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Fermangh Erne place in history with win over Derry

Derry 1-9 Fermanagh 1-11

By John Campbell

Nothing is impossible to a valiant heart. Fermanagh, who have brought a different dimension to intestinal fortitude as well as a fresh facade to the Ulster Championship, today find themselves contemplating a final meeting with either Down or Armagh next month having yet again underscored their resolve, skill and togetherness in a riveting semi-final eclipse of title favourites Derry.

Make no mistake about it, this was a match embossed with style, fuelled by mammoth passion, charged with tension and, ultimately, touched with romance.

A match that not so much highlighted the virtues of the provincial campaign as brought it to another planet. Referee Syl Doyle may have dispensed a glut of yellow cards and one red but malice, cynicism and thuggery were happily conspicuous by their absence.

It's 26 years since Fermanagh last appeared in an Ulster decider but all the heartbreak, frustration and indeed humiliation that have been stockpiled in the interim were swept away on a glorious wave of sporting emotion.

Yet this was far from a straightforward exercise. Derry, just becoming accustomed to wearing their recently-won National League crown, had galloped into a 1-3 to 0-1 by the 13th minute having clinically delivered what we all thought were the initial anaesthetising blows prior to moving in for the kill. But when goalkeeper Ronan Gallagher superbly turned away Conleith Gilligan's penalty three minutes later, he lit a fuse of hope for Fermanagh that was to have even more resonance than the Olympic Flame itself.

And before the half-way stage had been reached, the impact of Eoin Bradley's early goal had been considerably lessened after Martin McGrath and Mark Murphy set about bossing the midfield, Ryan McCluskey and the imperious Tommy McElroy established a virtual no-go area at the back and Mark Little, Ryan Keenan and Eamon Maguire eschewed a work ethic that was little short of phenomenal.

From a seemingly hopeless position, indeed, Fermanagh found themselves were just two points adrift at the break (1-5 to 0-7), McElroy, Kelly, McBarron and Keenan having loosened Derry's grip considerably with a spate of points between the 19th and 27th minutes.

The architecture of the contest was already unpretentious. Fermanagh regularly caught or broke the ball at midfield and, with sleight of hand that would have done justice to an illusionist, ripped a beleaguered Oak Leaf defenc assunder. In contrast, Derry's frontline attempted to exist on a starvation diet - Paddy and Eoin Bradley still managed to scoop four of their first-half points, though - given that the midfield duo James Conway and Joe Diver were relegated to fulfilling bit parts.

And Derry's fall from grace reached seismic proportions in the second-half, particularly after Allstar full-back Barry Owens, who later admitted that his preparations for the game amounted to "three half-hours of club football" following his recovery from a heart condition, galloped on from the bench to palm in a 54th minute goal from his highly unusual full-forward berth that has already assured him of a place in the Fermanagh GAA annals.

A points blitz followed, the Ernemen revelling in time and space as McGrath, Maguire and Keenan found the target. If the 64th minute dismissal of defender Peter Sherry for a second yellow card engendered a queasy tautness in their ranks and indeed among their captivated fans, it was not to prove a lethal blow.

A Derry point from Gilligan and two late strikes from substitute Raymond Wilkinson formed a concession to the grain of battle but if the closing beauty of Fermanagh's stunning victory obscured the intensity of the journey, none of the thousands of green-bedecked fans who swarmed onto the pitch at the finish were consumed by vagaries of the narrative. For them, the result was everything.

FERMANAGH: R Gallagher; S Goan, S McDermott, P Sherry; D Kelly (0-1), R McCluskey, T McElroy (0-1); M McGrath (0-1), M Murphy; C McElroy, J Sherry, R Keenan (0-3, all frees); E Maguire (0-2), L McBarron (0-1), M Little (0-1).. Substitutes: S McCabe for McBarron (42 mins), B Owens for J Sherry (53 mins), S Lyons for C McElroy (70 mins). Yellow cards: McGrath (15 mins), Keenan (37), McBarron 37), McCluskey (52), P Sherry (58)), B Owens (67). Red card: P Sherry.

DERRY: B Gillis; K McGuckin, K McCloy, F McEldowney; G O'Kane, N McCusker, M McIver (0-1); J Conway, J Diver; M Lynch, P Murphy, E Muldoon; C Gilligan (0-2, 1 '45', 1 free), P Bradley (0-3, 1 free), E Bradley (1-1). Substitutes: B McGoldrick for McEldowney (half-time), Patsy Bradley for Murphy (46 mins), P Cartin for McIver (59), C Devlin for Lynch (65), R Wilkinson for Diver (66). Yellow cards: McCloy (37), McIver (38), McGoldrick (38), McGuckin (43), Patsy Bradley (50).

Referee: Syl Doyle (Wexford).

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