Derry just edge it as Down are left to rue missed opportunities

Conall McGovern’s straight red card proves to be killer blow in tightly fought contest

Derry 0-12 Down 0-11

Derry football put itself back on the map. Just. They got lost trying to find their way out of Celtic Park and nearly lost the game.

What guided them home was the boot of Paddy Bradley, although for a team desperate to make a mark on the Ulster championship, it was far from convincing. At least they’re still in it. They now await the winners of Donegal and Armagh, who draw swords in their quarter-final next Sunday, neither of whom will be shaking in their boots after watching this.

Down, meanwhile, must be wondering why they’re no longer in the Ulster championship, and despite playing the entire second half with 14 men – Conaill McGovern was red-carded immediately after the restart – they actually had more chances of winning than Derry. They suffocated themselves by their own refusal to make those chances count.

Even when playing with 14 men, Down were given considerable encouragement by the tepidness of their opposition. Derry went the middle 20 minutes of the second half without scoring, suddenly looking as if they couldn’t buy a score.

Instead, with their level of scoring greatly reduced, they somehow managed the winner right at the end of normal time, after Down had levelled matters for the third time. Bradley had sent Kevin Johnston on a run at the Down goal, only for him to be pulled down by Darren O'Hagan – who earned himself a black card.

Man of the match

So, with the clock spilled into the two minutes of added time, up stepped Bradley, who made no mistake: he finished with 0-5, two from play, and while Down’s opposite number

Conor Laverty

gave him a good run for the man-of-the-match award, Bradley was certainly deserving of it.

With that the game ended. Down had missed a couple of late chances of their own to summon a winner, Paul Devlin guilty of an uncharacteristic stray shot and Jerome Johnston missing too. Devlin finished with 0-6, all from placed balls, but with a little more accuracy (they finished with 12 wides), Down would surely have triumphed.

Down manager Jim McCorry admitted as much afterwards, claiming it was a game he felt Down should have won. The other problem was they allowed Derry to get on top at crucial stages, late in the first half and early in the second, and of course at the very end, too. It wasn’t classically defensive, although neither team created a single goal chance.

Still, at times, the game looked in danger of passing both teams by. Derry were hosting the game looking to beat Down in the Ulster championship for the first time since 1993 (although they have come out on top several times in the qualifiers), and they certainly started as if the stakes were high.

Ideal conditions

Mark Lynch

was in fine form off the left and right boot (he finished with 0-5, but also hit five wides), and

Enda Lynn

chipped in with a first-half point too.

Fergal Doherty

kept their heads up on Down around midfield, and young debutant Brendan Rogers was excellent, playing in the corner, on Mark Poland, and keeping him scoreless. No easy feat, by all accounts.

Derry were certainly worthy of their three-point advantage at half-time. Conditions were near ideal, and the home crowd clearly realised the importance of the push for victory.

They looked ideally positioned to move in for the kill, especially when McGovern was red-carded not long after the restart. This was for an off-the-ball incident immediately following the throw-in and was brought to the attention of match referee Eddie Kinsella by the umpires. Kinsella was clear about that decision, although less certain on several other calls on frees, for better or for worse.

Still, with the extra man, Derry seemed well capable of pressing their advantage home, and for a while they did. Bradley (from play) and Lynch (from a free) extended the advantage to 0-10 to 0-6, before their well of talent suddenly dried up.

Stunned

Down hit back with four points in succession, three from placed balls from Devlin, and an excellent point from play from the reignited Laverty. Now level, with just under 15 minutes to play, Derry looked more stunned than confident. Substitute Caolán O’Boyle eventually ended their long wait for a score. Doherty dragged himself back into the game, but their fear of losing still appeared to outweigh their desire to win, and Down clearly sensed that.

Unlike the division two league final, where Down were also reduced to 14 men for the second half and couldn’t find any extra incentive, they found it here, abandoning their sweeper and running forward at every possibility.

Derry manager Brian McIver felt his team were also over-elaborating at that stage, and again Down took advantage. Caolán Mooney was using his pace to greater effect, and with that Down inched themselves level again on 67 minutes when Devlin slotted over his final free.

Yet moments later he missed an equally golden scoring opportunity which may well have sealed it for Down.

Despite being in near total retreat mode again, it was Derry who made one last charge, combining their luck and their nerve to make it a winning one.

DERRY: T Mallon; O Duffy, B Rogers, D McBride; K Johnston, C McKaigue, C McFaul; N Holly, F Doherty; SL McGoldrick, M Lynch (0-5, 2f), E Lynn (0-1); B Heron, E Bradley (0-5, 3f), D Heavron. Subs: C O'Boyle (0-1) for Heron (53), T O'Brien for Lynn (63).

DOWN: S Kane; D O'Hagan, L Howard, R Boyle; D Turley, B McArdle, C McGovern; P Fitzpatrick, C Mooney; P Devlin (0-6, 6f), C Maginn, K McKernan (0-2); M Poland, C Laverty (0-2), D O'Hare (0-1, f). Subs: P Downey for Maginn (48), J Johnston for Fitzpatrick (60), A McConville for Mooney (66), N Madine for Devlin (69), D O'Hanlon for O'Hagan (BC, 70).

REFEREE: Eddie Kinsella (Laois)