Ulster Under 20 Football Championship Quarter-final
The broad smile that engulfed Derry under 20 manager Mickey Donnelly’s face on Sunday in Healy Park was reminiscent of the one three months ago when his St. Ronan’s, Lurgan side lifted the Mac Rory Cup against all odds.
This time there was no trophy to be raised just yet but a similar underdog story rang true as his Derry side dumped a well fancied Donegal team in dramatic fashion.
“All the chat was about Donegal," explained Donnelly, "It has been all along with people talking about them as potential All Ireland winners so for us to produce a performance like that is massive.”
That said, Donnelly was also full of praise for what, quite clearly, was a very talented Donegal.
“Just their pace down on the field saw them get a few breakaway goals," added Donnelly, "I thought the way the lads played in the second half was fantastic, phenomenal performance. The challenge now is to be every bit as good next week, .
"Donegal had a phenomenal performance last Sunday and probably just didn’t hit the same heights today. Now we have had a good performance today, so when we play Down next Sunday we’ll have to be every bit as good.”
The game itself went right to the wire with no one sure of the result until the referee’s whistle sounded to bring the game to an end. Donegal led then Derry with extra time seemingly inevitable but despite going a man down, the Oakleafers held on.
“The lads felt they had a point to prove and I suppose you have that angle," added the Derry manager, "Lads are going to go to the wire for you and they certainly went to the wire for us today. I’m very, very proud of them.”
“We were down and with our backs to the wall but sometimes that is how championship matches have to go. You have to show character out there and try to dig the result out. So, for us to go down to 14 men and hold on was massive.”
The old saying goes that big players come to the fore in big championship games and Derry certainly have those in abundance. Yet, despite having a medal trail and experience beyond their years, Derry were written off much to Donnelly’s disbelief.
“We have stressed that point all week, all the talk was about Donegal but we have boys who have played in Mac Rory finals, played in Hogan Finals, All Ireland and Ulster Minor Finals and there was no talk of them at all so it was just great to see them step up today.
"You just can’t buy that. These boys have won more big games than they have lost. To come up here to Omagh and get a win is massive. The lads were mad to get at this day and thank god they performed.”