Derry 1-16, Donegal 1-14
Not for the first time, it was left to Michael Murphy to save Donegal. With time all but done, only the great man could stop Derry. Rory Gallagher’s side were two up and Murphy needed to conjure a goal from a close-range free through a wall of Derry bodies.
It was too big of an ask even for him. At last, Derry were Ulster champions.
Referee Seán Hurson’s final whistle unleashed decades of frustration. Derry fans poured onto the pitch and lingered there long into the evening. Afterwards, the winners’ dressing-room was effectively open to visitors.
Children queued for selfies, songs were belted out and former Derry players with moist eyes came to visit. The emotion was palpable.
That outpouring was at odds with a game that was clinical in nature. Risk was rarely taken and it didn’t make for great viewing.
But as the game edged to its conclusion the drama cranked up. Derry led by five at one stage in the first half, with Niall Loughlin’s goal, which on 11 minutes was the first score of the game, giving them a cushion.
However, Donegal grew into the game and by half-time they trailed by 1-6 to 0-6 with Peadar Mogan punching through to grab three points.
On the restart, Donegal manufactured their own goal. The second half was just 45 seconds old when Odhrán McFadden Ferry followed up on Michael Langan’s shot. Derry ’keeper Odhran Lynch saved the first effort but could do nothing with the second.
From there the sides traded blows but when Jason McGee clipped over his second point of the half, his side were two up inside the final ten minutes.
Derry rallied and only two cynical Donegal fouls prevented them from a goal chance that might have settled it. As it happened, Shane McGuigan converted both frees to secure extra-time.
The sides were still level at half-time in extra-time but Derry through McGuigan, man of the match Brendan Rogers and Conor Glass gave themselves a cushion.
Ciarán Thompson made sure the gap was at two points when Murphy stood over his free. He had to go for goal but his effort was blocked. With that, Derry were liberated.
“Delighted,” a hoarse Derry manager Rory Gallagher said afterwards. “It was probably an epic way to win an Ulster Championship and probably quite fitting. The drama, considering we played Tyrone, Monaghan and Donegal who have owned us at championship, with the exception of Cavan, for the last 24 years maybe.
“And for these players who are bound to have watched on with huge envy and jealousy and have looked on for the last six or seven years that they not be part of it. So to win it the way we did, they showed character. (Not) a perfect display. But they had character.”
For Gallagher, it was his third Ulster final win as part of a management team having previously tasted success with Donegal in 2011 and 2012. And after admitting he didn’t enjoy his first six months in charge, here he heaped praise on his backroom team and the mindset of his players.
“We felt we were the better team so we had to prove it again,” Gallagher replied when asked what he said to his team before extra-time.
“And even the end of normal time we had the chances we came from behind after giving away a shocking goal by our standards
“We hadn’t conceded a goal against Armagh and Donegal last year and Tyrone and Monaghan this year we didn’t bank on conceding one today but from the throw-in it’s in the net, to show that level of character or balls or whatever you want to call it I never doubted we’d come back but that doesn’t mean I thought we’d win. You just don’t know.”
For Donegal manager Declan Bonner, it came down to small margins.
“It was a war of attrition, the goals were big scores in the game and when Derry got theirs in the first half that was big. We were down five at one stage but the lads really got stuck in and at the start of the second half the goal was important to us.
“When we were two ahead I thought we could have kicked on, but we didn’t kick as well as we normally would have and again it’s the small margins. You’ve got to take those scores and we didn’t take them, Derry ultimately came out on top,” added Bonner.
It was Derry’s day.
“I am delighted for these players, who are now seen as top quality footballers. That is a huge sense of pride as a manager, as a coach, as part of a management team.
“Getting players like that to the level they want to be on,” concluded victorious manager Gallagher, after leading Derry to their first Anglo-Celt Cup success since 1998.
SCORERS – Derry: S McGuigan 0-6 (5f); N Loughlin 1-2 (0-1f); B Rogers 0-3; S Downey, C Doherty, E Bradley, P Cassidy, C Glass 0-1 each. Donegal: P Mogan 0-3; O McFadden Ferry 1-0; S O’Donnell, M Murphy, J McGee, P McBrearty (2f) 0-2 each; A Doherty (1m), C Thompson, R McHugh 0-1 each.
DERRY – O Lynch 6; C McKaigue 8, B Rogers 9, C McCluskey 7; C Doherty 7, G McKinless 6, P McGrogan 7; C Glass 7, N Toner 7; P Cassidy 7, S Downey 6, E Doherty 7; B Heron 6, S McGuigan 7, N Loughlin 7. Subs: E Bradley 6 for Loughlin (47), L Murray 6 for Heron (63), B McCarron 6 for Toner (68), P McNeill 6 for Downey (70), B Heron 6 for Murray (80), O McWilliams for Doherty (84).
DONEGAL – S Patton 7; C Ward 6, B McCole 6, S McMenamin 7; R McHugh 7, EB Gallagher 7, O McFadden Ferry 7; C McGonagle 7, J McGee 8; P Mogan 8, S O’Donnell 7, M Langan 7; P McBrearty 6, M Murphy 7, J Brennan 6. Subs: C O’Donnell 6 for Brennan (58), A Doherty 6 for McFadden Ferry (63), N O’Donnell 6 for S O’Donnell (70), H McFadden 6 for McGee (71), C Thompson for McGonagle (80), P Brennan for Langan (81),
REF – S Hurson (Tyrone)