By Michael McMullan
SUNDAY’s Ulster final lived up to every possible expectation, keeping an exceptional attendance in suspense until the very last second.
Emmett Bradley played a year of Corn na nÓg football as a goalkeeper as a youth and as he threw himself into the line of sight to deny Donegal a winning goal in those frantic final seconds, the 24-year-old starved of Derry was over.
Derry has sometimes walked the most beautiful lines. Odhran McFadden Ferry’s run under Rory Gallagher’s nose in the technical area was not followed and when Michael Langan’s thunderbolt bounced off Odhran Lynch’s chest, Gaoth Dobhair’s man put it back in Donegal a passport for redemption in a bid to level things against race. of game.
Bar Peadar Mogan kicking outside the Derry cordon and Murphy outside the starting effort to give Donegal a 1-11 1-10 lead with 12 minutes to go, the defense of Derry was watertight.
Patrick McBrearty remained in the shadow of Chrissy McKaigue. Paudi McGrogan was the perfect match for Michael Langan. Jamie Brennan was the man to break Cavan’s heart, but Conor McCluskey followed him everywhere and always had the discipline to provide enough width in Derry’s attack to help leave the center of the Donegal defense cracked open .
Paul Cassidy was again a silent assassin, doing to Eoghan Bán Gallagher what he did to Conor Meyler and Conor McCarthy. Covering the pitch, he embodied the team element in Derry’s revival and sent a brilliant first-half scoreline on his first-ever outing at Clones.
When Odhran Lynch lost a kick after Derry conceded, it was Conor Doherty who robbed Peadar Mogan in the honeypot to let Derry breathe again. It was proof of being a unit that lived up to the narrative that dominates the post-game sound bites.
By the standards of his last two games, it looks like Gareth McKinless was silent. Scratching the surface and the extent to which Brendan Rogers ran the show, McKinless seemed to have a different detail, to handle the center. They were horses for lessons.
On the one occasion Rogers actually made a mistake – loose turnover with Donegal at one point from the good – Derry was vulnerable. Murphy’s pass to Shane O’Donnell looked like opening the right side of St Tiernach’s Park, but when McBrearty didn’t move away from McKaigue to be an option, McKinless helped force a vital turnover and win a touch ball from Derry that ended up with Shane McGuigan swinging over the bar – another inch.
Derry defended with the utmost bravery but they were helped with Murphy away from the full front where he could have fended off Rogers slightly.
This allowed Odhran Lynch to play as a sweeper, with Shea Downey as a pivot to help carry the ball when the game needed to change.
The whole operation was helped by two things. First, there was the selflessness of players willing to step back, typified by Paul Cassidy and Niall Loughlin making blocks to set the first half.
Second, they brought Conor Glass into defensive midfield. He was the one who found himself alongside Caolan Ward when Shane O’Donnell was inside for a first-half goal chance.
The Derry team that dropped to Division Four had no one to hunt and plug the hole.
It was Glass who was at the foot of Jamie Brennan when he found himself shooting in the first half and he took the sting of Hugh McFadden’s shot which spun into Shane McGuigan’s arms when the game turned. unfolded and Derry is one point ahead.
Derry was lucky when Michael Murphy failed to get anything from his first three shots at the post.
Only Peadar Mogan and Odhran McFadden Ferry attacked with urgency, while Derry widened the players to stretch the game to the max, with Rogers and Ethan Doherty striking through the middle.
Starter Shane McGuigan at centre-forward knocked out McCole enough to knock Donegal out of his comfort zone and Derry allowed Stephen McMenamin to drive the ball up to their wall of red shirts in the middle.
Donegal’s saving grace was Shaun Patton. While he only played long with one kick – lost to a push from Michael Langan – he sought the mid-range kick more than the cheap jab at a defender. Of Donegal’s 16 points, nine of them originated with Letterkenny’s icy man running a ball past a player into a vacant flank.
On the Derry side, there were fears that Odhran Lynch would struggle like Ethan Rafferty did in Ballybofey.
But Lynch took his success rate from 54 per cent in Monaghan’s game to 76 per cent on Sunday, helped with nine of his short kicks and Derry’s surefire plan to use the width to good effect. It was a world apart the day Galway entered the Oakleafers in their League eliminations.
Of the nine he launched long on Sunday, Conor Glass was the main target and scavengers were sent in to feed on the remains.
Lynch had Benny Heron to thank in the 44e minute. An angled kick to the sideline was somehow maintained. Derry had dispatched three straight scores to take 1-9 to 1-7 behind. Heron found a way to hook the ball in his hand and seconds later Shane McGuigan made it a one-point game, another small win to keep his nose above water.
Derry engineered 1-9 of their kicks. And on the 1-5 that came from a short option, two had a kick pass that resulted in a point and another saw Ethan Doherty’s run lead to Niall Toner’s incisive cut for score Loughlin’s goal.
In fact, of Lynch’s five unsuccessful sending offs, only his drive into Michael Murphy’s throat ended in a Donegal score. Another resulted in a push into midfield and a free kick. Derry forced turnovers on two others and red jerseys smothered McBrearty on the other.
Everything points to Derry using hunger and aggression in the face of a potential threat.
Derry hadn’t fallen behind in any of the games to date and with Donegal twice ahead in regular time, it was the litmus test.
There was no obvious sense of panic as they trailed 1-12 to 1-10 with ten minutes remaining. It was Paudi McGrogan and Conor McCluskey who helped Conor Glass in the clear when a clumsy leg from Caolan McGonagle took Glass down for McGuigan to kick Derry into the ballgame.
From the resulting kick, McGuigan chased Stephen McMenamin to return it before being pulled down without an obvious black card being shown by Sean Hurson and McGuigan leveled things.
An extra man for 10 minutes would have been huge.
The only other questionable decision, in an otherwise solid performance, saw Hurson accidentally get in the way of a Donegal pass while attacking. A hop ball would have saved his blushes, had Conor Glass nailed his last chance to win the game inside the posts.
Donegal had the most experienced bench. They had played 10 finals in 12 years. Both were key ingredients in their favor going into overtime.
Derry, who had lost the previous two throw-ins, called up Brendan Rogers in midfield for extra time. In a move that seemed premeditated, Rogers beat Murphy on the throw-in from Hurson and kicked the ball into Derry’s attack where it was held for two and a half minutes until Lachlan Murray hit a wide.
Game management at its best. After Donegal took the lead through Ryan McHugh’s perfect pass to Aaron Doherty, Emmett Bradley banged in a monster equalizer.
Rogers did the exact same thing at the start of the second half of overtime. Another two and a half minutes of Derry possession ended with McFadden Ferry taking down McGrogan and McGuigan opening up a lead they never lost.
If Rogers hadn’t already done enough to secure the man of the match, he scored a third scorer and found another ounce of energy to collect a loose short from McKaigue before firing on the afterburners to prepare Glass for insurance point.
There isn’t a single word in any language that makes Rogers’ performance any fairer.
Derry had a lot of great performers, but he was on a different level. It was a hammer to hammer situation of the first order.
He has three points from Michael Murphy scored two and was left to chase a game Donegal needed him to control.
READ MORE – Ciaran Meenagh on Derry’s belief from the inside. Click here…
Posted: 9:59 PM May 31, 2022