Three goal Derry too strong for Donegal in heat of Ballybofey
Derry ensured qualification for the knock-out stages of the All Ireland Series as many of the questions posed by the draw with Monaghan were answered in Ballybofey.
Three second half goals, coupled with Clare's defeat to Monaghan, means the Banner County have been eliminated and all that remains in Group 4 is to determine the finishing positions of the three Ulster counties who proceed. And after an understandably low key display against the Farney County, this was more like what Oak Leaf fans have become accustomed to over the past 18 months, notably with a spread of 10 different scorers and Conor Doherty and Padraig McGrogan among the goals.
"That's a good win," said Derry boss Ciaran Meenagh afterwards, "Last week we were glad to take a draw out of it at the finish even though we could have snatched a win.
"The journey we had been on; the Monaghan Ulster semi-final, Armagh going to penalties and then having two weeks to Monaghan and then Donegal sitting taking a look at you. Look at the rest of the results around the country this weekend, this was not going to be an easy task to get any sort of victory.
"The fact we won by five points and left quite a number of scores behind us, and the number of goal chances we created, if you weren't creating those goal chances it would be worse. We got a good spread of scores outside Shane McGuigan. There has been a lot documented and written about that. That is also very positive.
"Players were used off the bench, a number of them had a good impact. We're in a good place with injuries at the minute. I'd certainly have taken last Saturday evening and I'd certainly have taken it this morning. A big result for us."
Donegal had ended Derry's Ulster Championship campaign the last time the Oak Leafers played championship football in Ballybofey, that 2021 defeat Derry's last reversal in the provincial competition. Indeed you had to go back to 2008, when current Donegal coach Paddy Bradley top scored with 0-10, for Derry's last championship win in MacCumhaill Park.
Against that backdrop and the opening draw with Monaghan, this was another character test for Meenagh's men but they answered in style in front of 8,253.
The first half's crucial period arrived with Derry one up at 0-5 to 0-4 and having seen Shaun Patton brilliantly deny the excellent Paul Cassidy. It was punch for punch at that stage when, in the 25th minute, Conor Glass inadvertently teed up Jason McGee. Clean through, the Donegal man was first denied by Lynch's save before his goal bound second effort found Brendan Roger's waiting on the line.
Bouyed by the escape, Derry hit the next three points through McGuigan, Niall Toner (f) and Rogers to ensure a five point swing as 0-8 to 0-4 became 0-9 to 0-6 by the break.
With two between them on 46 minutes at 0-11 to 0-9, Doherty struck with a thunderous opening goal that owed everything to Conor McCluskey's injection of pace. 'Clucky' opened the gap but it still needed a finish and Doherty provided it in superb style, almost taking the net off with a fierce finish high into Patton's net
The excellent Oisin Gallen, who finished with 0-9, hauled Donegal back from the brink with three points in as many minutes as Derry wasted further goal chances before substitute Lacjhlan Murray put the issue beyond doubt with Derry's second goal on 56 minutes. This time it was Gareth McKinless playing the accelerator role as he tore through the heart of the Donegal defence, drew Patton from his line and found Murray who had the simple task of palming the ball into the empty net for 2-13 to 0-13.
McGrogan's cool finish five minutes from time put some deserved gloss on the scoreboard, gloss that even a late Rory O’Donnell goal, four minutes into added time, couldn't remove and Meenagh glad to see his team back among the goals.
"We would be of the philosophy of hunting goals and then take the point if it was on," added the Derry boss, "We spoke at half-time about that, not to be too deliberate in terms of looking at goals. Goals are big scores psychologically, even in that heat, the psychology of the next kick-out, I just felt at half-time, in terms of getting our hand on the ball. We led at half-time playing against a slight breeze with very little ball, so we just felt kick-outs were huge, our own kick-outs in particular and Shaun Patton was so dangerous on their kick-outs as well.
"We agreed leaving the changing room if we did better on kick-outs we'd have some chance of winning the game."Donegal scorers: Oisin Gallen (0-9, 3f, 2m); Rory O'Donnell (1-0), Conor O'Donnell (0-2), Ciaran Thompson (0-2, 1f), Shaun Patton (0-1, 1 '45'), Patrick McBrearty (0-1, 1f).Derry scorers: Paul Cassidy (0-4), Conor Doherty (1-0), Lachlan Murray (1-0), Padraig McGrogan (1-0), Shane McGuigan (0-3, 2f), Ciaran McFaul (0-2), Brendan Rogers (0-2); Benny Heron (0-1), Niall Toner (0-1, 1f), Conor Glass (0-1).Derry: Odhran Lynch; Chrissy McKaigue, Eoin McEvoy, Conor McCluskey; Conor Doherty, Gareth McKinless, Padraig McGrogan; Conor Glass, Brendan Rogers; Niall Toner, Paul Cassidy, Ethan Doherty; Ciaran McFaul, Shane McGuigan, Benny Heron. Subs: Niall Loughlin for Toner (46), Padraig Cassidy for Heron (52), Lachlan Murray for McFaul (56), Declan Cassidy for McEvoy (65), Shea Downey for McKaigue (70).Donegal: Shaun Patton; Mark Curran, Brendan McCole, Caolan McColgan; Caolan Ward, Eoghan Ban Gallagher, Odhran Doherty; Caolan McGonagle, Jason McGee; Daire O Baoill, Jamie Brennan, Ciaran Thompson; Hugh McFadden, Oisin Gallen, Conor O'Donnell. Subs: Luke McGlynn for Brennan (52), Patrick McBrearty for O Baoill (56), Rory O'Donnell for McGee (58), Stephen McMenamin for Doherty (61), Jeaic Mac Ceallabhui for Ward (69).Referee: Brendan Cawley (Kildare).