Bradley inspires Derry in rout of Armagh
YOU couldn't escape the feeling that the genial spirit of the late Eamonn Coleman was hovering over Clones yesterday evening and chuckling.
A Derry team managed by another avuncular father-figure with an equally quick wit and a love of attacking football had blasted home 3-14 while pulling off the second big shock of this year's Ulster football championship.
What Armagh did to Down, Derry did right back to them yesterday with the sort of historic win and stylish football that the man who led them to All-Ireland glory in '93 would have revelled in.
But this is firmly John Brennan's Derry team, and they're determined to make their own history.
They wrote a bit yesterday, throwing aside the hurt of seven consecutive semi-final losses by cutting to ribbons a highly-fancied Armagh team to reach their first Ulster final since 2000.
They'll need to make more to go all the way because no team outside Armagh or Tyrone has won Ulster in the past 12 years and the latter could yet stand in their way.
But Brennan, a remarkably fresh 69-year-old who is in his first year of inter-county management, clearly isn't intimidated by anyone, especially not journalists who he treats with the same delightful playfulness as Coleman once did.
"I'm repeating myself, like I was all last week, it's like an old LP with a faulty needle!" he quipped, as he was asked how his team had so spectacularly overwhelmed the favourites.
"We went out there today and played attacking football.
"You play to your strengths and we have natural ball players inside," he stressed.
"We scored three goals and our inside forwards -- Conleth, Eoin and Mark -- well, we can't add any more superlatives; they've said it all, they produced it."
Armagh, he stressed, had to sustain what they'd done against Down while his team had to stop them doing it by improving on what they did against Fermanagh and this they certainly did.
Jamie Clarke was being heralded as the 'new Gooch' but Dermot McBride, with plenty of help, contained him to a single point.
Armagh's half-forwards, including adopted Mayoman Billy Joe Padden and Malachy Mackin who were so influential against Down, were rendered completely anonymous.
Outside of Stevie from Killeavy, none of their forwards were allowed pose any serious threat. While, in strong contrast, Mark Lynch showed why he was once the new white hope of Derry by running two men ragged before half-time, by which time he'd scored 1-2 from play.
Paddy Bradley is out injured and the the word 'mercurial' has too often prefixed his younger brother.
But all of Eoin Bradley's glorious talents came together yesterday in a stunning display that left Brendan Donaghy, Ciaran McKeever and Andy Mallon clutching at his shadow in turn.
Bradley shot 1-5 (2f) and earned numerous other frees to lay the Armagh full-back line to waste.
And Conleith Gilligan, whom Brennan persuaded back to the fold this season after a two-year absence, continued his renaissance, nailing several difficult frees in his own 1-5 (5f).
After trailing by five points (1-8 to 0-6) at half-time Armagh got themselves right back in the game when Michael O'Rourke, put through by Padden, goaled within 13 seconds of the re-start.
But Derry responded immediately with three quick unanswered scores, including a point from centre-back Charlie Kielt.
Then his brother James found Bradley with a brilliant long-range pass and he dropped Mallon and rattled the net to put them seven points clear.
Three unanswered points from Armagh -- two McDonnell frees and a Charlie Vernon point -- immediately cut the deficit to four but then came the game's real turning point.
First goalkeeper Danny Devlin pulled off his second good save on McDonnell and Derry immediately swept down the field where Lynch put Gilligan through for a third goal to secure victory with a full 15 minutes remaining.
As Armagh manager Paddy O'Rourke admitted: "The main reason we lost the game is that we lost a lot of individual battles. We lost in a lot of positions across the field."
He'll face tough questions as to why he didn't replace Vincent Martin (a pre-match replacement for Paul Duffy) earlier.
He struggled to contain Lynch -- who scored a marvellous opening goal on the half-hour -- with Sean Leo McGoldrick and Michael Bateson also involved in the move.
Brennan, in contrast, wasted no time in withdrawing Brian Og McAlary, Clarke's first marker, when he got an early card.
His pre-match switches, introducing James Kielt and Kevin McGuckin and switching Barry McGoldrick back to mark Mackin, all paid huge dividends.
But perhaps the greatest surprise was Derry's long dominance of midfield where centre-forward Enda Muldoon helped out and relative rookie Michael Friel had an absolute stormer.
Armagh's share in centre-field improved with the introduction of James Lavery, and fellow substitute Paul Duffy.
But once Gilligan's third goal went in Armagh were always clutching at straws and the second-half wide count (Derry 8, Armagh 1) spoke volumes.
Derry haven't won Ulster since 1998 but as Brennan said: "If we play like that we'll possibly beat anybody. I said if Derry got over this line today we'll be there later this year and I repeat that."
Scorers -- Derry: E Bradley 1-5 (2f), C Gilligan 1-5 (5f), M Lynch 1-2, SL McGoldrick and C Kielt 0-1 each. Armagh: S McDonnell 0-6 (4fs), M O'Rourke 1-1, J Clarke, P Duffy, C Vernon and A Kernan 0-1 each.
Derry -- D Devlin 8; K McGuckin 8; D McBride 8, B Og McAlary 6; B McGoldrick 8, C Kielt 7, SL McGoldrick 8, J Diver 6, M Friel 9; M Lynch 9, E Muldoon 7, M Bateson 7; J Kielt 8, E Bradley 9.5, C Gilligan 8. Subs: C Mullan 7 for McAlary (22), C O'Boyle 6 for Muldoon (63), E McGuckian for Bradley (66), C McGoldrick for Lynch (70).
Armagh -- P Hearty 6; A Mallon 6, B Donaghy 5, K Dyas 5; A Kernan 6, C McKeever 6, V Martin 4; K Toner 5, C Vernon 6; T Kernan 5, BJ Padden 6, M Mackin 6; M O'Rourke 6, S McDonnell (capt) 7, J Clarke 6. Subs: J Lavery 8 for Martin (35), P Duffy 8 for Dyas (49), D McKenna 6 for BJ Padden (49), B Mallon 6 for O'Rourke (52), J Murtagh 7 for T Kernan (57).
Ref -- D Coldrick (Meath).