Derry senior bowlers are one win away from the Christy Rig Cup final, setting up a final day shootout against Mayo by beating London in a low key affair at Owenbeg on Sunday.
The Oak Leafers were far from their best against the Exiles, recovering from a slow start thanks to goals from Gerald Bradley and Odhran McKeever in the first half, but 19 wide over the 70 minutes was indicative of a game peppered with loose passes and wayward shots and ended with Darragh McGilligan being fired from Derry after a second booking.
Dominic McKinley and Cormac Donnelly’s men still had too much for the visitors but even after a third from Tiarnan McHugh Derry were never comfortable and will need to improve for the trip to MacHale Park next Saturday, a game whose winners will progress to meet. Kildare in the final the following weekend.
Mayo and Derry will go into this fixture with identical Championship records of four wins and one loss, with both counties suffering their lone loss to Championship favorites Kildare, who have won four out of four.
There were of course positives, and the fact that a six-point win over a talented London side was greeted with frustration shows the progress the team has made under McKinley and Donnelly, but no one will be fooled. To aspire to win the Christy Ring Cup, Derry will need to produce better than that, starting with Mayo.
Faced with a strong breeze for the first 35 minutes, Derry chased ‘The Exiles’ for most of the opening period thanks in large part to the free catch of London midfielder Donal Hannon, who struck 0-7 on six francs and a ’65’ .
Derry looked on foot, a promising builder’s game often coming up against wayward shots as the Oak Leafers recorded nine wide before the break. Indeed, it took two excellent goals to give the home side a foothold in the game and ensure they went just a pint behind at 2-04 against 0-11.
The first major came in the 19th minute and while Gerald Bradley was the man on goal, the goal owed everything to superb play from Tiarnan McHugh. John Mullan’s long ball was asking a lot of the striker who, like his Oak Leaf team-mates, had suffered an indifferent start. There was, however, nothing indifferent about the way McHugh controlled the ball, held off London’s Jonathan McCarthy and, despite his held arm, was able to pass the perfect pass to Bradley to shoot into the net.
That goal tied the game at 1-04 to 0-07 and the second, five minutes later, sent Derry ahead for the first time. Again McHugh was the man loading the ammo for his fellow attackers to fire, his passing this time spotting Odhran McKeever’s run with the Dungiven man making a mistake, producing a fine first time for 2-04 at 0-08.
Two fine goals but they masked a poor start for the home side who were trailing 0-6 to nil after eight minutes, Derry’s first score only coming in the 10th minute through a free Cormac O’Doherty . Indeed, it will be necessary to wait until the 19th minute for Derry to score from open play via a score from Darragh McGilligan.
Even then, London were able to rally to turn back with a one-point lead after three successive scores from Hannon’s three more clearances as half-time ended with the visitors 0-11 2-04 ahead.
It took just 14 seconds of the second half for Derry to signal his intention, with John Mullan splitting the posts to level the game.
Yet while Derry’s intensity had increased, errors still littered their game as London regained their lead thanks to a point from substitute Brendan McCarry. Again Derry were level thanks to a free Richie Mullan but Jack Goulding once again restored London’s lead to 2-07 from 0-13.
Derry needed a shot in the arm and McHugh provided it as the table was turned on the Oak LEafers’ first goa with Gerald Bradley this time around turning to kick off the big forward from Kevin Lynch who got it right with a fine finish over Stephen Bardon in the London goal.
The goal didn’t win the game, but the boost it gave Derry was evident as the Division 2A winners picked up five successive points from Cormac O’Doherty, McHugh, Mullan, Darragh McGilligan and Eamon McGill to finally take control of the game at age 3. -12 to 0-13.
McHugh’s point came after a remarkable save from Bardon as McHugh threatened another goal at the other end, but Derry seemed to have had enough to see the game through.
They did, but it was much closer than it should have been due to a late goal from Fiachra O’Keefe and that second booking for McGilligan had Derry looking over their shoulders. They didn’t have to worry, they had done enough but they will need more next weekend.
Derry scorers: Gerald Bradley (1-0), Odhran McKeever (1-1), Tiarnan McHugh (1-1), Cormac O’Doherty (0-4, 4f), Darragh McGilligan (0-2), John Mullan (0-1 ), Richie Mullan (0-3, 3f), Eamon McGill (0-1), Deaghlan Foley (0-1),
London goalscorers: Fiachra O’Keefe (1-0), Donald Hannon (0-8, 6f, 1’65’), Mark Dwyer (0-1), Sean Glynn (0-2), Colin Nelson (0-1), Brendan McCarry (0-1), Jack Goulding (0-1),
Derby: Oisin O’Doherty, Ciaran Hendry, Mark Craig, Darragh McCloskey, Eamon Gill, Richie Mullan, Gabriel Farren, Cormac O’Doherty, Darragh McGilligan, Fintan Bradley, John Mullan, Brian McGilligan, Tiarnan McHugh, Gerald Bradley, Odhran McKeever. (Alternate) Michael Lynch for O McKeever, 51 mins; Deaghlan Foely for B McGilligan, 54 minutes; Ryan Mulholland for C O’Doherty, 61 mins; Padhraig Nelis for F Bradley, 64 mins;
Yellow cards: J Mullan, 32 mins; G Bradley, 35 minutes; C Hendry, 40 minutes; Dr McGilligan, 60 minutes; R Mullan, 73 mins;
London: Stephen Bardon, Luke Hanley, Dean Bruen, Jonathan McCarthy, Patrick McNaughton, Padraig Muldoon, Sean Lordan, Jack Goulding, Donal Hannon, Colin Nelson, Mark Dwyer, Richard Lombard, Brendan McCarry, Matthew Feaney, Sean Glynn. (Alternates) Fiachra O’Keefe for P McNaughton, HT: Fergal Collins for M Feaney, 45 minutes; Malcolm Flannery for C Neilson, 56 mins; Patrick Earley for L Hanley, 61 mins;
Yellow cards: P Muldoon, 53 minutes; S Glynn, 67 mins;
Arbitrator: Colm McDonald (Antrim)