Former Derry senior hurling captain and current player, Kevin Hinphey was in philosophical mood as he watched the victorious Antrim captain, Conor McHugh receive the Danny McNaughton Cup at Owenbeg on Sunday afternoon last.
Eight points had been the difference between the teams at the final whistle but the concession of two rather soft goals in an otherwise keenly contested first half gave the scoreboard a rather lopsided look. However, while the Saffrons deserved to retain their title it took a late goal to make the margin of victory rather one-sided.
“Definitely the scoreboard flatters them a bit,” said the Derry mentor. “They got a goal there at the end when the game was all but over, having got a couple of soft ones in the opening half early in the game and late in the half.
“There was always that six-point gap, so there was not a lot between the sides apart from those two first half goals. It was a game that was there for the taking so the final score was a bit flattering and disappointing.”
He added; “The whole game seemed a bit flat and there was not a lot of intensity in it. If we had been able to up the intensity we were in with a shout. Those goals in the first half were killers.”
The Antrim defence had the Derry forwards in a stranglehold in the first half, their grip only loosened when Richie Mullan moved to the edge of the square in the second half and Tiarnan McHugh began to exert control in the middle third.
“Ideally you would have liked to have had two Richie’s (Mullan), one at either end of the pitch,” added Hinphey. “If we had played him up front from the start you would have been weakening the back line, and vice versa when we started him at centre half back.”
He put into context the relative preparation of both sides; “The reality is that Antrim have been training since February, whereas Derry have been training for two weeks with four or five sessions and one game! That was probably the difference between the sides. Had we been able to train and prepare properly we would have fancied our chances. We have a wee bit of a problem at underage level to get players to commit to the county hurling scene.”
A delighted Saffrons manager, Colly Murphy accepted that Antrim had wobbled a little in the second half before pressing on for victory. He commented: “We were cruising then Derry went for it, threw Richie (Mullan) into the attack and he caused us a bit of unrest.
“When they got the second goal we pressed the panic button for a while but we were the better hurling team, and while it was tight for a bit we ran out comfortable winners.”
It was a game that was there for the taking so the final score was a bit flattering and disappointing.Kevin Hinphey
On the wasteful shooting in the first half he said: “We shot 10 wides in the first half but look if you do not shoot you do not score! Our shooting did improve in the second half, especially in the third quarter when we hit six points. So, I was pleased with that.”
Midway through the first half Derry lost possession in their own half and Antrim countered quickly but Derry keeper Sean Kelly seemed to have the sliothar under control in the goalmouth but it slipped from his grasp and in the ensuing scrimmage player of the match, Tiarnan Murphy bundled it to the net - Derry protesting that the keeper had been fouled as he tried to regain control.
There was no joy for the Oak Leafers and the goal broke the deadlock at 1-2 to 0-2, although Derry regrouped and matched the young Saffrons for score until the cusp of half-time when Ed McQuillan took a pass from goalscorer Murphy and bulged the net for 2- 4 to 0-4, Derry mentor, Kevin Hinphey felt that those two goals came at crucial moments in the context of what was a closely contested first half.
The sides had shared the opening four points, Séan Elliott and centre back Richie Mullan sharing the first two points, Conor Boyd and Tiarnan McHugh bringing the score to 0-2 each after 10 minutes.
After the goal Elliott from a free, then Peadar McLaughlin in the 24th minute, then Murphy from a free and Derry captain Rankin scored the remaining points of the half as Antrim racked up a dozen wides before McQuillan netted for a 2-4 to 0-4 interval lead.
With the Antrim defence keeping a tight grip on the Derry attack in the first half Oak Leaf manager did not wait too long to push Richie Mullan into a more attacking role after he’d landed another pointed free in response to a Smith point a minute into the second half.
Midway through the half the outstanding Murphy raced through to extend the Antrim lead to 2-11 to 0-7.
A minute later Scott Walsh fouled McHugh in the goalmouth and Mullan drilled the sliothar low to the corner of the net. When Rafferty added a second goal seven minutes from time for 2-13 to 2-7 there was a glimmer of hope for Derry but a delightful pick up on the run and a blistering shot to the net ensured a deserved Antrim victory.
Antrim - Paul McMullan; Manus Smith, Scott Walsh, Phelim Lennon; Fred McCurry, Conor Boyd 0-1, Ryan McGarry; Michael McGreevy, Conor McHugh 0-1; Ed McQuillan, 2-1, Calum Scullion, Deaghlan Smith 0-2; Tiarnan Murphy 1-6, 0-3, Anton McGrath, Séan Elliott 0-2, 0-1f; Ronan Molloy for C Scullion 49m; Dubaltach Magee-Baker for M Smith 59; Mark Cavanagh for P Lennon 59.
Derry - Sean Kelly; Caoilte McAlinden, Tiarnan Walsh, Ruairi Rafferty 1-0; Michael McEldowney, Richie Mullan 1-3, 1-0 pen, 0-3f, Fearghal Cassidy; Martin Quinn, Tim Rankin 0-1; Fintan Bradley 0-1, Eugene O’Kane, Peadar McLaughlin 0-1; Declan Quinn 0-1, Tiarnan McHugh 0-1, Reece McSorley.
Referee Colin Murray (Down).