St Pat's hang on to complete escape act
Derry City 1 St Pats Ath 1
It's a long drive back to Inchicore from Buncrana but the travelling contingent from St Patrick's Athletic had every reason to look forward to it last night.
That's because they set off down the road with a lighter load, with the stress that has hung over the club throughout this campaign lifted from the shoulders. In truth, it was almost gone by half-time with a hint of anti-climax about the final day of a year-long battle with relegation.
Paying punters of a Saints persuasion weren't complaining about that, although a brief second-half wobble meant that the glass-half-empty brigade had reason to be tuned in until the final seconds as they secured a result they needed beforehand - even if it ultimately proved irrelevant with news from Galway going their way. The Saints bench was following events closely.
Derry left it too late to really apply pressure and create a situation that might have caused a flurry of excitement elsewhere.
The natives have reached the end of an emotional season, a year that makes any of the Saints' worries look trivial by comparison.
Their stay at Maginn Park has been more of a roller-coaster than they ever could have anticipated with another fifth-minute round of applause for the late beloved Ryan McBride providing a reminder - as if it was needed.
After full-time, they released five balloons into the air after a lap of honour to say goodbye to the temporary base.
Kenny Shiels' side performed admirably to somehow get the show back on the road and secure European qualification. But they have run out of battery power since doing so and that has ended up hurting Galway United, the unlucky third side to fall through the trapdoor.
Sligo Rovers comfortably overcame Shiels' men last week and, while the Candystripes did muster up a strong second-half performance here to take a point, they were tardy at the outset when they might have troubled a focused Saints bunch that only needed to avoid defeat.
They were ahead at the interval, and by then breaking news updates from Galway were easing any lingering Saints nerves.
Liam Buckley's charges found it harder after the break with Derry rising from their slumber to show why they finished at the right end of the table. But the Saints stood firm at the end.
"Relieved is the key word," sighed Buckley afterwards. "I'm delighted we're out of this but we've had better celebrations after winning stuff. That's a better scenario compared to what we had this year."
With Derry lethargic, the Saints were focused in a first half where they were able to field an experienced visiting selection which included seven players that have won league medals during their careers.
A turning point of their season was highlighted by their lead goal with Saints owner Garrett Kelleher spotted arriving into the ground just as the Dubliners embarked on a slick move driven by right-sided pair Michael Barker and Conan Byrne and finished by Killian Brennan.
Kelleher's decision to dip into his pocket during the summer allowed Buckley to bring Brennan back and he has made a significant impact. "I'm delighted for Garrett," said Buckley. "Given everything that he's put into this club."
Two other important recruits, Jordi Balk and Owen Garvan, missed out here through suspension and injury respectively but Derry were sluggish and failed to expose any resulting weakness in the spine of the Saints side until after the interval.
Prior to that, a Ronan Curtis header from close range was their only real chance of note. Shiels was agitated and audible with his team not exactly giving the punters much to shout about. He berated his players for the slow tempo and inability to get the ball moving quickly despite the technical assurance in their ranks.
That changed from the restart and the Saints were taken by surprise. Derry found joy between midfield and attack, and Rory Patterson dropped into a pocket 20 yards from goal and held off attention to angle a right-footer into the bottom corner.
Derry had their spark back.
Word that Galway had reduced the deficit meant the away support had small reason to be anxious again. And they rode their luck when a dreadful corner resulted Derry breaking with three v one but they botched their lines with Billy Dennehy doing enough to put off Curtis who skied wide.
Shiels implored his players to go in search of the winner as the Saints dropped deeper, content to trust their ability to see things out. Perhaps it was fitting they ended the year on the back foot.
They must now regroup and, like Derry, hope that 2018 brings back something approaching normality.
Derry City - Grimes, McDermott, Cole, Barry, Jarvis; McEneff, Monaghan; Schubert (McIntyre 69), McNamee, Curtis; Patterson
St Patrick's Athletic - Skowron, Barker, Peers, Desmond, Bermingham; Kelly, Brennan; C Byrne, K Byrne (O'Hanlon 90), Dennehy; Fagan (O'Conor 65)
Ref - R Rogers (Dublin)