Allianz National League Division Four
Limerick 1-5, Derry 0-13
It was 'mission accomplished' for Damian McErlain and his players as Derry secured promotion from Division Four at the earliest opportunity thanks to a fifth straight Division Four victory in five games against Limerick in the Gaelic Goounds on Saturday.
And with Leitrim, who defeated London on Sunday, joining the Oak Leafers in Division Three next season it renders the remaining two round of fixture meaningless as far as the league table is concerned with only the question of the League title in Croke Park still to be decided.
The top two have been head and shoulders above the other counties in the Division, neither dropping a point en route to promotion, which is likely to mean their meeting in Celtic Park in two weeks will see plenty of personnel changes as neither wish to show their hand ahead of the March 30th.
Promotion however, didn't look to be on the cards in the opening minutes of Saturday's game as it took Derry fully 13 minutes to register their first score which came from the outstanding Ciaran McFaul.
The visitors trailed by two points at half time but then held the hosts to a single second half score. Limerick’s cause was not helped when sub Padraig de Brun got a red card following a clash with Jason Rocks just nine minutes after he came on.
Damian McErlain's pre-match plans suffered a blow when they were forced to field without two key players from the previous game against Wicklow. Full back Brendan Rogers was unavailable and top scorer Emmett Bradley was injured.
Their absence meant Michael McEvoy moved from wing back to full-back with Steelstown’s Eoghan Concannon coming in at right half-back. Declan Hughes retained his attack in place and was joined by the returning Conor McAtamney in the front line meaning Derry had four players in attack who normally play further back for their clubs.
At half time, Ryan Dougan, who was at full forward but plays for his club Glen at full-back, was replaced by fit again Ryan Bell, making his second appearance since an injury picked up the the Dr. McKenna Cup clash against Fermanagh.
Declan Hughes usually operates around the middle of the field for Lavey and he was replaced by the team’s most experienced player Enda Lynn who had been out injured.
The changes brought about more fluency in attack for what was, in the end, an easy victory
Despite conceding a soft early goal, there was only one team in it once Chrissy McKaigue and Ciarán McFaul took over midfield and starved their opponents of useful possession after they failed to build on their early lead.
Excellent marksmanship from their two corner-forwards, Christopher Bradley and Shane McGuigan, gave the visitors an edge in finishing their opponents couldn’t match and the six points in a row from Bradley either side of half-time set Derry up for victory.
Limerick’s chances of responding after falling behind early in the second-half took a knock when they were reduced to 14 as the extra man allowed Derry to double-mark the home side’s target man Pat Begley whose height at the edge of the square had proved an effective weapon in previous rounds.
Séamus O’Carroll missed a free to open the scoring but collected the subsequent kick-out to split the posts but Limerick really took off when Colm McSweeney’s long delivery into the square floated over Thomas Mallon’s head into the top corner of the net.
However, chances missed to extend their lead cost them when McFaul got Derry off the mark and they could have equalised when Bradley pounced on a defensive error but his shot crashed off the crossbar and over.
With Chrissy McKaigue and McFaul dominating the middle, Limerick’s defence held out until Bradley pointed under pressure from out on the right. That was followed by Jamie Lee and Bradley swapping frees before Cillian Fahy and Peter Nash moved the gap back to three for the Treaty men.
However, Bradley sent over his fourth in injury time to narrow the gap to 1-4 to 0-5. Bradley’s point from play and follow-up free equalised within minutes of the restart before long shots from sub Ryan Bell and McFaul put the league leaders in front.
The home team’s prospects dimmed further when Pádraig de Brún walked off to a straight red before Shane McGuigan split the posts.
Limerick were a poor second best at this stage as Shane McGuigan struck twice from distance to ensure happy trip home for the Oak Leaf men.
Limerick finally found a second-half score when Lee pointed five minutes from time but Karl McKaigue came up from defence it to keep Derry’s margin at a very safe five point lead.
With their last two games at home against Leitrim (March 16th) and Wexford (March 24th), it is upwards and onwards for this battling Derry outfit.
Derry: Thomas Mallon, Karl McKaigue (0-01), Michael McEvoy, Paul McNeill; Eoghan Concannon, Éamonn McGill, Jason Rocks; Chrissy McKaigue, Ciarán McFaul (0-02); Declan Hughes, Conor McAtamney, Pádraig Cassidy; Christopher Bradley (0-06, 0-02f), Ryan Dougan, Shane McGuigan(0-03).
Subs: Ryan Bell (0-01) for Declan Hughes (ht), Enda Lynn for Ryan Dougan (ht), Seán Francis Quinn for Éamonn McGill (42), Patrick Coney for Eoghan Concannon (65), Niall Keenan for
Limerick: Donal O’Sullivan; Seán O’Dea, Garett Noonan, Paul Maher; Colm McSweeney (1-00), Iain Corbett, Gordon Browne; Darragh Treacy,Tommy Childs; Peter Nash (0-01), Jamie Lee (0-02, 0-01f), Adrian Enright; Cillian Fahy (0-01), Pa Begley, Séamus O’Carroll (0-01).
Subs: Pádraig de Brún for Adrian Enright (ht), Brian Donovan for Peter Nash (45),Jim Liston for Colm McSweeney (55), Mike Fitzgibbon for Séamus O’Carroll (55), Ronan Lynch for Tommy Childs (62).
Referee: Barry Judge (Sligo).