Dour struggle as Donegal edge past Derry into Ulster Final
Donegal 1-9; Derry 0-10
Donegal stumbled into their fifth Ulster final on the spin in Clones tonight when they edged past Derry after a dour struggle.
The programme notes suggested that it would take an 'act of God to defeat to Donegal'
In the event it was the merely human contributions of Donegal captain Michael Murphy - who kicked two crucial points and late replacement Martin Reilly who scored the all important goal which saw the defending title holders through to next month's final against Monaghan.
All the football Donegal has played is catching up with them. They really struggled to break down the Derry blanket defence and were uncharacteristically sloppy in possession and generally lethargic.
The absence of Mark McHugh from the Donegal half back line resulted in a significant reshuffle. Martin O'Reilly, his replacement, started at wing forward with Ryan McHugh switching to defence.
More significantly Neil Gallagher went to the edge of the Derry square in the early stages with Michael Murphy operating at midfield.
Derry had a goal chance after less than 30 seconds but his effort was smothered by Paul Durcan.
But the pattern of the game of the contest was established after the early skirmishes. When they hadn't the ball Derry withdrew 13 players behind the ball; apart from playing a sweeper they erected Gaelic football's version of the Berlin Wall across their 45 metre line.
Derry's own attacking plan revolved around ballooning high balls in on top of target man Eoin Bradley. It nearly brought a positive result after seven minutes when the latter beat Paul Durcan but Neil McGee comfortably batted the ball off the line.
Donegal dominated the first quarter which was devoid of any atmosphere. Derry lost five kicks out on the spin which enabled them to go 4-1 ahead after 11 minutes.
But the title holders were uncharacteristically wasteful in front of goals kicking four wides in the first 16 minutes.
They were punished when Derry kicked two points on the spin - the second an excellent effort from Caolan O'Boyle to leave just one point between the sides at the end of the first quarter.
It was chessboard football but Donegal were finding it increasingly difficult to penetrate the thick Derry blanket. As the rain arrived a speculative lob from Colm McFadden dropped short and from the resultant counter attack Mark Lynch kicked the equalising score after 22 minutes.
Donegal's lack of sharpness was illustrated when twice within 90 seconds Derry's Fergal Doherty twice stripped off the ball in midfield but Donegal failed to make it count.
It was horrible to watch with unenforced galore. Finally, having missed a couple of efforts Colm McFadden had Donegal's first score in 19 minutes five minutes before the break to edge them back in front but Christopher McKaigue equalised immediately afterwards.
Murphy finally moved back to the edge of the square and it nearly brought an immediate dividend when he got his fist to a long ball from McHugh but Derry keeper Thomas Mallon saved magnificently.
Brian McIvor was delighted with the efforts of his team in the first half. In contrast, Rory Gallagher kept his charges on the field for a couple of moments. They looked somewhat jaded as they trooped off at the break.
McFadden edged Donegal back in front early in the second half as Derry kicked three crucial wides in a row and then to compound those misses Michael Murphy bombed over the point of the game from 55 metres.
Midfielders Niall Holly and Martin McElhinney exchanged points before a mistake by Derry handed Donegal the initiative. Mallon's poor kick out was grabbed to Neil Gallagher who powered through the centre before off loading to Martin O'Reilly who found the net for a crucial goal to give his side a five point cushion.
Derry got the next two scores as Donegal paid the price for trying to play keep ball. It was back to a two point game by the 53rd minute after Derry substitute Benny Heron pointed.
Donegal's tactics of sitting back had essentially handed their opponents back the initiative to their opponents. But they held out a hard earned but unconvincing win as Derry lost two players, Brendan Rogers and Ciaran McFaul to black cards in the closing stages.
The official attendance was 19,237.
Donegal: P Durcan; P McGrath, N McGee, E McGee; R McHugh, K Lacey, F McGlynn; N Gallagher, O MacNiallias (0-1); C Toye (0-1), M McElhinney (0-1), M O'Reilly (1-0); P McBrearty (0-2, 1f), M Murphy (0-2), C McFadden (0-2). Subs: M McHugh for McFadden 56m; A Thompson for Toye 61m; H McFadden for McElhinney 70m; D Walsh for McBrearty 70 + 2.
Derry: T Mallon; O Duffy, B Rogers, D McBride; K Johnston, C McKaigue (0-1), C McFaul; N Holly (0-1), F Doherty; S L McGoldrick, M Lynch (0-2. 1f), E Lynn; D Heavron, E Bradley (0-2), C O'Boyle (0-2). Subs: B Heron (0-1) for McGoldrick 46m; L McGoldrick for Duffy 47m; T O'Brien for Lynn 50m; N Loughlin for Bradley 61m, E Lynn for O'Boyle 63m; C McAtamney for Rogers (BC) 67m
Referee: Rory Hickey (Clare)