DERRY GAA: McErlain proud despite Ulster Final heartbreak against Donegal

Derry 1-11, Donegal 2-10

Sunday, 17th July 2016, 5:19 pm
Updated Sunday, 17th July 2016, 6:25 pm
JD Boyle of Donegal in action against Padraig McGrogan, Conor McCluskey and Eoghan Concannon of Derry during the Electric Ireland Ulster GAA Football Minor Championship Final at St Tiernach's Park. (Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile)

Derry minor manager Damian McErlain said his players could be proud of their efforts despite a heartbreaking two point Ulster Final defeat to Donegal in Clones on Sunday.

Goals from J.D. Boyle and Nathan Boyle either side of half-time proved the difference with Caolan Devlin, who finished the game with 1-07, hitting Derry’s late goal which threatened to secure back to back title for the Oak Leafers. It wasn’t to be however as Shaun Paul Barrett’s side held out to leave Derry facing an All Ireland Quarter-Final agsainst Kerry in two weeks.

“Credit to Donegal, they took their goals chances at the right times,” explained McErlain, “We got off to a great start. Everything we talked about and worked on was going well. Maybe with the heat our energy levels dropped a bit after that. You just have to take it on the chin and go back to the drawing board. We have Kerry now to prepare for in the All Ireland Quarter-final.

“It’s disappointing not to take the title back to Derry but the boys can be proud. It was a very competitive game. Donegal are a quality side, well organised and everything you would expect. They got the breaks on the day. The score count in terms of the number of scores each teams got was pretty even but goals win matches.”

The first half saw two very different quarters. The opening 16 minutes were dominated by Derry against a nervous looking Donegal team who were struggling to hold on to possession with Ben McKinless in the Oak Leaf goal giving an exhibition of superb kicking to man.

The Oak Leafers deservedly led 0-04 to no score during that opening period and it could have been better. Even before Oisin McWilliams had registered his side’s opening score Patrick Quigg’s mazy solo run took him past a number of Donegal backs and into a great shooting possession. He went for a left footed finish but Donegal keeper Gavin Mulreany was quick off his line and blocked at the Kilrea man’s feet.

Still, Derry controlled the game. McWilliams’ point was added to by Paddy Coney and two from Caolan Devlin, one from play, one a free as McErlain’s men enjoyed an impressive start.

That was 16 minutes in but the game changed with Niall O’Donnell’s finally opening Donegal’s account from a free. The score settled Shaun Paul Barrett’s team but not half as much as J.D. Boyle’s goal which followed four minutes later.

A lovely patient build-up saw danger man O’Donnell release half-back Boyle and his superb finish, high and fierce into McKinless’ net, served as a rallying call to his team mates and they responded.

Now level, Donegal began to take control but both sides were still guilty of some wayward shooting, Derry hitting seven first half wides and Donegal matching that tally.

Paddy Mogan andf two points from Eoghan McGettigan - either side of a Devlin free - saw Donegal go into the break leading 1-04 to -0-05.

The second half was an equally tight affair. Donegal could have had an early second goal when Enda McCormick found himself through on goal but McKinless produced a brilliant low save with his feet.

Steelstown’s Eoghan Concannon was doing an excellent marking job on O’Donnell but it is nearly impossible to keep the Donegal captain quiet for the full 60 minutes. After Fergal Higgins had reduced the deficit to a single point, O’Donnell was afforded too much space and swept the reply over the bar.

Devlin then missed a straightforward looking free which Donegal capitalised immediately by sweeping up the other end. What should have been a one point deficit was three point but Derry responded well with Devlin (free) and substitute Seamus Higgins bringing it back to one point again at 0-08 to 1-06 with 41 minutes on the clock.

Then the goal that won Donegal the match.

A long ball in toward the Derry goal saw McKinless out to challenges towering Donegal midfielder, Kieran Gallagher. McKinless did well but the ball broke kindly to Nathan Boyle. With McKinless out of the game on the ground, two Derry defenders raced back to the line but Boyle rasping shot had just enough on it to hit the net courtesy of both a defender and the underside of the cross bar.

It gave Donegal a cushion they wouldn’t lose. Playing a system which is becoming as traditional a part of Ulster Final day as the obligatory coloured head bands, Barrett’s team funnelled back when they had to and forced Derry to shot from awkward angles while maintaining a menacing threat on the break.

Devlin’s frees were keeping derry in touch but they always needed a goal. It arrived as the clock ticked toward full time, Seamus Higgins setting up Devlin to punch into an empty net to bring the game back to two points.

Derry had chances but were guilty of trying to manufacture a goal when four added minutes left time for two points which would have drawn the game.

The final whistle brought only disappointment but McErlain and his players can take heart, small consolation that it is, from a game in which there was little between the teams.

Donegal will fancy their chances of an All Ireland and on this display, that is where Derry’s focus should now be shifting to.

Derry: Ben McKinless; Conor McCluskey, Gearoid McLaughlin, Aaron Bradley; Padriag McGrogan, Eoghan Concannon, Simon McErlain; Patrick Coney (0-1), Oisin McWilliams (0-1); Conor Doherty, Caolan Devlin (1-7, 6f), Patrick Quigg; Shea Downey, Feargal Higgins (0-1), Eoghan Bradley. (Subs) Seamus Higgins (0-1) for E Bradley, 38mins; John Paul Devlin for O McWilliams, 40mins; Larry Kielt for G McLaughlin, 53mins; Odhran McKeever for E Concannon (Black Card), 58mins.

Black Card: Eoghan Concannon, 58mins;

Donegal: Gavin Mulreany; Seaghan Ferry, Aaron McCrea, Mark Curran; Odhran Shiels, JD Boyle (1-0), Aidan McLaughlin; Jason McGee (0-1), Kieran Gallagher (0-1); Nathan Boyle (1-0), Niall O’Donnell (0-4, 2f), Odhran McFadden-Ferry (0-1); Peadar Mogan (0-1), Eoghan McGettigan (0-2), Enda McCormick. (Subs) Shane McGrath for E McCormick, 47mins; Brian O’Donnell for S Ferry, 55mins; Stephen Carr for N Boyle, 58mins; Aaron Deeney for O Shiels, 63mins;

Referee: Niall McKenna (Monaghan)