Christy Ring Cup Semi-final
Derry 2-18, Meath 3-24
Derry's Christy Ring Cup campaign end in disappointment despite a season's best performance in a thrilling semi-final against championship favourites, Meath, at the Athletic Grounds in Armagh on Saturday.
The harsh final scoreline doesn't begin to tell the tale of an enthralling game in which there was nothing between the teams until three Meath goals in the final 13 minutes, coupled with a Cormac O'Doherty penalty brilliantly saved by Meath keeper Shane McGann, took the game away from John McEvoy's Oak Leafers.
Key moments didn't go Derry's way at crucial stages but once the heat of Championship battle has cooled, this was a performance with plenty of positives for Derry.
The game was littered with pivotal moments, swinging the momentum first one way, the the other. Meath's opening goal, scored by the superb Jack Regan who hit 1-14, arrived just as Derry seemed to have a stranglehold of the game and breathed new life into Meath who finished very strongly as Derry were forced to throw caution to the wind.
Indeed, had O'Doherty's penalty found the net and not the out stretched hurl of McGann, Derry would have been back to within a point of the Royals with minutes remaining.
Those are the tiny margins in what has been a season of 'almost' for Derry who were also unlucky to miss out on promotion in the league final against Wicklow. However, when MvEvoy and his assistant Johnny McGuirk, sit down to review the season, there will be plenty of reason for optimism as they consider a second season in charge.
Derry named two changes from the side defeated by Wicklow seven days previous, Thomas Brady and Tiarnan McHugh, who impressed off the bench last week, coming in for Paul Cleary and Conor Kelly, whose suspension against last Saturday's red card was only over turned on Thursday night.
Shooting was a problem against the league champions, Derry hitting 21 wides in the three point loss but this time around there was no such wastefulness, the Oak Leafers scoring 2-08 from 10 first half shots on goal and not a single effort off target.
It still wasn't enough to lead at the break as the Regan inspired Royals recovered from the two Derry goals to go in at half-time only point to the good at 2-08 to 0-15.
Nick Fitzgerald's favourites started well with a point after only 37 seconds from Adam Gannon but Derry responded through Richie Mullan before Regan opened his account for the afternoon with a point from play.
Derry direct style, aided by keeper Sean Kelly's superb long range puck outs was causing Meath all manner of problems with McHugh and Thomas Brady both taking some impressive catches under the high ball.
The Royals were leading 0-9 to 0-7 on 21 minutes when that fielding ability brought Derry's opening goal, Brady brilliantly taking Kelly's puck out before finding Se McGuigan who fired Derry into the lead for the first time.
Five minutes later, Derry had a second major and again Brady's fielding was instrumental, the Kevin Lynch's man catching before feeding the ball to Mchugh's whose pass picked out Gerald Bradley for a lovely low finish and a four point lead at 2-08 to 0-10.
however, that would be Derry's last score of the half as Meath recovered well, Regan hitting four points either side of a Gavin McGowan effort to send the Leinster men into half-time with that one point lead.
The second half was breathless. Richie Mullan signalled Derry's intent by levelling inside the opening minute and the Oak Leafers enjoyed the better of the third quarter, establishing a two point lead at 2-14 to 0-18 by the 48th minute thanks to points from McHugh, Brian Og McGilligan and two from Cormac O'Doherty.
Meath weren't done though and when Regan equalised on 54 minutes after Catahl McCabe had narrowed the Derry advantage, it was the seventh time in the games that the sides had found themselves level.
Then came Rogan's goal which provided a cushion Meath would never lose. Ironically it came from probably the only mistake the Derry full back line made all day. Darragh Kelly's long ball in was spilled on to the ground from where Regan was able to pull on it, hit the net and establish a critical three point lead.
Even after substitute Stephen Morris increased the Meath lead with a point, Derry dug their heels in as Mullan hit two cracking scores. However a second Meath goal, with McGowan superbly controlling and tapping over the advancing Kelly, left Derry chasing the game in the final stages and Meath were good enough to take full advantage.
The penalty could have changed the momentum instead, it galvanised Meath further and Derry were left reflect on an opportunity lost.
Derry scorers: Se McGuigan (1-1), Gerald Bradley (1-0), Richie Mullan (0-5, 1f), Cormac O'Doherty (0-7, 5f), Mark McGuigan (0-1), Tiarnan McHugh (0-2), Brian Og McGilligan (0-1), Thomas Brady (0-1)
Meath scorers: Jack Regan (1-14, 12f, 1 sixty-five), Adam Gannon (0-4), Gavin McGowan (1-1), Nicholas Potterton (1-0), Damian Healy (0-1), Alan Douglas (0-2), Cathal McCabe (0-1), Stephen Morris (0-1)
Derry: Sean Kelly; Paddy Kelly, Sean Cassidy, Darragh McCloskey; Meehaul McGrath, Mark Craig, Liam Og Hinphey; Mark McGuigan, Brian Og McGilligan; Thomas Brady, Cormac O'Doherty, Tiarnan McHugh; Gerald Bradley, Se McGuigan, Richie Mullan.
(Subs) Conor Kelly for M McGrath, 26mins; John Mullan for M McGuigan, 59mins; Alan Grant for B Og McGilligan, 64mins; Odhran McKeever for C O'Doherty, 70mins;
Wides: 0/4: Yellow Cards: Paddy Kelly, 45mins; Thomas Brady, 56mins;
Meath: Shane McGann; Ger Murphy, Darragh Kelly, Shane Whitty; Shane Brennan, Keith Keoghan, James Kelly; Sean Geraghty, Cathal McCabe; Damian Healy, Barry Slevin, Jack Regan; Gavin McGowan, Adam Gannon, Alan Douglas.
(Subs) Stephen Morris for B Slevin, 49mins; Colm O Mealoid for D Kelly, 62mins; Nicholas Potterton for C McCabe, 65mins;
Wides: 6/4: Yellow Cards: Damian Healy, 48mins; Darragh Kelly, 54mins;
Referee: Shane Hynes (Galway)