Derry U20s hold off Storm Ciara and Fermanagh to make Ulster Quarter-finals

The Derry under 20 squad that defeated Fermanagh in Celtic Park.
The Derry under 20 squad that defeated Fermanagh in Celtic Park.

EirGrid Ulster Under 20 Football Championship

Derry 1-13, Fermanagh 1-08

PROUD . . .Derry Under 20 manager Mickey Donnelly

PROUD . . .Derry Under 20 manager Mickey Donnelly

Not even Storm Ciara could stop a Derry Under 20 side which had to overcome personnel shortages, difficult preparations, a 'match winning ghost' point and a formidable Fermanagh team to set up an Ulster Championship quarter-final against Antrim next weekend.

Alex Doherty - alongside extra-time goalscorer Cormac Murphy - was one hero, emerging off the bench to hit 0-05, all but one point of which came in the second of 10 minutes of extra time in conditions which turned the match into an endurance test rather than a football game.

But if Doherty was the defining factor, Derry had heroes all over the pitch during a performance which belied problems in the build-up, Mickey Donnelly's men producing a display full of guts and determination in the face of horrendous conditions for both sides.

Murphy's goal within seconds of the start of the second period was slightly fortuitous but there was nothing lucky about the result of a game that shouldn't have gone to extra-time, only for Aidan McCloskey's point right on the stroke of full time inexplicably being given as a wide. It wasn't even a close call but Derry didn't let the controversy deter them from their objective, fighting back once more from two points down in extra time to eventually get over the line by a scoreline that didn't reflect just how tight the game was.

Donnelly had been vocal about the Oak Leafers' difficulties in the build up to a match which saw Derry without any of their St. Pat's, Maghera contingent due to Mac Rory Cup involvement. County senior Doherty was named on the bench due a only limited involvement with the Under 20 squad but injury ruled Ben McCarron out.

Plenty of well documented problems then in the build-up but you wouldn't have known it from the opening 25 minutes as Derry produced a superb display against the gale force Celtic Park breeze which was blowing directly in their faces.

Storm Ciara was threatening to make kick-outs potential shooting opportunities such was the strength of the wind and despite winning the toss, Derry opted to face the elements for the first 30 minutes.

It was a ploy that appeared to be paying dividends in their impressive first 25 minutes with the Oak Leaf full back line superb and Fintan Bradley and Keelan Friel outstanding.

However a late Fermanagh rally that brought 1-2 in the last two minutes of the half put a very difficult complexion on Donnelly half-time teamtalk.

Fermanagh, with the wind at their backs, had looked indecisive and unsure how to make best use of the conditions as James Diamond, Tiarnan Walsh and Odhran McLarnon put in some superb tackles with Bradley and Iarlaith Donaghy driving Derry forward.

It looked good for the visitors when full forward Sean Cassidy scored their opener after only 38 seconds, splitting the posts from 30m but it would take until the 17th minute introduction of Gavin McGovern and an attacking reshuffle before the Erne forwards really started clicking.

A brilliant Murphy point brought Derry levelled on seven minutes only for St Michael's Enniskillen star, Micheal Glynn, to knock over a Fermanagh '45' and edge Ollie Fay's team back in front.

Derry were playing controlled football and Bradley's excellent tackle inside his own '45' on 15 minutes proved the catalyst for a brilliant move that saw the Lavey man surge down the right before finding Eunan Mulholland whose shot matched the build-up.

Derry's defending and patient probing remained impressive and paid dividends once more on 19 minutes with Jude McAtamney's lovely movement inside bought him enough space to turn and fire Derry ahead for the first time at 0-3 to 0-2.

At this stage the home side were were controlling matters, Fermanagh rushing their forward passing and guilty of being turned over but the half's complexion changed completely in its final minutes.

A lovely run and point from Erne captain, Brandon Horan, had already brought the sides level but Derry would still have been delighted to go into the break at 0-3 points a-piece but a Callum Jones inspired end to the half saw the visitors turning around 1-05 to 0-03 in front.

First, Jones' driving run and point edged Fermanagh in front for the first times since the 13th minute but one minute before the break came an even more critical involvement.

Again, it was a driving Jones run through the heart of the Derry defence after the wind had held up a home kick-out. A goal looked certain but Ryan Scullion was off his line quickly to brilliantly save Jones' shot only to watch as the rebound broke to Sean Cassidy who found the net with a first time shot.

Another Jones point two minutes into first half injury time and suddenly Fermanagh had the game where they wanted though the conditions meant anything was still possible.

It took Keelan Friel less than a minute of the second period to suggest Derry were far from finished as a force with a lovely score but like Fermangh in the opening half, Derry were guilty of taking pot shots in the hope that the wind would carry it over the bar.

The Oak Leafers shot four second half wides inside the opening 10 minutes, and 10 over the full 30 minutes, while a superb Gavin McGovern point put Fermanagh 1-06 to 0-4 up.

From there though it was all about Derry and as the wind and driving rain increased still further, the game was played almost exclusively in the visitors' 45.

A brilliant high catch from Jude McAtamney brought an advance mark and another Derry point before the same player helped himself to a free to leave it 0-7 to 1-06.

Mulholland's second point of the day left it a one point game as Fermanagh keeper Sean McNally was forced off through injury with replacement Aidan Keenan having similar problems trying to get his kicks clear of his own '45'.

Doherty had been introduced by this stage and announced his arrival in some style with a huge 50m point from out under the main Celtic Park stand to level the game with five minutes to play.

Conditions were now atrocious and the game a lottery with both sides struggling even to solo the ball but it wasn't the conditions Derry were complaining about with McCloskey's shot split the posts on 60 minutes only to look on bemused as the umpires somehow signalled a wide.

The expression on Derry faces told their own story. It wasn't even a close call, the ball had split the posts, not cleared them, and it was a decision that meant another 20 minutes as normal time finished level at 0-9 to 1-06.

And so to extra time which Derry started against the wind, just as they had the first half, and with the wind at his back it was Jones who hits the first point of the extra period.

When Derry then needlessly gave the ball away in midfield, Micheal Glynn won it before turning inside and slotting over an excellent score for a two point Fermanagh lead at 0-09 to 1-08 as the first half of extra time drew to a close, Fermanagh though also rueing three wides in the same period.

Derry had a job on their hands but the pendulum swung definitely within seconds of the start of the second period of extra time.

Murphy was undoubtedly shooting for a point but his effort drifted over the head of McNally in the Fermanagh goal and into the net to suddenly put Derry in front for the first time since the 24th minute and they wouldn't be caught as the second period of extra time then became the 'Alex Doherty Show'.

The Glen man was almost in for a second Derry goal but his shot was deflected over the bar before three further points, one a free, highlighted his class and took the game away from Fermanagh for a deserved victory.

Late red cards for Derry's Odhran Downey and Fermanagh's Achlinn O Cathain were only footnotes as Derry progressed to a last eight meeting with the Saffrons next Saturday.

Derry scorers: Alex Doherty (0-5, 1f), Cormac Murphy (1-1), Eunan Mulholland (0-2), Jude McAtamney (0-3, 2f),Tiarnan McHugh (0-1), Keelan Friel (0-1).

Fermanagh scorers: Sean Cassidy (1-1), Micheal Glynn (0-2, 1 '45'), Brandon Horan (0-1), Callum Jones (0-3), Gavin McGovern (0-1),

Derry: Ryan Scullion; James Diamond, Tiarnan Walsh, Odhran McLarnon, Eunan Mulholland, Iarlaith Donaghy, Aidan McCloskey, Keelan Friel, Conleth McShane, Niall Doyle, Fintan Bradley, Conleth McGuckian, Cormac Murphy, Jude McAtamney, Tiarnan McHugh.

(Subs) Alex Doherty for F Bradley, 40mins; Odhran Downey for C McGuckian, 55mins; Noel Rafferty for O McLarnon, 61mins; Fintan Bradley for C McShane (ET); Conleth McShane for J McAtamney, (10mins, ET); Niall Doyle for C McGuickian (18mins ET);

Yellow Cards: C Murphy, 25mins; K Friel, 44mins;

Red Cards: O Downey, 13mins, (ET)

Fermanagh: Sean McNally, Fergal Keenan, Aaron McManus, Luke Flanagan, Glenn Treacy, Josh Largo Ellis, Achlinn O Catahain, Brandon Horan, Pol McKervey, Callum Jones, Micheal Glynn, Aaron Tierney, Conor Love, Sean Cassidy, Garvan Quigley.

(Subs) Gavin McGovern for A Tierney, 17mins; Ronan McHugh for G Quigley, HT; Josh Horan for L Flanagan, 47mins; Aidan Keenan for S McNally (inj), 49mins; Rian McGovern for C Love (ET)

Yellow Cards: B Horan, 21mins;

Red Cards: A O Cathain, 18mins (ET)

Referee: Enda McFeely (Donegal)