Derry 0-12, Down 0-11
Eoin Bradley held his nerve in injury time to kick Derry into an Ulster Championship semi-final against either Donegal or Armagh after a dramatic 0-12 to 0-11 victory over 14-man Down in Celtic Park.
Down’s Conaill McGovern was dismissed seconds into the second half for allegedly striking Derry’s Enda Lynn and when Mark Lynch put Brian McIver’s team 0-9 to 0-6 up soon after, it appeared the Oak Leafers were headed comfortably for their first win in Ulster Championship victory since 2011.
The sending-off however, rather than seeing Derry take a stranglehold, seemed to inspire Jim McCorry’s visitors who fought back to level on two occasions before Kevin Johnston was hauled to the floor in the second minute of injury time to allow Bradley to win the game from a simple free.
Derry started with the Glenullin man as their lone forward with runners expected to get up in support and from the first whistle, Bradley’s movement off the ball brought a new dimension to the Derry attack.
A Donal O’Hare free put Down in front but Bradley soon equalised from another placed ball before sending over a superb long range effort to edge Derry in front. As if to stress to close proximity of the sides, Kevin McKernan matched Bradley’s score with an equally audacious point.
A clearly far from fit Fergal Doherty then set up Lynn for the game’s next score with an opportunistic quick free before Eoin Bradley helped himself to another free for 0-4 to 0-2 with 13 minutes gone.
Down were relying largely on the free-taking of Devlin but the Kilcoo midfielder was proving himself equal to the task with a fine display and reduced the deficit to 0-4 against 0-3.
With Brendan McArdle picking up Mark Lynch, it took the Derry captain time to get into the game but once he had announced his arrival with a 23rd minute free to stretch Derry’s lead to two points, he spent the remainder of the half showing why he’s one of the country’s best plyers.
After Devlin had registered another free and Ciaran McFaul had produced a superb late tackle to halt a Down charge on goal, Lynch took over. First he stepped inside two challenges and sent Derry into a 0-6 to 0-4 lead on the half hour mark.
McKernan replied with an excellent Down point but Lynch was soon finding his range after another patient build-up from the Oak Leafers. He saved his best point for the last of the half as an outrageous shot from wide out along the right hand touch line sent Derry in leading 0-8 to 0-5 at the break.
The second half started with a Conor Laverty fisted point but just as the visitors were looking to get going, McGovern’s needless dismissal seemed to have stopped them in their tracks.
It should have been the signal for Derry to force home their advantage but it wasn’t. Instead, Derry retreated into a defensive shell and handed Down the initiative which they accepted with glee.
Twice they reeled Derry in, first from 0-10 to 0-7 to level and then when Caolan O’Boyle had put Derry back ahead. But when yet another of Thomas Mallon’s superb kick-outs, which had been one of Derry’s most potent weapons all afternoon , found it’s mark in injury time, it allowed Eoin Bradley to burst forward and feed Johnston. Darren O’Hagan was left with little option but to drag the Dungiven man to the floor. There wasn’t even time for Down to get a replacement on for the black carded O’Hagan as Bradley kicked Derry through but they will need a vast improvement on this second half showing for the semi-finals.
Derry: Thomas Mallon; Oisin Duffy, Brendan Rogers, Dermot McBride; Kevin Johnston, Chrissy McKaigue, Ciaran McFaul; Niall Holly, Fergal Doherty; Sean Leo McGoldrick, Mark Lynch (0-5, 2f), Enda Lynn (0-1); Benny Heron, Eoin Bradley (0-5, 3f), Danny Heavron. (Subs) Caolan O’Boyle (0-1) for B Heron, 52mins Terence O’Brien for E Lynn, 61mins;
Down: Stephen Kane; Darren O’Hagan, Luke Howard, Ryan Boyle; Damian Turley, Brendan McArdle, Conaill McGovern; Peter Fitzpatrick, Paul Devlin (0-6, 6f); Caolan Moonney, Conor Maginn, Kevin McKernan (0-2); Mark Poland, Conor Laverty (0-2), Donal O’Hare (0-1, 1f). (Subs) Packie Downey for C Maginn, 47mins; Jerome Johnston for P Fitzpatrick, 57mins; Arthur McConville for C Mooeney, 65mins; Niall Madine for P Devlin 67mins; D O’Hagan (Black Card), 71mins - No replacement;
Referee: Eddie Kinsella (Laois)