Campbell rues poor first half show after Derry crash to Meath
Derry 1-10 Meath 1-15
Derry exited the All-Ireland Minor Football competition at the quarter-final stage on Saturday, with a five-point defeat at the hands of Meath.
The Oak Leaf county fell short after an awe-inspiring second half showing which threatened to become a classic comeback win.
Derry trailed by nine at the break, and when Luke Mitchell's pointed in the 31st minute it stretched the Royals' lead to a match-winning 1-11 to 0-4.
The Oak Leafers campaign appeared doomed, only for them to produce a remarkable fightback which fell just short in the end.
Conleth McGuckian's 50th minute penalty left Derry, who had notched 1-6 to no score in a breathless third quarter, within one point of Meath.
Unfortunately for the beaten Ulster finalists, their scoring spree ended there with Meath reeling off the last four scores to snuff out Derry's august resistance.
"We left it behind in that first half," said manager Paddy Campbell after the defeat.
"In the second half we really stood up against a very good Meath team. To dig that deep to turn that over. The physical size difference between the two teams was very stark.
"But we left the Ulster final behind us and we left that game behind us today. It's learning for us all."
The introduction of PJ McAleese was the catalyst for Derry's revival. McAleese, winning ball in every sector of the pitch as Niall Doyle put in a colossal midfield display to dominate the kick-outs, laid the platform for Derry's previously ball-starved forwards to shine.
Captain Iarlaith Donaghy was positioned at full forward to bring a fresh muscular and aerial threat to the Oakleaf attack.
Conleth McGuckian and Enda Downey then began to make hay despite the wet and slippy Armagh conditions as Derry seized the momentum and systematically reeled Meath back in to 1-11 to 1-10.
But with the finish line on the horizon, Derry choked. McGuckian slipped a 47th minute goal shot just wide of the target, Sean Kearney rattled the woodwork while others coughed up more late game opportunities to keep that scoreboard ticking over.
"We had chances," agreed Campbell. "We could have popped another few points over and the game's very tight. Niall Doyle was fantastic, he was immense. PJ McAleese was sensational - right across from defence to midfield to attack."
Meath, roared on by a huge support, finished strongly to see out a tight encounter, but a disappointed Campbell signed off by lauding his young charges.
"We're immensely proud of the boys for that second half performance.
"We dominated midfield in the second half. Hopefully they continue to develop into the Under 20."
Derry: A Gillan, E McKeever, A McCluskey, R McFaul, J Dougan, J McErlain, A Canavan, N Doyle (0-1), I Donaghy, E McElhennon, C McGuckian (1-4, 0-3 frees), E Doherty, E Hawe, E Downey (0-5, 0-3 frees), C Milne. Subs: PJ McAleese for J Dougan (14), S Kearney for A Canavan (37), C McAteer for E Hawe (41), D Mooney for E McElhennon (60)
Yellow cards: A McCluskey (54), I Donaghy (57), C Milne (60), PJ McAleese (60)
Black card: C McGuckian (64)
Meath: S Brennan, J O'Hare, H O'Higgins, C Hickey, C Farrelly, S Coffey, O McCloskey, A Reilly (0-1), C McBride (0-1), D Swaine (0-2), M Costello (0-1), B McCormack (0-1), D Bell (0-1), L Kelly (0-2), L Mitchell (0-6, 0-5 frees). Subs: C Hawdown for B McCormack (41), L Newe for O McCloskey (48), N Bennett for D Swaine (52), K Price for H O'Higgins (BC 52), J Moore for L Kelly (59)
Yellow cards: D Swaine (17)
Black card: H O'Higgins (50)
Referee: Liam Devenney (Mayo).