Down win sees Oak Leafers leave heartache in the past
DERRY 2-16, DOWN 3-12
Sudddenly, Derry hurlers can dream again.
The heartache experienced in that crushing defeat to Kerry just a short week ago has dramatically evaporated following this nerve-tingling triumph over their great Ulster rivals Down in the Christy Ring Cup.
If victory means redemption for the Oak Leaf side, it confirms Down's separation from a trophy won through hard labour last year.
Now Derry boss Ger Rogan is urging his team to replace Gerard Monan's outfit at the top of the sport's second tier.
"Everything that could have gone wrong against Kerry did go wrong, it was a dreadfully bad day at the office," concedes Rogan. "But against Down the team showed the character and courage I had been looking from them. Just as one swallow does not make a summer one heavy defeat does not offer evidence that a team has lost it and I think we showed in this game that the heartbeat of Derry hurling is still strong."
The win earns Derry a quarter-final place in a competition that remains a minefield given the quality of teams still left.
"We know there are good sides still in there but we are delighted to be among them. I know on our day we can be a match for anyone and the challenge for us is to push on from here and show that we can build on this," insists Rogan.
Kevin Hinphey's injury-time point rubber-stamped Derry's passport into the closing stages of the competition but long before that, Ruairi Convery's compelling accuracy, Oisin's McCloskey work-rate and fruitful sniping and a collective resilient spirit had fuelled the team's palpable desire.
When Johnny McCusker plundered an early Down goal, things looked good for Monan's men but this was cancelled out by an effort from Oisin McCloskey and Convery set to work from frees. Derry built up a 1-9 to 1-4 interval lead.
Down may have endured more than their share of travails already this season but they have not lost their self-respect.
A second goal from James Coyle lit the flame of hope until this was extinguished to some extent by Shane Farren's telling strike.
Far from bowing the knee, Down's willingness to battle brought a third goal from Daniel Toner and a point from substitute Brendan Rodgers all but ensured stalemate until Hinphey landed his match-winning point.
Derry: D McDermott; M Warnock, L Hinphey, E McGuckin; P Cleary, K Hinphey 0-2, A Rafferty; B Og McGilligan, T McCloskey; C McQuillan, A Grant 0-1, A Kelly; S Farren 1-1, R Convery 0-10 (8f, 1 '65'), O McCloskey 1-0. Substitutes: B Rodgers 0-2 for Grant (26 mins), P McCloskey for McGilligan 40, M O'Hagan for T McCloskey 51.
Down: S Smith; M Conlan, P Flynn, M Hughes; B Nicholson, C Woods 0-3 (1f,1 '65'), P Hughes; C O'Neill, C O'Prey; D Toner 1-1, D Hughes,R Brannigan 0-1; J McCusker 1-0, S Nicholson 0-1, J Coyle 1-4 (2f). Substitutes: M Ennis 0-1 for O'Prey (33 mins), P Sheehan 0-1 for O Neill (53).
Referee: Owen Elliott (Antrim).