Derry wasted a couple of glorious opportunities to land what would have been a morale-boosting win over Cork at Celtic Park.
First Charlie Kielt was off target with an effort from the right wing as the final whistle approached and then Mark Lynch went wide from the opposite flank.
After four successive defeats Derry needed at least a determined display but began disastrously as they conceded two goals inside the first six minutes.
After Eoin Bradley had opened Derry’s account with a superb second minute point, the home side conceded a penalty a minute later and John Hayes tucked the ball into the corner of the net.
Two minutes later Fintan Gould burst up the end line on the left and blasted the ball to the far corner of the net for 2-00 to 0-01.
If long-serving Derry forward Paddy Bradley has not had his sorrows to seek this year in terms of injury and temporary loss of form, then his stunning contribution against Cork underlined his immense value to the team.
His seven points cemented Derry’s commitment and resilience but afterwards Bradley, who may take time out to reflect on his future after this year’s Championship, suggested that the team’s performance offered some hope for the future.
“Let’s face it, we certainly did not perform to the best of our ability or anything like it in our last three matches at least,” said the Glenullin clubman.
“We obviously needed the points from this game to help secure our future in Division One but if we have to drop down a rung it won’t be a complete disaster. There will be a lot of very good teams in Division Two and I have no doubt that it will be hugely competitive.”
Ironically, both he and his brother Eoin could now find themselves in action against their father Liam’s buoyant Antrim side who are certain to make the step up from Division Three following their victory over Louth.
“We maybe had lapses in concentration on Saturday night that did not help us,” said Bradley.
“Cork were always going to be a very tough challenge but we stepped up on our recent displays
and we can take heart from that. We have been unable to attain any level of consistency lately and clearly that has impacted on our chances of remaining in the top bracket.”
And he added: “We left ourselves a lot to do in the league and we knew that when we came up against a team like Cork who have acquired a winning habit it was always going to be difficult.
“We had some players unavailable for the league but if we can get everyone on board for the Championship we might be able to do something.”
Derry fought back strongly, with Paddy (3) and Eoin Bradley (2) finishing well as Derry took a 0-08 to 2-01 lead by the 28th minute. However Cork hit four unanswered points to take a 2-05 to 0-08 lead to the break.
Daniel Goulding pointed his third free twenty minutes into
the second half for Cork’s last score.
Derry tried hard from then to the end but lacked both cutting edge and composure in attack to get over the line.
”I think it’s a certainty that we’re now in the final,” said Counihan.
“Even if we lose to Mayo and Dublin get two points from their last game we get in ahead of Dublin as we beat them in the head-to-head.
“I am absolutely delighted with the progress that we have made in the league and reaching the final is a bonus as it will give us an extra competitive game ahead of the start of the championship.”
Derry scorers: Paddy Bradley 0-07, 0-04 frees, Eoin Bradley 0-02, Michael Bateson, Joe Diver, Raymond Wilkinson, Charlie Kielt and Fergal Doherty 0-01 each.
Cork scorers: Paul Kerrigan 1-02, 1-00 pen, Fintan Gould 1-01, Daniel Goulding 0-03 frees, Noel O’Leary, Patrick Kelly and Aidan Walsh 0-01 each.
Derry: Gillis, Craig, McGuckin, McBride, O’Kane, McGuigan, Bateson, Doherty, Diver, Eoin Bradley, McGoldrick, Charlie Kielt, James Kielt, Paddy Bradley, Lynch. Subs: Wilkinson (for James Kielt, h-t), McGoldrick (for Bateson 44), Patsy Bradley (for McGoldrick 49), McAlary (for McGuigan 67)
Cork: O’Shea, Carey, Shields, Cotter, Kissane, Spillane, O’Leary, O’Connor, Kavanagh, Gould, Hayes, Kelly, Goulding, Lynch, Kerrigan. Subs: Walsh (for Cotter 24), O’Sullivan (for Walsh 40), Sheehan (for Hayes 46), Kiely (for Lynch 67).
Referee: Marty Duffy (Sligo).