Derry manager Damian Cassidy made no bones about it at the start of the National Football League — retaining Division One status was his priority.
Such has been the form displayed by his team and the input of his new kids on the block in particular, that Cassidy now finds himself immersed in preparations for Sunday’s week’s final against Kerry.
And since this will be a repeat of last year’s decider when the Oak Leaf outfit stunned the fancied Kingdom outfit at Parnell Park, Dublin, stand by for fireworks.
In the wake of yesterday’s hard-earned win over Donegal at Maghera — the result, coupled with Dublin’s cruise against Westmeath has consigned John Joe
Doherty’s side to Division Two next term — Cassidy’s reticence until now to ponder another possible trophy success has morphed into something akin to optimism.
“It’s a bonus to be in the final, it’s a good place to be, but even before we met Galway we felt we had achieved safety in Division One which is what we wanted. Now that we are in the final we get the chance to retain the trophy, but we also have another very high-profile game in advance of the Ulster Championship and that’s important,” maintains Cassidy.
Derry, despite enjoying a healthy ration of possession, had only a one-point advantage at the interval yesterday (0-6 to 0-5), Mark Lynch having signalled his return to competitive action following injury with a brace of fine scores.
Skipper Eoin Bradley, who decided to shoot rather than pass rather too often, nonetheless carried menace, but was restricted to just one point from a free with Barry McGoldrick (free), Enda Lynn and Enda Muldoon all hitting the target.
Donegal skipper Rory Kavanagh led by fine example and after Michael McGuire, Michael Doherty (free) and Brian Roper had hit points in the opening fifteen minutes, the visitors’ scoring rate from play decreased considerably — Doherty’s two points from frees the team’s only return for the remainder of the half.
It was in the third quarter that Derry, with James Kielt and wing-backs Brian Og McAlarey and Sean Leo McGoldrick, exerting a bigger influence, took a grip on the contest.
From the 36th until the 50th minute, Cassidy’s side knocked over five points with a further Doherty pointed free the visitors’ only response.
Indeed, Doherty was to assemble six points in all, his immense contribution to Donegal’s cause being complemented by fine work from Roper (until substituted), Kavanagh and Barry Monaghan, but Derry’s economical use of the ball, their ability to take scores from distance and the fact that they were able to bring on quality substitutes ultimately helped to steer them into the decider.
DERRY: B Gillis; J Keenan, K McGuckin, G O’Kane; B Og McAlarey (0-1), B McGoldrick (0-1, free), S L McGoldrick (0-1); Patsy Bradley, E Muldoon (0-1); E Lynn (0-1), B Mullan, J Kielt (0-3); S Bradley, E Bradley (0-3, 0-1 free), M Lynch (0-3). Substitutes: P Cartin for McAlery (60 mins), C McCaigue for Lynn (63 mins)
DONEGAL: P Durcan; J Gallagher, N McGee, P McDaid; S McGowan, B Monaghan, M McGuire (0-1); B Boyle, C Toye, D Walsh, C Dunne, R Kavanagh; B Roper (0-2)B Boyle (0-1), R Bradley, M Doherty (0-6, all frees). Substitutes; M Hegarty for Roper (52 mins), B Devenney for Bradley (52), D Gallagher for Dunne (59), C Byrne for McDaid (62).
Referee: Padraig Hughes (Armagh).