Derry Under 20s produce remarkable fightback to make Ulster final

Callum Brown takes on Down's Finn McIlroy and Daniel Guinness in Clones.
Callum Brown takes on Down's Finn McIlroy and Daniel Guinness in Clones.

Ulster Under 20 Championship Semi-final

Derry 2-17, Down 2-15

Oisin McWilliams celebrates a score during Sunday's Ulster Under 20 Championship semi-final victory over Down.

Oisin McWilliams celebrates a score during Sunday's Ulster Under 20 Championship semi-final victory over Down.

Derry under 20s produced a remarkable second half display to over turn a 10-point second half deficit and book themselves a place in the Ulster Championship final after a thrilling victory over Down.

Mickey Donnelly's men were second best for much of the opening half and seemingly on their way toward a shock exit until things took a dramatic turn after the break with Lorcan McWilliam's penalty the catalyst for 30 minutes of football which will live long in the memory of any Oak Leaf fan present to witness it.

To a player, Derry were superb, shoring up a defence that had been far too open in the first half and driving an excellent Down team into submission with Dara Rafferty fantastic amid a team of superb displays.

McWilliams' 33rd minute spot-kick was the injection of confidence Derry needed and when Callum Brown showed all his strength and skill to hold off two Down defenders and grab Derry's second on 40 minutes 'Mission Impossible' suddenly became 'Mission Probable'.

If anything, Down should have been fearing the worse when Tohill replaced Downey on 56 minutes as Anton and Shea swapped places in a substitution which conjured images of the halcyon days of Oak Leaf football. This young Derry team have a long way to go to match the feats of that era but with after two Ulster titles in three years at minor level, another final appearance - a fourth in four years - at this new Under 20 grade, it shows the Oak Leaf football obituaries may have been prematurely written with plenty of talent coming through.

Derry went into the game as favourites following their impressive defeat of Donegal but any belief they were going to get things easy in Clones were soon dispelled by a Down side with pace to burn.

The Mourne men used Aaron Magee and Conor McCrickard inside with impressive playmaker Pierce Laverty knitting things together to great effect behind them.

Derry placed danger man Brown on the edge of the square and every time the Limavady youngster got hands on the ball, he looked capable of opening up the Down rearguard but those instances were far too infrequent in the first half for Oak Leaf liking.

Indeed, some uncharacteristically lethargic defending by Derry contributed to a difficult second quarter to the first half which saw Pierce Laverty and the the jet heeled Devlin hit crucial goals to build a seven point interval led that had looked unlikely for much of the half.

Yet the warning signs were there from early on for Derry as keeper Oran Hartin had to brilliantly turn away Conor McCrickard's early effort before the same player tapped over a free for the opening score.

Another McCrickard free had Down two up but Derry settled with Lorcan McWilliams grabbing their opener from another free.

Derry were pressing high on the Down kick-outs but still the Mourne kicks were finding their targets with too much ease and if nothing short was on, midfielders Liam Middleton and Josh Connery were a more than useful outlet.

Brown and Lorcan McWilliams were the Derry players inside but Down employed Conro Cox as a sweeper and too many of the Oak Leaf passes were hopeful rather than purposeful.

Devlin and McWilliams swapped frees before Ben McCarron produced a lovely solo run and point to draw the sides level at three points a-piece.

The sides went tit-for-tat on the scoreboard, McCarron helping himself to a couple of scores as Derry went 0-6 to 0-4 up before Down struck for their opening goal, Laverty striding through to finish under Hartin.

Bad became worse for Derry four minutes later when Devlin sprinted away from the Derry defence to rattle the net for a second time and pave the way for a 2-08 to 0-7 half-time lead that didn'ty flatter Down.

Within seconds of the restart, Derry had made their second half intentions clear. Brown won possession and power his way through four tackles only for Down keeper Darren Ross to produce a superb block to deny a goal.

Indeed when Cox, Devlin and Laverty tagged on points, the writing looked on the wall for Derry. Not a bit of it!

Within seconds Ross' foot block on Lorcan McWilliams goal bound shot brought Derry the penalty and there wasn't a cooler head in Clones as the young Swatragh man sent the keeper the wrong way to breath new life into the Oak Leaf challenge at 1-07 to 2-11.

It was still a tall order but Lorcan and his twin, Oisin, produced the next three scores, Oisin twice from play splitting the posts and with every point, they were chipping away at the Down confidence.

Four points behind, step forward Brown. even half-fit, the Limavady forward is a handful and holding off at least two defenders, he engineered himself a yard to fire a brilliant low finish into the net.

Down went 11 minutes without scoring as Oisin McWilliams and a brace from McCarron put Derry ahead for the first time since the 19th minute.

Credit to Down they managed to draw level at 2-15 a piece with 10 minutes to go but there would be no denying the Derry momentum as points from McCarron, who finished with 0-5, Conor Doherty off a superb free, Lorcan McWilliams and Conleith McShane capped a remarkable comeback. Simply unbelievable.

Derry Scorers: Lorcan McWilliams (1-5, 1pen, 3f), Callum Brown (1-0), Oisin McWilliams (0-4), Ben McCarron (0-5, 2f), Conor Doherty (0-1, 1f), C McShane, (0-1)

Down Scorers: Aaron Devlin (1-2, 1f), Pierce Laverty (1-1), Conor McCrickard (0-4, 4f), Daniel McGuinness (0-3), Aaron Magee (0-1), Conor Cox (0-1), Jack McCartan (0-1), Liam Kerr (0-1)

Derry: Oran Hartin; Sean McKeever, Darragh Rafferty, Eoghan Concannon; Jude McAtamney, Conor McCluskey, Padraig McGrogan; Callum Brown, Oisin McWilliams; Conor Doherty, Shea Downey, Ben McCarron; Marl McGrogan, Lorcan McWilliams, Declan Cassidy.

(Subs): Conleith McShane for J McAtamney, 27mins; Martin Bradley for M McGrogan, 49mins, Anton Tohill for S Downey, 56mins; Aaron Bradley for C Doherty, 61mins; Eoghaqn Bradley for L McWilliams, 61mins;

Yellow Cards: E Concannon 22mins; L McWilliams 55mins, B McCarron, 55mins; D Rafferty, 60mins;

Down: Darren Ross; Brendan Gallan, Finn McIlroy, Adam Lynch; Conor Cox, Oisin McConvey, Shane Annett; Liam Middleton, Josh Connery; Owen McCabe, Pierce Laverty, Daniel McGuinness; aaron Devlin, Conor McCrickard, Aaron Magee.

(Subs) Jack McCartan for A Devlin, 40mins;Liam Kerr for L Middleton, 43mins; Gareth McGribben for a Magee, 51mins; Reece Martin for B Gallen, 52mins; Ronan Fegan for J Connery, 62mins ;

Yellow Cards: O McConvey, 20mins; D Ross 33mins; J McCartan 59mins;

Red Cards: O Convery (2 bookings - 54mins)

Referee: Conor Dourneen (Cavan)