Derry and Down will square off in Under-21 hurling showpiece
Derry and Down negotiated markedly contrasting routes to the Ulster Under-21 Hurling Championship final last night.
In a high-scoring semi-final at the Athletic Grounds, Down went on a scoring spree against Armagh and won by 8-19 to 1-15, while in the other semi Derry caused an upset when they overcame Antrim by 2-11 to 3-6 in a tough, tense contest.
Down are hardly likely to take any false comfort from their scoring blitz, which was highlighted by Cormac Coulter who scored 3-8 in a stunning solo show. Not far behind him came Daithi Sands, who pocketed 3-1.
Down's other goals came from Pearse Og McCrickard and Barry Trainor, while David Ryan landed Armagh's goal in the first half. His team looked to be in contention at 1-4 to 0-3, but by half-time they trailed by 5-8 to 1-10 and after that they were immersed in damage limitation.
The Oak Leafs, meanwhile, showed considerable skill and character to shock Antrim, with Cormac O'Doherty leading the way by scoring 2-5.
His goals came from penalties in each half, while James McNaughton (1-4) and his cousin Christy McNaughton (1-1) led the Saffrons' resistance on a night when Derry rose splendidly to the occasion.
Derry manager Collie McGurk hailed his side's win enthusiastically and confirmed that their focus would now be on winning the title.
"We are delighted to be in the final. I knew if we could get our best hurlers out we would put it up to Antrim," said McGurk, "We were fortunate in that we could count on a number of players who have been playing at senior level for the county - boys like Brian Cassidy, Ciaran Steele, Paddy Turner, Daragh Cartin and of course Cormac O'Doherty.
"Our defence put in a ferocious display with Paul McNeill, Seamus Higgins and Eamon McGill showing the way as our sweeper. We are all just thrilled to be in the final. This will be another big challenge for us but we will certainly embrace it because that is where we want to be at the end of the day."
Top scorer O'Doherty has shared in success in both football and hurling with Slaughtneil and is regarded as one of the best young players in the province.
Manager McGurk accepts that his team will find life rather more difficult in the final but insists that they will be fired up for the occasion.
"I thought the boys showed a great attitude against Antrim but we still have work to do. We certainly won't be complacent because Down will be tough opponents," he added.