Ulster Senior Football Championship Final
WHEN the ball is thrown in at Clones on Sunday at 4pm it will be the fourth time that neighbouring counties Derry and Donegal have men for the Anglo Celt Cup.
The first meeting was in 1992 when Donegal surprised Derry who were then National Football League champions. A year later in a mud bath Derry won in almost impossible conditions by 0-8 to 0-6. The last meeting was in 1998 when a late Joe Brolly goal took Derry to a narrow win.
That was the last time that Derry won this championship and from there on it was dominated by Tyrone and Armagh who have shared the last twelve titles. It is the first time in thirteen years that neither of these counties will be in the final.
While Donegal who won Division Two of the league and beat Derry along the way they were always fancied to do well in the Ulster championship. On the other hand Derry with a spate of injuries which included Paddy Bradley and James Conway out for the season and Fergal Doherty retired were not fancied even within their own county to make much impression in the championship but John Brennan in his first year had different ideas and he restructured the team and is now seventy minutes away from Derry’s first title in thirteen years.
Derry are much changed from the team that lost to Donegal back in March in the league while Donegal have virtually the same fifteen. From the side that played Donegal only six of that side that started the game started against Armagh in the Ulster semi final but players like Charlie Kielt, Mark Lynch and James Kielt had come off the bench.
With the injuries gradually clearing up manager Brennan had his strongest panel to pick from all season despite the absence of Paddy Bradley and James Conway.
The successful run in the McKenna Cup gave Brennan the chance to run his eye over some new players and the injuries during the league allowed further chances to give strong players a run.
As a result a strong panel has been built and in this panel are a raft of very tall and physically strong players particularly around the middle of the field.
Donegal beat wasteful Tyrone in the semi final by 2-6 to 0-9 after trailing by 0-6 to 0-1 after half an hour. They were very poor in that opening half hour and really Tyrone should have been out of sight but sixteen wides told its own story for the holders Tyrone.
Prior to that the Jim McGuinness managed Donegal beat an under strength Antrim by 1-10 to 0-7 in a dreadful game of football. The entertainment was not much better when they travelled to Breffini Park Cavan where they brushed aside one of the poorest Cavan teams of all time.
Derry had a gift of a first round draw when they had home advantage over a Fermanagh team that was in total disarray with over half their normal team refusing to play under manager John O’Neill.
At a wind swept Celtic Park Derry had the game won at half time with a 1-11 to 0-2 lead.
They rested on their laurels a bit in the second half and left manager Brennan livid with that last half display. In the end they won by 1-18 to 1-10 and a lot of questions were asked about the Derry defence.
With Armagh beating All Ireland finalists Down in the opening round the Orchard men were raging hot favourites but on the day Derry turned in a stunning performance to win by 3-14 to 1-11.
They played some brilliant football and hit three stunning goals from Mark Lynch, Eoin Bradley and Conleth Gilligan.
Donegal are a very defensive team and have just conceded 1-24 in their three games. In return they have hit 5-30.
Their main marksmen have been seventeen year old Paddy McBrearty and the tall Colm McFadden.
Somewhat surprisingly they have been playing their captain probably the best full forward in their game out around the middle of the field and this indicates the safety first tactics they have been employing, results first and entertainment second.
Derry have been playing a more open and entertaining brand of football hitting 4-32 in their two games but conceding 2-19 in return which is just two points less than Donegal have shipped in three.
Donegal’s safety first brand of football could leave them vulnerable to Derry’s long range shooting and no doubt John Brennan will have his plans laid in an effort to open up the packed Donegal defence. Looking back to that league game at Celtic Park Donegal won by 2-18 to 2-12 and that 2-12 by a very much under strength team is by far the biggest score conceded by Donegal.
However a whistle happy referee Padraig Hughes from Armagh contributed to the high scoring by giving frees for even the slightest contact.
Donegal pointed eleven frees and Derry six. At a stage when the game was in the balance Derry corner back Cairan Mullan slipped and McFadden nipped in for an easy goal. They Derry full back Kevin McCloy picked up a second yellow card and any chance Derry had was gone.
Donegal have a brilliant man marker in Karl Lacey and no doubt he will be deployed on Eoin Bradley but even if Bradley is held Derry still have Mark Lynch and Conleth Gilligan who are regular score getters.
In the middle of the field Derry may have the upper hand through Joe Diver and Michael Friel with Enda Muldoon dropping back from the full forward line in support.
So far the attendances at Ulster championship games have been below normal but the Ulster Council to their credit have cut the prices but fro a big final a few pounds of a cut will not make much difference to the committed supporters. The game is live on both TE and BBC and starts at 4pm with the minor final between Armagh and Cavan staring at 2pm.
Both sets of fans have quite a journey to get to the North Monaghan venue and with the poor infrastructure fans are advised to get there early. A crowd of around 25,000 is expected for what is a game that no matter how you look at it seems to be a toss up.
Derry will be boosted by the return of Gerard O’Kane who missed the Armagh game with a leg injury but John Brennan has already stated that O’Kane’s fitness would be assessed before a decision was made.
So far the referee for the game has not been announced but the people who attend will be hoping that it is one who will let the game flow. So far some games have been spoiled by referees flashing yellow cards for little or nothing.
Derry’s hopes of taking the title suffered a body blow on Sunday when news filtered through that full forward Eoin Bradley suffered a knee injury in training and had to be carried off the field. He is to undergo a scan but the injury looked serious and it will be a surprise if he is able to take part.
Both counties are success starved as far as the Ulster championship is concerned with Derry trying to bridge a thirteen year gap and Donegal a nineteen point one. In that case there will be no holds bard as these neighbours go head to head for the biggest prize in Ulster football.
The Derry footballers will be well prepared if it rains at Clones which it quite often does. The full panel has been presented with gloves by Gary Higgins of Sportsworld Magherafelt.
Pre Ulster Final Barbecue.
The Club Derry Fund raising Committee has organised a fund raising pre championship barbecue for the Oak Leaf Restaurant, Glenshane Road Maghera this Friday. The Derry management team will be in attendance. Tickets can be had from any Club Derry committee member.