PATRICK McBrearty kicked a memorable late winner as Donegal prevailed against Derry by the very skins of their teeth to move into the semi-finals of the Ulster Championship.
Donegal 0-16 Derry 0-15
By Chris McNulty at Sean MacCumhaill Park. Pictures by Evan Logan
There were only 20 seconds remaining of the four minutes added by referee David Coldrick, McBrearty bent over to squeeze Donegal through.
It was only the second time that Donegal – who needed the introduction of Michael Murphy in the second half – were in front all evening.
Moments beforehand, Shane McGuigan’s superb free had canceled out a prior McBrearty effort.
Time paused when McBrearty swung and Donegal inched their way into a semi-final joust with Tyrone.
Murphy, left off the starting team due to a hamstring complaint, was summonsed 11 minutes into the second half at a time when the writing was on the wall for Delcan Bonner’s men.
The Glenswilly man still seemed some way off full fitness, but his point from a free in the 50th minute kick-started Donegal’s comeback attempt.
Two weeks ago, Donegal posted a record 2-25 in their dispatch of Down in the preliminary round, but this never had the feel of a repeat. So it proved with Derry, bossed by former Donegal manager Rory Gallagher, had their noses in front until those dramatic final minutes.
Bonner attempted to play down fears over his captain’s injury during the week, but his ‘all good’ remark didn’t ring true. Seven weeks after he left the action just give minutes into a League game against Monaghan and a fortnight after his withdrawal in the first half of the Ulster tie against Down, Murphy was unable to take his place.
For the first time in the Championship since a preliminary round win over Cavan in 2012, Donegal lined up for Amhrán na bhFiann without Murphy.
Donegal were certainly unsettled in the early exchanges.
Even before Benny Heron fired Derry in front in the eighth minute, the Oak Leaf rattled Donegal.
Shane McGuigan fisted off the outside of the upright after surging through in the opening minute and it took a brave intervention by Hugh McFadden – captaining Donegal in Murphy’s absence – to block Heron’s stinging goal-bound shot after a McGuigan shot drop off a post.
Ciaran McFaul arched over from the stand side and Conor Glass wasn’t far from the same blade of grass wen the former AFL player opened his account.
McGuigan, who drew the foul, fired over a 22nd minute free to open up a four-point lead, 0-6 to 0-2, but Niall O’Donnell delivered an immediate and important riposte, riffling over from 30 metres.
Derry have been resurgent under Gallagher, but were without a win in Ulster since 2015 when they arrived in Ballybofey.
Donegal, by contrast, had lost just five of their last 30 games in the province, that sequence including the deliver of five Ulster titles to the county.
Gallagher had a huge hand in the start of Donegal’s rebirth, as assistant manager to Jim McGuinness from 2011-13.
On a frosty January night in 2011, Gallagher first appeared in Castlefin to coach Donegal, with former Donegal forward Michael Hegarty remarking at one stage how McGuinness found the ‘missing piece’ of the jigsaw in adding the Fermanagh native.
A quick fire double by Michael Langan on the half-hour pulled Donegal back to within a point, 0-7 to 0-6, as they parted for half-time.
Donegal had a real let-off four minutes after the re-start.
Padraig Cassidy and Padraig McGrogan combined before Heron’s effort came back down from the crossbar. Initially, it seemed as if the ball had crossed the line. Donegal survived, but Derry reeled off the next four points, with Murphy and Odhrán Mac Niallais brought on with the ship leaking water.
A converted Murphy free lifted home voices among the 500 patrons permitted into the venue and Paul Brennan tucked over to make it a two-point game at the water break.
Murphy did enough to put McGuigan’s compass off its course when the Slaughtneil man was eyeing up the bullseye and a Niall O’Donnell double had Donegal level with ten minutes to go.
Extra time seemed on the cards but McBrearty ended it in regulation time.
The reaction at the end told it all, but they have little time to toast with Tyrone looming in seven days’ time.
Donegal: Shaun Patton; Eoin McHugh, Neil McGee, Stephen McMenamin; Odhrán McFadden-Ferry, Ryan McHugh, Eoghan Ban Gallagher; Hugh McFadden, Caolan McGonigle (0-2); Ciaran Thompson, Niall O’Donnell (0-3), Michael Langan (0-3); Patrick McBrearty (0-3, 2f), Jamie Brennan (0-2), Ethan O’Donnell. Subs: Brendan McCole for McMenamin (40), Paul Brennan (0-1) for McFadden-Ferry (44), Michael Murphy (0-2f) for J.Brennan (46), Odhrán Mac Niallais for E.O’Donnell (49), Oisin Gallen for Thompson (70).
Derry: Oran Lynch; Chrissy McKaigue, Brendan Rogers, Padraig McGrogan; Padraig Cassidy (0-1), Gareth McKinless (0-1), Conor Doherty (0-1); Conor Glass (0-1), Emmett Bradley (0-1); Ethan Doherty, Niall Loughlin (0-1), Ciaran McFaul (0-3); Benny Heron (0-2), Shane McGuigan (0-4, 2f), Paul Cassidy. Subs: Oisin McWilliams for Heron (56), Niall Toner for P.Cassidy (59), Conor McCluskey for E.Doherty (62), Paul McNeill for Loughlin (70).
Referee: David Coldrick (Meath).Tags: