Wasteful Derry lose out to Down in Division Three clash
Allianz National League Division Three
Down 0-14, Derry 0-12
Derry promotions hopes suffered a potentially terminal blow as Down edged a crucial Division Three clash at Pairc Esler on Saturday night.
No one likes talking about refereeing decisions but Derry's frustrations were compounded by a critical two minute spell in the lead up to half-time in which had official Padraig Hughes' speed on the whistle denied Derry a potentially match defining goal.
Leading 0-7 to 0-6 after an impressive display, the returning Padraig Cassidy swapped passes twice with Ciaran McFaul under the main Pairc Esler stand. Cassidy's second return pass sent McFaul clear only yards from the net with a goal beckoning.
Cassidy though was clattered late after releasing the ball by Ryan McAleenan, a challenge McAleenan was booked for, but rather than waiting to see how the move developed, Hughes' whistle brought a premature end to McFaul's run. Shane McGuigan's free was scant consolation in a tight in which a goal was lively to be definitive.
Fast forward one minute and Laim McGoldrick was bizarrely penalised for over carrying at the other end, gifting Donal O'Hare the opportunity to cut the Oak Leafers' half-time advantage to 0-8 to 0-7. It was a four point swing and it cost Derry.
Not that Rory Gallagher will want it used an excuse. As frustrating as Hughes' speed to award the free was, Derry still had their match in their hands and seven second half wides had nothing to do with officialdom, especially considering Down played with 14 men from the 60th to the 70th minute after a black card for midfielder, Conor Poland.
In the end, Down's efficiency in front of the posts was the difference, Donal O'Hare deadly accurate from frees as usual. Derry's performance was vastly improved from seven days previously against Leitrim but the Oak Leafers simply weren't clinical.
Gallagher had sent a clear message to his players with six changes from the side held by Leitrim in Celtic Park as Cassidy, Shea Downey, Benny Heron, Alex Doherty, Shane McGuigan and Niall Keenan were all drafted in to start.
Down deployed Kevin McKernan as a sweeper but Derry's fluid attacking unit was providing plenty of problems for the Mourne rearguard with Shane McGuigan pulling Darren O'Hagan wide and Benny Heron going in to link up with the impressive Alex Doherty to create further openings for any number of willing runners from deep.
Chief among those was Cassidy, whose marauding, forceful style tends to transform Derry from pedestrian to powerful. The Slaughtneil man was badly missed against Leitrim and immediately set about wrestling control of the game for the Oak Leafers.
It was Cassidy's pass that set clubmate Shane McGuigan away for a peach of an opening score after only 54 seconds off his left foot and the score set the tone for a half which included some wonderful points from both sides.
From there it was tit for tat as Jerome Johnston equalised only to see Benny Heron edge Derry back in front once more with another lovely point.
That trend continued with Shea Downey, Chrissy McKaigue and Shane McGuigan scoring for Derry only to see Owen McCabe, Barry O'Hagan and O'Hare keep Down in it 0-5 to 0-4.
McGuigan was impressive throughout and he, along with Alex Doherty and McGuigan's consolation free, ensured Derry led at the interval but the one point advantage seem scant reward for a half which should have brought more scores for the visitors.
The pattern of the game never threatened to change in the second half but Derry ere always in front without ever being able to put any daylight between themselves and Paddy Tally's team.
When the Mourne side eventually drew level at 0-10 to 0-10 on 50 minutes, Derry had the opportunity to win the game with their best goal chance of the game when Conor Doherty, only on seconds as a substitute, burst through to release McGuigan with a hand pass. McGuigan, under pressure from O'Hagan, tried to gather but lost possession and was forced to hit first time, soccer style, with the ball clearing the Down cross bar for a point rather than hitting the net.
In a game of small margins, Derry paid a heavy price.
Even with Poland black carded for a heavy challenge on Cassidy, Down managed to equalise through substitute Daniel Guinness with a score that seemed to panic Derry.
Four minutes later, another Mourne substitute, Liam Kerr, caught a pass more lateral that decisive just inside the Derry 45 from a pass only marginally outside. Hand up, the advanced mark was called as Kerr cleverly took advantage of the new rule to put Down 0-12 to 0-11 up.
Almost immediately Jerome Johnston put Down 0-13 to 0-11 up and Derry looked finished only for substitute Christopher Bradley to offer renewed hope with his first point second later.
Four minutes of injury time came and went with Derry's shot selection constantly letting them down right when cool heads were needed. When Gavin O'Neill was forced to foul Pat Havern, O'Hare stretched the lead to two points, Barry O'Hagan's late black card illustrating that Down were prepared to take evasive action to ensure Derry never looked like getting the goal they needed.
One point from two games was not the start Rory Gallagher wanted. That the performance was much improved will offer him hope for the future but until Derry develop a ruthless streak, games will continue to get away from them.
Derry scorers: Shane McGuigan (0-7, 4f), Benny Heron (0-1), Shea Downey (0-1), Chrissy McKaigue (0-1), Alex Doherty (0-1), Christopher Bradley (0-1),
Down scorers: Jerome Johnston (0-2, 1m), Owen McCabe (0-1), Barry O'Hagan (0-1), Donal O'Hare (0-6, 6f), Cory Quinn (0-1), Conor Poland (0-1), Daniel Guinness (0-1), Liam Kerr (0-1, 1m)
Derry: Odhran Lynch, Conor McCluskey, Padraig McGrogan, Liam McGoldrick, Brendan Rogers, Chrissy McKaigue, Niall Keenan, Padraig Cassidy, Emmett Bradley, Shea Downey, Danny Tallon, Ciaran McFaul, Benny Heron, Shane McGuigan, Alex Doherty.
(Subs) Niall Toner for B Heron, 48mins; Ryan Bell for A Doherty, 54mins; Conor Doherty for C McCluskey, 56mins; Christopher Bradley for N Keenan, 66mins; Gavin O'Neill for S Downey, 71mins;
Yellow cards: C McCluskey, 53mins;
Down:Rory Burns, Darren O'Hagan, Brendan McArdle, Ryan McAleenan, Gerard Collins, Kevin McKernan, Shane Annett, Johnny Flynn, Conor Poland, Barry O'Hagan, Paul Devlin, Jerome Johnston, Owen McCabe, Donal O'Hare, Cory Quinn.
(Subs) Liam Kerry for P Devlin, 42mins; Pat Havern for C Quinn, 47mins; Peter Fegan for R McAleenan, 50mins; D McGuinness for G Collins, 54mins; Sean Dornan for J Johnston, 71mins
Yellow cards: R McAleenan, 30mins; C Quinn, 39mins; O McCabe, 58mins;
Black Cards: C Poland, 60mins; Barry O'Hagan, 73mins.
Referee: Padraig Hughes (Armagh)