Down progressed to an Ulster senior hurling decider against Antrim at Casement Park yesterday, but at times it was much too close for comfort.
Twice in the opening half they had to cope with adversity. Twenty two minutes into the match they lost half back Gabriel Clarke with a broken leg.
Just before half time right half forward Simon Wilson departed the scene after picking up a second yellow card.
Manager Jim McKernan was understandably delighted at the finish: “We’re now in the Ulster final and that was always our priority.
“It wasn’t easy and our thoughts are with Gabriel Clarke who was so unfortunate while Simon Wilson made the mistake of responding to some continuous off the ball stuff.
“We didn’t play as well as we have been, but fair play to Derry they really put it up to us.
“We were a bit slack at the start of the second-half, but we made a few switches and that got us going again.”
Both sides deserve great credit for serving up a game that was always competitive and entertaining despite the sudden heavy rain that made conditions difficult in the extreme.
Twelve minutes into the opening half James Coyle’s goal afforded the winners some much needed breathing space.
By half-time, despite the loss of both Clarke and Wilson, Down still led 1-10 to 0-8 and looked comfortable, but early Derry points on the restart from Conor Quinn and Liam Hinphey offered Derry fresh hope.
Down though rose to the challenge with a second goal, full forward Gareth Johnston finding the net after James Coyle had flicked on Paul Braniff’s free.
Again Derry raised their game and only a brilliant reflex save by goalkeeper Graham Clarke denied full forward Paddy McCloskey a goal.
The Oak Leaf men did eventually get the goal that they so badly needed through Ruairi Convery, but Down, with Paul Braniff outstanding, eased away in the closing minutes for a deserved victory.
But they know much tougher challenges await.
DERRY: D McDermott; R McCloskey, S McCullagh, S McNicholl; P O’Kane, S Henry, M Craig; K Hinphey 0-1, O McCloskey; B Dodds,0-1 D Leahy,0-1 S Dodds;0-6 E McGuckin, P McCloskey,0-2 R Convery. 1-2. Subs: C Quinn 0-1 for D Leahy, C Murphy for E McGuckin
DOWN: Graham Clarke; F Conway, S Murray, S Ennis; Gabriel Clarke, R McGrattan, M Ennis; A Savage, C Woods; 0-4 S Wilson,0-4 P Braniff,0-4 K Courtney; J Coyle, 1-1 G Johnson, 1-0 E Clarke. Subs@ M Coulter 0-1 for E Clarke, K McGarry 0-1 for J Coyle.
Referee: E Morris, Dublin