Magherafelt end Banagher fairy-tale in thrilling Championship finale

Magherafelt are in their first Derry county final since 1983 after defeating Banagher at Owenbeg
Magherafelt are in their first Derry county final since 1983 after defeating Banagher at Owenbeg

O'Neill's Derry Senior Football Championship semi-final

Magherafelt 1-10, Banagher 1-09

Every fairytale needs a villain. Or at least a dose of reality.

Banagher have been the story of this year's senior championship and were threatening to add another chapter to the tale that has captured the imagination of the entire county. Magherafelt, however, have been busy writing a bit of history themselves.

Not since 1983, when they were defeated 1-4 to 1-03 by Dungiven, have the Rossas appeared in the senior final. Indeed you have to go back to 1978 for their last victory, ironically against Banagher in the final, also by 1-04 to 1-03.

Like Banagher they came into the championship to little fanfare, possibly due to criticism of their much maligned defensive display against Slaughtneil in last year's championship. However, they have been quietly building a head of steam up, dethroning Eoghan Rua and accounting for perennial dark horses of Ballinascreen to arrive at a semi-final in which they were billed as firm favourites. Those predictions proved correct, but only just!

Banagher paid the price for a slow start but could (and probably should) have claimed at least a draw. They outscored the Rossas 0-5 to 0-1 in the second half and crucially gave the ball away twice in critical positions when chasing an injury time equaliser. It was a cruel end to a brilliant championship run for the St. Mary's.

Magherafelt though march on, due in no small part to a brilliant opening quarter that caught Banagher unawares and accounted for 1-04 of their final tally of 1-10. They'll be underdogs in the final, but after this brush with favouritism very nearly caught up with them in the final minutes, that will suit them perfectly.

Backed by the wind in that first half, Magherafelt did to Banagher what the St. Mary's had previously done to both Bellaghy and Swatragh with an opening salvo that gave them one foot in the final.

Conor Kearns' lovely goal was the highlight of the spell which saw the Rossas lead 1-04 to 0-1 and it could have been worse for Banagher had Daryl McDermott not pulled off a wonderful, fourth minute save from Conor McCloskey whose low drive seemed destined for the Banagher net.

Banagher set up as they had in the two previous rounds but the speed of Magherafelt's transition gave Banagher all kinds of trouble in the opening half with any number of willing runners puling the St. Mary's defence about. It was a system that Banagher got to grips with after the break, dropping extra men back, but by that time the damage had been done.

Patrick McLarnon got Magherafelt off and running inside two minutes before Shane Heavron doubled the lead from a free but Niall Moore halved the deficit on six minutes.

The warning signs had been there though and with Magherafelt dominating the midfield sector and Banagher struggling to win possession off their own kicks, the Rossas hit 1-02 in two deadly minutes.

First Kearns grabbed the goal which owed as much to Shane Heavron's quick thinking from a free as it did to Kearns' superb run. Once clear however, the half-back showed the composure of a seasoned forward, firing low past McDermott at the keeper's near post.

Danny Heavron added to the tally with a beautiful point before Shane Heavron left it 1-04 to 0-1 and Banagher were in danger of being washed away.

They never panicked though and were rewarded with an unlikely goal on 13 minutes. Mark Lynch's high ball drifted left of the posts but it was recycled superbly by Niall Moore whose fierce shot caught out Odhran Lynch at his near post and the Magherafelt No. 1 could only help the ball into the net.

Two Shane Heavron frees and a Paddy McLarnon point reasserted the Rossas' six point advantage with Shane Heavron then edging it to seven at 1-08 to 10-1 by the 20th minute mark.

The two Conors, Feeney and Kearns, swapped points before Mark Lynch (free) and his cousin Ciaran grabbed the final two scores of a half to ensure St. Mary's at least had a foothold by half-time even if the 1-09 to 1-04 scoreline made Magherafelt heavy favourites.

The wind was the unknown factor but the question of just how big a factor the breeze was seemed to be answered within 20 seconds of the restart as Mark Lynch sent over a huge score to signal the start of a Banagher fightback.

Shane Heavron replied two minutes in but that would be his side's final score of the half as they went a full 31 minutes (including injury time) without scoring.

A huge Tiernan Moore point brought it back to 1-10 to 1-06 before Shane Murphy took advantage of a lovely Mark Lynch pass to leave only one score between them by the 40th minute.

Banagher were dominating but also wasted numerous promising positions with a wide, a turnover and a shot short as they went 10 minutes without a score before Conor Feeney left two between them with nine minutes to play.

Magherafelt had been trying to manage the match since half-time and, for the first time, nerves were evident, especially when Mark Lynch's free on 60 minutes left the minimum between them and three added minutes to come.

Banagher had the chances, heroically throwing caution to the wind as Magherafelt defended with everything they had. It was enough but only just.

Banagher scorers: Niall Moore (1-1), Conor Feeney (0-2), Mark Lynch (0-3, 2f), Ciaran Lynch (0-1), Tiarnan Moore (0-1), Shane Murphy (0-1)

Magherafelt scorers; Conor Kearns (1-1), Patrick McLarnon (0-2), Shane Heavron (0-6, 5f), Danny Heavron (0-1),

Banagher; Daryl McDermott; Shane Murphy, Darragh McCloskey, Michael Anderson; Peter Hagan, Tiarnan McCloskey, Stefan McCloskey; Brian Og McGilligan, Mark Lynch; Ciaran Lynch, Gavan O'Neill, Conor Feeney; Niall Moore, Shane Farren, Tiarnan Moore.

(Subs) Sean McCullagh for T McCloskey, 34mins; Cahir McGiilligan for C Lynch, 56mins

Yellow cards: Darragh McCloskey, 5mins; G O'Neuill, 35mins, S McCullagh, 37mins; P Hagan, 44mins

Magherafelt: Odhran Lynch; Simon McErlain, Darren O'Neill, Guiseppe Lupari; Conor McCluskey, Fergal Duffin, Conor Kearns; Jared Monaghan, Danny Heavron; Patrick McLarnon, Shane Heavron, John Young; Antone McElhone, Cormac Murphy.

(Subs) Declan Martin for a McElhone, 46mins; Sean Og Monaghan for J Young, 50mins; Joe Keenan for G Lupari, 57mins; Conor Doherty for P McLarnon, 57mins; Paul O'Kane for S Heavron, 59mins;

Yellow Cards: J Monaghan, 22mins;

Referee: Damian Harkin (Slaughtmanus)