Derry survive Donegal scare in Christy Ring Cup thriller at Owenbeg
Christy Ring Cup, Group One
Derry 0-20, Donegal 1-14
Derry remain on course for a Christy Ring Cup semi-final spot but only after surviving a real scare against Donegal in Saturday's Group one thriller at Owenbeg.
The result puts Derry two points clear at the top of the four county group but with Down causing a shock in Aughrim where they defeated Wicklow by seven points, it means Derry will still need a result when they entertain the Division 2B league winners in two weeks time to be certain of a ;last four berth.
It has the makings of another dramatic afternoon but it will need to produce something special to outdo this one for pure drama.
Derry lost their early lead after 10 minutes and the clock would be in it's last minute before they eventually regained it with Derry's strength in depth evident with key moments coming from men who arrived off the bench when Derry needed them.
None more so than Darragh McCloskey. The Banagher man was introduced midway through the second half and with Derry still trailing by one, it was his interception that changed the game. Donegal were going for the jugular and had a man over. Another point would have consigned Derry to defeat but McCloskey popped up in the right place at the right time to not only intercept but also set Derry away toward Gerard Bradley's equalising point which broke Donegal spirits.
The was the game's critical passage of play and worth more than it's single point value.
From there, Derry finally had view of the finishing line and within three minutes the superb Brian Og McGilligan, Se McGuigan and Cormac O'Doherty had sealed a three point victory that was ridiculously harsh on a Donegal team that shot themselves out of the game second half.
Nine second half wides told the tale of Donegal's second half and were first half everything they hit found it's target, Derry's improved harrying and hassling meant the visitors managed only 0-2 in the second period.
For the home team, this was about character and while they should never have been in the position they found themselves at half-time, they responded with a second half they showed what the Oak Leaf jersey meant to each and every player.
Derry went into the game as favourites especially with the visitors missing the talents of Declan Coulter who has been ruled out of the competition following a knee injury and Lee Henderson who failed a late fitness before the trip to Owenbeg.
Derry themselves made three changes from the 15 that started last week's hugely impressive victory over Down in Portaferry, Ruairi McCartney, Gerard Bradley and Tiarnan McCloskey coming in for Conor Kelly, Cian Waldron, who has left the panel along brother Naoise, and Mark Craig.
And things appeared to be proceeding to script in the opening stages, Richie Mullan splitting the posts after only 43 seconds and Paul Cleary putting them two points up with seven minutes on the clock.
That momentum swung on nine minutes though with the game's first goal, a Dylan Duffy strike which set the tone for a Donegal dominated remainder of the half. Sean McVeight laid the foundation with a huge ball in to ward the Derry danger area which, when it broke, found the waiting Duffy who finished superbly off the boot for a score which galvanised Mickey McCann's team.
In contrast Derry looked shell shocked. The home side were flooding their own half back line in an attempt to isolate Cormac O'Doherty and Se McGuigan inside but the supply line wasn't good enough and the ball was sticking. Too many in red and white were letting the half pass them by and even with a congestion defensive third, Donegal were revelling.
Corner forward Gavin Browne was causing all sorts of problems, with Donegal drawing frees from which Danny Cullen was superb. The Setanta player hit 0-7 in the opening 35 minutes, five from placed balls and where Donegal looked sharp and hungry, Derry were lethargic and sdcond best.
After Cleary's point, Derry would go 11 minutes without scoring by which time Ronan McDermott and Cullen had shot Donegal into a 1-05 to 0-2 lead.
Derry did rally slightly though Brian Og McGilligan, Liam Og Hinphey and O'Doherty but with every Derry point Donegal found a response and were well worth their 1-12 to 0-07 half-time lead.
The second period started with a real rarity as Cullen fired wide from a free and when O'Doherty's reduced the deficit from a 39th minute free, it was Derry's first score from a placed ball in the match.
The Oak Leafers introduced Odhran McKeever and John Mullan and whatever was said in the Derry dressing room at the interval, it was beginning to have the desired effect with a greater urgency in their play which was more direct second half.
Both substitutes would find themselves on the scoreboard within 10 minutes of the restart as Gerard Bradley, McKeever, Cleary and Mullan brought Derry back to within three points at 0-12 to 1-12.
Donegal half-back Jack O'Loughlin briefly stemmed the tide with a lovely run and score but Derry were soon back on the offensive as O'Doherty and Mullan, with a huge score, reduced Donegal's lead to two points at 0-14 to 1-13 with 51 minutes on the clock.
Boyle and O'Doherty swapped scores before the latter reduced the advantage to the minimum as tempers flare along the touch line but the big finale was only minutes away.
Donegal attacked, McCloskey stepped in and Derry were heading toward a second win in succession.
Derry scorers: Richie Mullan (0-1), Paul Cleary (0-2), Brian Og McGilligan (0-3), Liam Og Hinphey (0-1), Cormac O'Doherty (0-7, 4f), Gerard Bradley (0-2), Odhran McKeever (0-1), John Mullan (0-1), Se McGuigan (0-1)
Donegal scorers: Dylan Duffy (1-0), Ronan McDermott (0-2), Danny Cullen (0-7, 6f), Ciaran Mathewson (0-1), Joe Boyle (0-3),Jack O'Loughlin (0-1)
Derry: Sean Kelly; Paddy Kelly, Sean Cassidy, Ruairi McCartney; Liam Og Hinphey, Meehaul McGrath, Thomas Brady; Mark McGuigan, Brian Og McGilligan; Paul Cleary, Richie Mullan, Gerard Bradley; Tiarnan McCloskey, Se McGuigan, Cormac O'Doherty.
(Subs) Odhran McKeever for T McCloskey; HT; John Mullan for T Brady, HT; Darragh McCloskey for R McCartney, 49mins; Darragh Cartin for P Kelly, 66mins;
Yellow Cards: R McCartney, 11mins; Tiaran McCloskey 12mins; Thomas Brady, 16mins; Liam Og Hinphey, 42mins; Mark McGuigan, 51mins;
Donegal: Paul Burns; Conor Parke, Christopher McDermott, Stephen Gillespie; Jack O'Loughlin, Sean McVeigh, Colm Flood; Joe Danny Cullen; Ronan McDermott, Ciaran Mathewson, Ciaran Finn; Gavin Browne, Niall Cleary, Dylan Duffy.
(Subs) Patrick Hannigan for Colm Flood, 45mins; Ryan Hilferty for G Browne, 61mins; PJ McCarron for N Cleary, 73mins
Yellow Cards: Joe Boyle, 60mins; Ciaran Finn, 63mins;
Referee: Liam Gordon (Galway).