Derry hurlers maintain perfect league record with Warwickshire win

Derry hurlers maintained their perfect start to the year with victory over Warwickshire.
Derry hurlers maintained their perfect start to the year with victory over Warwickshire.

Allianz National Hurling League, Division 2A

Warwickshire 3-11, Derry 2-18

Derry returned back across the Irish Sea with another two points to maintain their 100% record in their National Hurling League Division 2A campaign.

And the Oak Leafers did so much easier than the score line suggests, as they coughed up a late 1-03 salvo to the hosts which helped 'The Exiles' put a bit of gloss on the scoreline. That's not to say John McEvoy's men had it all their own way however, as Warwickshire put up strong resistance for much of the opening half and at the start of the second.

Warwickshire had only 17 players to choose from, as work commitments and injuries hampered the Midlanders but it did not seem to bother them in the opening half as they gave Derry as good as they got.

The home side were playing into a moderate wind and hit the first two points of the game, the first from Niall Kennedy before a fine solo score from Peadar Scally lifted home spirits.

Derry eventually got off the mark through corner-forward Niall Ferris as he launched a fantastic effort from the middle of the field.

Willie Allen put two points between the sides again after 10 minutes from a dead ball before Derry registered their second score of the game. Richie Mullan, who was deputising as free-taker in the absence of regular marksman, Cormac O’Doherty, then notched the first of his eight frees to draw the sides level.

The men in red took the lead for the first time when Gerald Bradley got out in front of Dean Bruen to turn and fire over his shoulder and the next three scores were shared between the two talismen of their respective teams - a brace of Mullan frees and another super score from Kennedy as he caught the sliotar in mid-air, landed and fired over from the half-way line.

The Exiles brought parity between the sides once again when, at the third time of asking, Ian Dywer finally struck the sliotar with the right venom to fire over from 21m.

Warwickshire were showing tremendous heart as they gave their more illustrious opponents a fierce battle. Their full-back line was coming out with the ball time and time again, as the Derry full-forward line were caught static on the ball on.

After a further pointed free from Mullan, a break in play on 20 minutes following a clash of heads between Allen and Brian Óg McGilligan signalled a change of fortunes for Warwickshire.

Allen, who was having a fine game, was forced to retire injured and from there, Derry took control.

For the remaining eight minutes of the half, Derry scored 1-04 without reply as two points from Paul Cleary, an effort from Dara Cartin and a superb solo goal from Thomas Brady put them in the driving seat. Brady's strike saw the Kevin Lynch’s man cut in from the right and head straight towards goal. He struck the sliotar into the ground but it bounced just beyond Phil Crean in the Warwickshire goal to give Derry a 0-05 to 1-10 lead.

It would have been easy for Warwickshire to wilt after the break, but they rose to the challenge, scoring a goal and two points within 10 minutes of the restart to signal their intentions.

John Collins finally found his mark from a free after a few near misses to open the scoring before Bradley notched his second of the game.

Emmett McCabe brought the deficit back to seven points before a somewhat fortuitous lucky goal by Kennedy breathed new life into the Exiles challenge. The No.10 lobbed a high ball into the Derry square from the half-way line but it seemed easy-pickings for Sean Kelly in the Derry goal. The sun however, managed to get in the eyes of the Oak Leaf goalkeeper who lost the flight of the ball and fumbled it over the goal-line.

Game on, there was now only 4 points in it.

A pointed free from Mullan and some great defensive play by captain Sean Cassidy at full-back, seemed to steady the Derry ship before Warwickshire goaled again from a penalty.

A high ball caught Derry cornerback, Conor Kelly, unawares and the Kevin Lynches man tumbled Emmett McCabe to the ground. Up stepped Kennedy to fire it to the back of the net to leave it 2-07 to 1-12 after 45 minutes.

There was a real sense of worry now on the faces of the Derry management. However, the visitors - 1/50 to win with some bookmakers - sensed danger and found another gear just when they needed it.

That goal, and the arrival of Meehaul McGrath onto the pitch, seemed to awaken Derry from their slumber. Warwickshire would not score again until the 62nd minute as Derry ran amok. Bradley scored his third of the game before the influential McGrath pointed.

Mullan and Cleary added further points before Tiarnan McCloskey put the game to bed. A great pass from McGrath found the unmarked McCloskey and he side-stepped Crean before trying to strike the ball and missing. He eventually got his boot on it however to register the goal he had worked hard for.

That left nine points between the sides as they exchanged points until injury-time when Warwickshire hit 1-03 without reply, Kennedy, who had a tremendous game, completing his hat-trick with a well-struck free from the 21m line.

Undoubtedly closer than John McEvoy would have hoped for, the Exiles had pushed Derry all the way. Only seven days previously, the Oak Leafers had registered a hard-earned win against Kildare, the same Lillywhites team who had 37 points to spare over Warwickshire but it was the two points that were crucial as they travelled back with Derry.

WARWICKSHIRE: Phil Crean; Tom Kelly, Dean Bruen (C), Keiran Meaney; Peter Scally (0-01), John Collins(0-02, 1f, 1 65), Michael O’Regan (0-01); Robert Crowley, Daire King; Niall Kennedy 3-02, (1-00 pen, 1-00 f,), Willie Allen 0-01 (0-01f), Ian Dwyer (0-02); Darren O’Neill, Ronan O’Donoghue, Emmett McCabe (0-01).

(Subs) Kelvin Magee for Allen, 20 mins; Ciaran Boyle 0-01 for O’Donoghue, 60 mins.

DERRY: Sean Kelly; Conor Kelly, Sean Cassidy (c), Ruaidhri McCartney; Paddy Kelly, Brian Óg McGilligan, Naoise Waldron; Paul Cleary (0-03), Mark McGuigan; John Mullan, Richie Mullan (0-08, 8f), Thomas Brady (1-00); Niall Ferris (0-01), Gerald Bradley (0-03), Dara Cartin (0-01)

(Subs) Meehaul McGrath (0-01) for J. Mullan, 50 mins; Darragh McCloskey for McCartney, 54 mins; Tiarnan McCloskey (1-01) for Cartin, 60 mins; Corey O’Reilly for McGuigan, 63 mins.; Colm Murphy for R.Mullan, 66 mins.