Derry survive true test of their mettle

ULSTER SFC QUARTER-FINAL Derry 1-10 Monaghan 0-10 : AT THE third time of asking, Derry cracked the toughest nut in Ulster football…

ULSTER SFC QUARTER-FINAL Derry 1-10 Monaghan 0-10: AT THE third time of asking, Derry cracked the toughest nut in Ulster football and they won't be complaining if they can avoid meeting Monaghan for the rest of the year.

Séamus McEnaney, unbowed to the last, has other ideas.

Monaghan may be out of the local theatre, but their manager vowed that they would press on and try to win the Sam Maguire.

Who knows, they may return to haunt the Derry boys before this championship is out. And this is not a tussle that they will seek to move to Croke Park to accommodate popular demand.

Familiarity bred something close to contempt on several occasions in the Creggan yesterday. The theory that Derry did not have the stomach required to put Monaghan away during those claustrophobic encounters over the past two years ensured keen physical exchanges.

And so there was plenty of bickering and sporadic wrestling and late hits to keep spectators from both sides in a state of high dudgeon and the purists in deep despair. The nature of the match overshadowed the quality of the football that both teams can produce. But there was considerable vindication in the style with which Derry finished the match, striking four fine points from play over the last 15 minutes, scores which represent a true reflection of the potential within this side.

It was an important response to what was threatening to materialise into the same old story for Derry football. All afternoon, Monaghan had gone about their business with the familiar combination of bustling intensity, organisation and the seemingly unbreakable reserve of confidence that McEnaney has instilled in this squad.

The match was all square after 55 minutes when Derry, addled by their failure to take advantage of a considerable second-half breeze advantage, seemed to have blown their cause. Retrieving a ball so he could take a free around centre field, captain Fergal Doherty clattered into Monaghan’s Gary McQuaid as he passed by and received a second yellow card for his troubles.

There were probably worse examples of off-the-ball spitefulness over the course of the 70 minutes – at one stage Derry goalkeeper Barry Gillis had to abandon a skirmish on the edge of the large parallelogram to deal with a dropping ball sent in towards his goal by Conor McManus.

The more Derry became involved in these peripheral battles, the more it seemed they were about to lose sight of their overall ambition in this match.

Monaghan are the stickiest of customers – they did not blink when Paddy Bradley palmed home an eighth-minute goal, raiding the Monaghan square with perfect timing to convert Enda Lynn’s dropping ball. Instead, they rebooted their defence, with Stephen Gallogley dropping back and held the home team scoreless until injury-time in the half.

They bossed the match entirely, with Dessie Mone, Vincent Corey, Damien Freeman and Gary McQuaid outstandingly single-minded, but also fired eight costly wides and finished the half level at 1-3 to 0-6.

Under the cosh in the second half, they stuck to the task grimly and stayed in touch with a wonderful point from Tommy Freeman after 47 minutes and a steaming run from full back Corey, which earned Paul Finlay a free on 51 minutes.

Slowly, but surely, Derry must have felt as if they were being pulled back into nightmarishly familiar territory, with Monaghan primed to muscle yet another narrow win out of a breathless exchange. Losing Doherty at the time they did looked to set to have devastating consequences.

But the departure of their colleague sharpened the instinct of the remaining players on the field. And they had several splendid individual performances.

Chris McCaigue, a late replacement for Paul Cartin, is a rangy looking athlete and started an impressive afternoon with a fine early point. Gerard O’Kane was a hugely creative source for the victors and alongside him, full back Kevin McCloy tapped into his vintage, edge-of-the square form.

Barry McGoldrick was composed at all times. And James Kielt delivered two huge points when his team desperately needed scores, taking a smart ball from Paddy Bradley to level the scores on 55 minutes and then snatching a broken ball at midfield and sending over another booming effort on 63 minutes. It was as if that score renewed Derry’s faith in their football ability.

Joe Diver thundered through the Monaghan cover to take a weighted pass from O’Kane to put daylight between the teams and then, fittingly, Paddy Bradley added the grace note.

We should know better than to expect Monaghan to be crushed by this defeat, but nonetheless, the tremendous strides they have made in the last three years would have been best reflected in landing their first provincial title since 1988. Now, they face into the slow-haul of the All-Ireland qualifiers – where they might, for once, expect to earn a few breaks from the lottery of the spinning drum.

This game gave Derry plenty of material to work on. They were bamboozled several times by the ferocious cover of the Monaghan attackers, who forced the Derry back men to cough up possession three times.

That long dry spell in the first half was a worry and they tend to play in fits and bursts. But their most convincing productive spell came during the crucial stage of the game and illuminated their potential as contenders. Over this bothersome hurdle, they are in a position to build from here.

DERRY: B Gillis; K McGuckin, K McCloy, G O'Kane; C McCaigue (0-1), B McGoldrick (0-1), SL McGoldrick; F Doherty, J Diver (0-1); B McGuigan, P Murphy, E Lynn; E Bradley (0-2), P Bradley (1-3, two frees), J Kielt (0-2). Subs: M Lynch for P Murphy (39 mins), B Mullan for E Lynn (54 mins). Yellow cards: F Doherty (24, 58 mins), B Mullan (56 mins), P Bradley (57 mins), J Diver (59 mins), B McGoldrick (62 mins). Red card: F Doherty (58 mins).

MONAGHAN: P McBennett; D Mone, V Corey, D McArdle; D Freeman, G McQuaid, D Hughes; O Lennon, D Clerkin; C McManus, P Finlay (0-3, two frees), S Gollogly (0-1); R Ronaghan (0-2), R Woods (0-1), T Freeman (0-3, one free). Subs: M Downey for R Ronaghan (45 mins), C Hanratty for O Lennon (48 mins), P McGuigan for R Woods (66 mins). Yellow cards: R Ronaghan (7 mins), D Clerkin (24 mins), T Freeman (50 mins), D Mone (57 mins).

Referee: J White(Donegal).