Derry 2-12, Monaghan 1-13
James Kielt’s last superb last minute goal means Derry will meet Tyrone in the 2017 Bank of Ireland Dr. McKenna Cup Final at Pairc Esler Newry next Saturday evening.
Kielt’s brilliant left footed finish from a Mark Lynch pass arrived with the sides tied at 1-11 a-piece and finally decided a pulsating second half at the Athletic Grounds, one in which both side could have won.
Regardless of whether the extra match will prove a bonus or hindrance, Derry can take plenty from this semi-final victory which only came to life and a scrappy opening 35 minutes.
That was on contrast to the second half, when both sides stepped up a gear. Monaghan looked to be taking charge after a six point swing had them in front before goals from Emmett McGuckin and that sublime Kielt effort meant its a rerun of the 2016 decider.
A disappointing and costly first half saw both sides well off target with their shooting as Derry lost two players to injury and two to late black cards.
The Oak Leafers looked to have a decent defensive shape early on with Carlus McWilliams and Niall Keenan playing in front of their full back line and still managing to help the Derry squeeze on Monaghan kick-outs.
Yet despite bossing the possession, Derry only held a two point interval lead at 0-6 to 0-4 following a half which saw them hit seven wides and numerous shots short.
Monaghan weren’t much better on the shooting front, hitting six wides themselves with even Conor McManus guilty of passing up chances he would normally hit taken with ease.
Derry found themselves three points up inside 11 minutes thanks to points from James Kielt (free), Aidy McLaughlin and Enda Lynn but McLaughlin’s effort probbaly should’ve hit the net.
The Craigbane midfielder was sent clear by a Benny Heron fist pass and took his shot early, hitting it well enough but sending it high and over the bar.
And McLaughlin’s afternoon wouldn’t get any better. After watching Monaghan lose Dessie Mone to what looked a shoulder injury, McLaughlin, who has has torrid luck with injury throughout his career, fell awkwardly while making a tackle inside his own 45.
The big midfielder has been one of the shining lights for Damian Barton during this McKenna Cup campaign but the manner in which he departed the pitch suggested another spell on the sidelines and he was soon followed to the treatment room by Carlus McWillians who looked to have pulled a hamstring.
By this stage, Kieran Hughes had registered Monaghan’s first score with Niall Loughlin responding from a Derry free and Barry McGinn making it 0-4 to 0-2 by the 21st minute.
Derry had another goal chance on 26 minutes when Emmet McGuckin brilliantly set up Heron whose low shot was saved by Conor Forde. How a Monaghan hand touched the ball on the ground and for a second Derry looked to have a penalty before Down referee realised his mistakes and correctly awarded a 13m free which Loughlin tapped over.
Kielt and Manus swapped frees as the opening half ended in Black card disappointment for Derry. Conor McAtameny was first to go in the 34th minute for pulling back Karl O’Connell and the Oak Leafers afternoon became a touch more complicated when Heron was guilty of a hand trip moments later, Mark Lynch and Barry Grant the replacements as the sides went in at 0-6 to 0-4.
Monaghan introduced three half-time substitutes including Darren Hughes at half-time and within a minute it appeared both manager had had their say on the shooting as first Oak Leaf substitute Barry Grant and then Monaghan’s Owen Duffy sent efforts between the posts for 0-7 to 0-5.
Kielt (free) and Duffy traded score again before Lynch edged Derry three in front from a free after Forester had been fouled.
From there Monaghan grasped the mettle and a six point swing saw them move from 0-9 to 0-6 behind to 0-9 to 1-09 in front with substitute Conor McCarthy’s superb goal seemingly putting O’Rourke’s team in the driving seat.
Credit to Derry though, they responded to the Monaghan resurgence and engineered an excellent goal of their own as Lynn and Forester broke to free Lynch who provided McGuckin with the easiest of chances as he fisted into an empty net on 50 minutes for 1-10 to 1-09.
From there until the end it was anybody’s game. Monaghan’s high press gave Derry all sorts of problems from their own kick-outs but once they managed to work their way out pass him the first press, there was acres of ground to exploit.
And exploit it they did; none moreso than Kielt whose fierce finish high into the Armagh net was worthy of a summer’s day in June.
Derry: Ben McKinless, Niall Keenan, Connor Nevin, Ronan Murphy, Neil Forester (0-1), Oisin Duffin, Mark Craig, James Kielt (1-3, 3f) , Aidey McLaughlin (0-1), Enda Lynn (0-1), Niall Loughlin (0-3, 2f), Carlus McWilliams, Ryan Bell (0-1), Emmett McGuckin (1-0), Benny Heron. (Subs) Conor McAtamney for A McLaughlin (inj), 16mins; Michael Warnock for C McWilliams (inj), 16mins; Mark Lynch (0-1, 1f) for C McAtamney (Black Card), 34mins; Barry Grant (0-1) for B Heron (Black Card), 35mins; Conor McGrogan for M Craig, 43mins; Gavin O’Neill for R Bell, 65mins;
Monaghan: Conor Forde, Drew Wylie (0-1), Neil McAdam, Ryan Wylie, Fintan Kelly (0-1), Kieran Hughes (0-1), Colin Walsh, Dessie Mone, Niall Kearns, Karl O’Connell, Barry McGinn (0-3, 2f), Owen Duffy (0-2), Ryan McAnespie, Dermot Malone, Conor McManus (0-4, 3f). (Subs) Kieran Duffy for D Mone, (inj), 9mins;Darren Hughes for N Kearns, H/T; MIkey Murnaghan for N McAdam, H/T; Conor McCarthy (1-1) for Dermot Malone, H/T;Shane Carey for R McAnespie, 51mins; Thomas Kerr for C McManus, 66mins;
Referee: Ciaran Branagan (Down)