday night
Derry celebrate their Ulster Minor Football Championship title after defeating Monaghan in Healy Park on Friday night

"These boys are Ulster champions for the rest of their lives and no one can take it from them," smiled Boyle, who is simultaneously managing the Derry 2021 minor panel who begin their championship quest at home to Armagh on July 28th.

"This is all about those lads there and their families. Very few know what they have been through and the turmoil in terms of having championships pulled from them right, left and centre and then the families having to deal with that and pick the lads up again. The whole process of individual training and all that so this victory is totally about the players and their families. They deserve this and that's why we fought so hard to get this championship played.

"It can be exhausting (juggling the two squads), I'll admit that and we are out with the 2021s in the morning at 11am but, no, this makes it all worthwhile because these boys really deserve it."

Friday's thrill-a-minute final saw four black cards and one controversial red for Derry's attacking hero Murray who must now await the outcome of an appeal before learning if he will be available for next Saturday's All Ireland semi-final against Meath in Pairc Esler, Newry.

Murray's dismissal handed Monaghan the upper hand in a dramatic second half that saw the Farney side fight back to within two points after trailing 1-08 to 0-04 at half-time following a superb first 30 minutes from Derry.

McGonigle's brilliant block save from Monaghan's Connor Eccles preserved Derry's lead before captain Matthew Downey showed nerves of steel to slot of a difficult late free which meant he would emulate his father, Henry by lifting an Ulster Championship for Derry.

"It feels good," added Boyle as he reflected on a frantic last 15 minutes, "In the last 10 minutes of the match it did looked pretty dodgy but from the get go with these boys in the last three championship matches, all I have chatted about is that when you come down the stretch you would back them every time because of their character and yet again, they've come up trumps.

"I have learned that about these boys and you don't panic as such because they always manage to pull it out.

"We started off well and had talked about that but we did start well. However, I felt we didn't push on as much as we should have in the last 10 minutes of the first half. I felt there were more scores there that we didn't take.

"At half-time, with a lead like we had, we told the lads to keep the foot on the pedal and all the rest but subconsciously players do tend to be a bit more cautious on the ball and then there was the red card. I haven't seen it now but it certainly is not in Lachlan Murray's nature and we will be appealing it.

"That sowed seeds of doubt and obviously you have to factor in that you are going in against a Monaghan team that are battle hardened and have won the last two minor championships so they were always going to come at us strong at some point. When Monaghan got it back we pushed on thankfully."

The Ballinscreen man had nothing but praise for a display which had some huge performances from Mark Doherty, Steelstown's Donncha Gilmore, Dungiven's Patrick O'Kane and Magherafelt's Dan Higgins and Murray who had run Monaghan ragged before being dismissed.

"This team has put so much into this for such a long period of time which makes it even better to get over the line," added Boyle.

"We are out next Saturday but it won't be a problem to lift these boys. It something to look forward to. Everyone was excellent tonight but I never doubted them for a second. I know the character of these boys and what they have put in but as well as character they are very good footballers as well."