Donegal's Ryan McHugh, left, and Gareth McKinless of Derry during the Ulster Senior Championship quarterfinal at MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey, on Sunday. INPHO/JAMES CROMBIE
By P.J. Cunningham
Donegal 0-16; Derry 0-15
Trust die-hard rivals to give us the best game of summer even if it was a foul wet day in MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey, on Sunday.
What began as a negative, defensive fest turned into a gripping contest as first Derry threatened to cause the big Ulster surprise of the season before Donegal’s nous just about got them over the line.
To get that far though, they had to summon the cavalry from Tir Conaill as the starting 15 clearly would not have brought home the laurels on this occasion. Instead manger Declan Bonnar, had to thrust into battle his wounded general Michael Murphy, who fortunately for the green and gold, came through his half hour’s invovlement without suffering the recurrence of a tear to this hamstring.
And Odran MacNiallais was also needed to douse the huge Oak Leaf challenge which looked at one stage like succeeding bcuase of Rory Gallagher’s inner knowledge of his former Donegal players where he worked for a number of years as Jim McGuinness’s deputy.
MacNiallais not only won vital possession but was the assist man in delivering the perfect balll for Paddy McBrearty to pierce the heart of the Derry challenge by kicking over the winning point two minutes into stoppage time from 45 metres out the field.
It was ironic that MacBrearty, who was man marked by Chrissy McKaigue, should emerge as the hero as he was singled out the closest of marking jobs in the course of the game up to that moment – a strategy than had succeeded until he found a yard to inflict mortal damage on his opponents. He had found the range for another point from play and one from a free but aside from that was held on the tighest of leashes.
There is no doubt his moment of sheer bliss gave the home crowd the opportunity to greet it with the loudesst roar of the day while Derry knew their best efforts and endeavors had come up agonisingly short.
For all the world it looked like we were heading from extra time when Shane McGuigan answered the first call by equalising from a tough free but he had no answer to the McBrearty winner in the dying moments.
In retrospect Derry will lament the fact that they failed to take a few gilt edged goal chances, none more so that when Benny Heron was presented with a tap in but his hand flick hit the crossbar and was saved by Shaun Patton.
From the outset there was something in the Derry air as they pushed their more vaunted opponents onto the back foot.
And they were 0-7 to 0-6 to the good at the break when in truth they were unlucky not to be further ahead.
There was the real scent of an upset when they drove on after the break to go 0-12 to 0-8 in front. That was the signal for Donegal to send in Murphy and Co. and they can thank their lucky stars that it worked like a dream.
Points from Paul Brennan, Murphy and Niall O'Donnell (2) had them level going down the back strait.
It was nip and tuck but there was now the feeling that Donegal had the experience to see out a tight finish, which McBrearty helped them to do with his late deliveries.
Donegal: S Patton; E McHugh, N McGee, S McMenamin; E O'Donnell, O McFadden Ferry, E Gallagher; H McFadden, C McGonagle (0-2); C Thompson, R McHugh, N O'Donnell (0-3); M Langan (0-3), P McBrearty (0-3, 0-2f), J Brennan (0-2) Subs: B McCole for McMenamin 40; P Brennan (0-1) for McFadden Ferry 44; M Murphy (0-2f) for J Brennan 47; O Mac Niallais for E O'Donnell 49; O Gallen for Thompson 70
Derry: O Lynch; C McKaigue, B Rogers, P McGrogan; P Cassidy (0-1), G McKinless (0-1), C Doherty (0-1); C Glass (0-1), E Bradley (0-1); E Doherty, N Loughlin (0-1), C McFaul (0-3); B Heron (0-2), S McGuigan (0-4, 0-2f), P Cassidy Subs: O McWilliams for Heron 56; N Toner for Paul Cassidy 59; C McCluskey for E Doherty 62; P McNeill for N Loughlin 70+3
Ref: D Coldrick (Meath).
For P.J. Cunningham's full weekend wrap-up of the key GAA games in Ireland read Wednesday's print/digital edition of the Irish Echo.