DERRY GAA: Magnificent Magilligan crowned Junior champions

Magilligan players and officials celebrate their Junior Football Championship Final win over Drum at Celtic Park on Sunday. DER4216GS013
Magilligan players and officials celebrate their Junior Football Championship Final win over Drum at Celtic Park on Sunday. DER4216GS013

Magilligan 0-12, Drum 0-11

St. Aidan’s Magilligan are the Derry Junior champions for the first time in 28 years after upsetting league champions and pre-match favourites Drum in a thrilling final at Celtic Park on Sunday.

Magilligan captain Michael McLaughlin with the Junior Football Championship trophy. DER4216GS012

Magilligan captain Michael McLaughlin with the Junior Football Championship trophy. DER4216GS012

Goalkeeper Michael Doherty, a drummer with the St. Mary’s Pipe band in Limavady, came forward to hit the winning score from 45m free as the clock ticked into injury time before accepting his medal and then leading the band around before the senior final still dressed in his Magilligan shirt!

It was a fairytale end to a day that will live long in the minds of every Magilligan supporter there to see it and it was nothing more than Darren McShane’s team deserved.

A squad with barely a medal between them played like Championship winning veterans, controlling long periods and digging deep when the Drum charge came late in the second half. There were heroes all over the pitch but Doherty, Ciaran O’Hare, Brian Butcher and Connor Logue were exceptional at times against a Drum team that never hit the heights expected of them.

The first half was a story of Magilligan efficiency versus Drum wastefulness. St Colm’s enjoyed plenty of possession but hit an alarmingly number of wides, 11 in the first half alone with St. Aidan’s not registering a wide until the 10th minutes of the second half.

Crucially a number of Drum’s key players looked to be carrying injuries. Pre-match doubt James McCartney tried his best but the midfielder never looked close to full fitness and they missed his driving runs from the middle while play-maker Donal Brolly spent most of the match sitting deep rather than occupying his normal advanced role. Brolly is the man to knit together Drum’s attacking play but he rarely got the chance and his team suffered for it.

That said, nothing should take away from a Magilligan performance that was all about desire.

Against the breeze in the opening half, Magilligan played a clever game, allowing Drum possession and territory and defending their ‘45’. It was a tactic that needed St Aidan’s to capitalise on every chance and they did that to establish a 0-07 to 0-05 interval lead.

An impressive opening saw Logue open the scoring and despite Rory O’Reilly, who would contribute 0-7 of his team’s tally, equalising Magilligan continued to control the game with O’Hare (2, 1f) and Martin McIvor establishing a 0-04 to 0-1 lead by the 10th minute.

Drum reduced the deficit but already McCartney’s injury had seen him shifted to the edge of the square where he never got the ball to have an bearing on the match.

Drum continued to shoot and Drum continued to miss while Magilligan’s seven first half points came from eight shots.

the second half saw an improvement in Drum but only after Brain Canning had increased Magilligan’s advantage with a superb score. St. Colm’s then began to find their range and eventually reeled Magilligan by the three quarter point in with three points from Rory O’Reilly, one from a free.

McShane’s team hadn’t scored for almost 17 minutes you could sense the tension creeping in with Drum, as they have so often in the past, looking stronger as the game progressed.

The next score would be vital. Drum had never been in front in the game and they wouldn’t be at all as, probably against the run of play, Connor Canning sent over a lovely score off his left foot. it breathed new life into the Magilligan challenge and when Cahair O’Kane’s kick-out dropped short Magilligan won a free from which O’Hare put them two points up with 12 minutes to play.

Still Drum looked dangerous. Substitute Corey O’Reilly brought it back to a one point game before Conor O’Reilly’s lofted centre looked to be dropping short and Donal Brolly did brilliantly to get a punch to it. Magilligan hearts were in mouths but brolly’s effort crashed against the bar and was cleared.

Undeterred, Kevin O’Reilly again levelled the game and with seven minutes remaining Drum were looking stronger for the first time in the game.

The questions were being asked and without a title in so many years, Magilligan could have been forgiven for doubting themselves. They didn’t.

Two minutes from timea long ball up the left saw James Payne turn Kevin O’Reilly brilliantly before accelerating away and fisting his team into the lead once more.

It was breathless stuff now. Drum looked to have a great goal chance on when Donal Brolly’s effort was kept in at the back post but just as two Drum players were lining themselves up for a pass, Magilligan substitute Conor McFeely appeared from nowhere to intercept and set his team away again on an attack that ended with Doherty’s free making it 0-12 to 0-10.

All the while, Butcher was fetching and carrying ball through the middle, breaking up attacks and playing a leader’s role just when his team needed him.

Three minutes into injury time, another O’Reilly free left only one between the teams but when Drum needed cool heads their passing deserted them as Magilligan maintained their composure to secure a brilliant victory.

Drum: Cahair O’Kane; Liam Millar, Alex Moore, Damian Brolly; Niall Burke, Gabriel Farren, Shane Miller; James McCartney, Conor O’Kane; Donal Brolly, Ryan O’Kane, Niall Ferris (0-1); Cathaoir McCloskey, Rory O’Reilly (0-7, 3f), Conor O’Reilly(0-1). (Subs) Niall Farren for S Millar, 27mins; Kevin O’Reilly (0-1) for A Moore (inj), 32mins; Corey O’Reilly (0-1) for J McCartney, 41mins; Thomas McCloskey for R O’Kane, 49mins; James McCartney for C O’Reilly, 62mins;

Magilligan: Michael Doherty (0-1, 1f); Colm McLaughlin, Lee Gaile, Michael McLaughlin; Conor Kelly, Eoin Kelly, Brian Canning (0-2); Ciaran O’Hare (0-3, 2f), Cathal McCrudden; Brian Butcher (0-1), Aaron Canning, Connor Logue (0-1); Martin McIvor (0-2), James Payne (0-1), Conor Canning (0-1). (Subs) Anthony Doherty for C Kelly, H/T; Conor McFeely for C McCrudden (Black Card) 38mins; Barrry Mullan for C McLaughlin, 50mins;

Referee: Alan Nash (Doire Trasna)