Derry hang on to crown in first match of re-graded minors
It might be a re-graded level of football, but Derry kept their grip on what we used to call the Ulster minor football Championship after their Under-17s recovered from a desperate first half to eventually edge out Monaghan in extra-time of this preliminary round tie.
The final score was 2-14 to 2-13 in favour of Derry at Celtic Park, where the River Foyle ushered in its usual whipping wind that charges down the Lone Moor Road.
Monaghan might have expected something out of this campaign. Managed by former senior boss Seamus 'Banty' McEnaney, they had won the Ulster minor league with victory over Donegal in the final and were carrying good form into the game that continued into a 0-8 to 0-1 lead at the break.
However, Derry manager Paddy Campbell noted the effect the weather had.
"The wind was very, very strong in the first half - we were playing into a very strong breeze. A few of our kicks dropped short and on a normal day they would have went dead at least or over the bar," he said.
"We only scored a point in the first half and it was a big blow to us. But we knew the wind was very strong, we knew we could dominate their kick-outs from the start of the second half we could notch on four or five points."
That was exactly what transpired with Eoghan Hawe, Conleth McGuckin and Sean Kearney gathering five unanswered points, but Monaghan were to produce a body-blow with a Jordan McGarrell goal on 42 minutes against the run of play.
They managed to get back to parity by full-time, 0-12 to 1-9, and send it into extra-time.
Monaghan tagged on another goal from Aaron Mulligan, but Hawe with a penalty, and a goal in the last minute of extra-time coming from Johnny McErlain, was enough to get the Oak Leafers into the first round proper next weekend against Cavan, which will be hosted in an alternative venue to Kingspan Breffni which is closed for renovations at present.
"They had 15 at times behind the ball in that first half and it made it very hard. They caught us on the counter-attack a few times and that led to a few scores," explained Campbell afterwards.
"To concede a goal in extra time and a couple of points, any team would be dead and buried. It's very, very difficult to come back from that.
"But we kept pegging away and tried and tried and created that overlap.
"Monaghan are very, very hard to break down. They had two, maybe three men back on the edge of their own D and it is very difficult to get scores off."
Elsewhere, in the Buncrana Cup (Ulster's Under-16 tournament), Tyrone had a seriously-impressive win over Derry, accounting for them on a scoreline of 6-19 to 0-6, while they will face Donegal in the final, who beat Monaghan 4-10 to 0-8 in the other semi-final.