DONEGAL 1-09 DERRY 0-10
BY CHRIS MCNULTY AT ST TIERNACH’S PARK
DONEGAL will be back in the old market town in three weeks’ time to renew hostilities with Monaghan after showing the greater composure to just about see off Derry in Clones.
It was far from the polished performance of the Athletic Grounds, but as Rory Gallagher hastened to remind us post-match, at this level winning is the only currency that counts.
Martin O’Reilly’s 45th minute goal made all the difference for Donegal who are headed for a fifth Ulster final in a row; just the second time in history, following 1989-’93, that the county will have contested five successive provincial finals.
O’Reilly hadn’t had a championship goal to his name until a fortnight ago, but now the MacCumhaills man has two of them.
He had Neil Gallagher to thank for this one. It was his wonderfully flighted handpass that put O’Reilly through and he was the picture of cool as he glided around Thomas Mallon before tucking home.
Donegal were in the comfortable position of being 0-4 to 0-1 in front after just 11 minutes, but between then at the half-time whistle they scored just once – that from the returned Colm McFadden in the 31st minute.
McFadden missed the win over Armagh two weeks ago because of a virus, but the St Michael’s man was restored to the starting XV at the expense of Mark McHugh.
At a time when Derry had begun to get on top, McFadden showed all his class and experience to hold off the advances of two Derry defenders and score while under severe pressure.
Donegal had been quick out of the blocks with Odhrán MacNiallais and Christy Toye – who was the champions’ best player in those early moments – on the mark either side of a Patrick McBrearty brace.
McBrearty appeared inhibited after seeming to tweak his hamstring in the 14th minute but, after having McHugh on standby in the dugout, the full-forward was left in combat.
Eoin Bradley (two frees), Cailean O’Boyle and Mark Lynch had Derry level and, after McFadden piece of magic, Chissy McKaigue thumped over the equaliser to leave it all square, at five apiece, as they parted for the refreshments.
Donegal’s shooting and selection in the opening period left a lot to be desired, but with their most effective ball inside during that spell they almost struck gold. Ryan McHugh floated a delicate pass into the edge of the square and it took a fine reaction save from Mallon to keep out Michael Murphy’s flick.
Murphy landed the point of the day while McFadden and Martin McElhinney hit scores that were no less impressive before the game’s golden moment arrived courtesy of O’Reilly’s goal in the 45th minute, after Donegal capitalised on a poor Mallon kick-out (something that proved fatal for Derry throughout the game).
The five-point lead was eroded bit-by-bit as Derry sought a means of clawing their way back. Brian McIver had vowed to make life difficult for his former employers and his team certainly kept up their end of the bargain.
The Oak Leaf were far from the obliging opponents the pre-match odds suggested and, with Lynch, O’Boyle and Benny Heron on target, they were right back in it.
Murphy and Ciaran McFaul traded points, but Derry lost their discipline somewhat in the late exchanges as, first, Brendan Rogers was given a black card and they finished with 14 men as, with their substitutions all made, McFaul was black carded for a dreadful challenge on Ryan McHugh.
Unusually, Donegal made hard work of closing out a game that was theirs for the taking when O’Reilly steered home, but the Ulster champions will return next month to joust with Monaghan in the final. Just where they want to be.
DONEGAL: Paul Durcan; Paddy McGrath, Neil McGee, Eamon McGee; Ryan McHugh, Karl Lacey, Frank McGlynn; Neil Gallagher, Odhrán MacNiallais (0-1); Christy Toye (0-1), Martin McElhinney (0-1), Martin O’Reilly (1-0); Patrick McBrearty (0-2, 1f), Michael Murphy (0-2), Colm McFadden (0-2). Subs: Mark McHugh for McFadden (58 mins), Anthony Thompson for Toye (62 mins), Hugh McFadden for McElhinney (70 mins), David Walsh for McBrearty (70 mins).
DERRY: Thomas Mallon; Oisin Duffy, Brendan Rogers, Dermot McBride; Kevin Johnston, Chrissy McKaigue (0-1), Ciaran McFaul (0-1); Niall Holly (0-1), Fergal Doherty; Sean Leo McGoldrick, Mark Lynch (0-2, 1f), Enda Lynn; Danny Heavron, Eoin Bradley (0-2, 2f), Cailean O’Boyle (0-2). Subs: Benny Heron (0-1) for McGoldrick (47 mins), Liam McGoldrick for Duffy (48 mins), Terence O’Brien for Lynn (51 mins), Niall Loughlin for Bradley (62 mins), Lynn for O’Boyle (65 mins), Conor McAtamney for Rogers (black card, 68 mins).
REFEREE: Rory Hickey (Clare).
Big Match Stats Donegal/Derry
Black carded: Donegal – none; Derry – none.
Booked: Donegal – none; Derry – none.
Sent off: Donegal – none; Derry – none.
THE GAME AT A GLANCE
With Chris McNulty in Clones
MAN OF THE MATCH