Bradley puts pep back in Derry step

WINNING a provincial semi-final is no place to declare a famine is over but a millstone was lifted from the neck of Derry football yesterday.

A decade of provincial despair was firmly put behind them as they qualified for their first Ulster final since 2000. The convincing manner in which they did it will have plenty believing they could bridge the gap to the last time they held aloft the Anglo-Celt Cup in 1998.

Certainly, if Eoin Bradley is given as much freedom by Tyrone or Donegal on July 20 as he was here they will have plenty more reason to cheer. He was scintillating yesterday, continuing the rich vein of form his family has shown in championship fare in Clones.

The last time Derry were here older brother Paddy tore Monaghan apart, scoring 2-8. Yesterday, Eoin picked off 1-5 and won a host of frees for Conleth Gilligan to convert.

So dominating was Bradley that by the 46th minute, he was on his third marker, Andy Mallon, after Brendan Donaghy and then Ciaran McKeever had picked up yellow cards trying to stop him.

Mallon couldn’t have got off to a worse start. Seconds after switching to the Glenullin man, he attempted to block a James Kielt pass but misjudged it and Bradley was through for Derry’s second goal.

The scoreline read 2-11 to 1-7 in Derry’s favour and Armagh’s first attempt at a second-half fightback was finished. Trailing 1-8 to 0-6, Armagh took 14 seconds to reduce their arrears to two when, straight from the throw-in, Charlie Vernon, Billy Joe Padden and Steven McDonnell exchanged quick hand-passes to set Michael O’Rourke free to score.

As it turned out, Derry reacted better to the score, Charlie Kielt taking advantage of not being tracked to score and Gilligan following it up with a free.

McDonnell, Armagh’s one standout performer, boomed over a free to make it a three-point game. Seconds later and he looked through on goal after initially dispossessing Kevin McGuckian but overcooked a hand-pass to Jamie Clarke whose fisted attempt cracked the upright.

It simply wasn’t Armagh’s day. McDonnell managed to instigate another rally, bagging a couple of points. It brought Armagh to within four before McDonnell was put through by Tony Kernan only to direct his shot at Danny Devlin.

Derry immediately cleared their lines with the ball finding its way into the hands of Lynch whose clever pass past a couple of Armagh defenders found Gilligan unmarked and his finish was clinical.

From the possibility of it being a one-point game to the reality of it transforming into a seven-point affair, Armagh were finished.

Just like Down had been hyped up and Armagh duly burst their bubble last month, it was the Orchard men’s turn to combust.

In front of a 14,941 crowd, the vast majority were their own followers, they didn’t look remotely like the team that dismantled Down.

Clarke, so brilliant against Down, was cancelled out by the close attention of Dermot McBride. Granted, McBride wasn’t the first-choice marker directed to stymie Clarke. That honour fell to Brian Óg McAlary but he picked up a yellow on the Crossmaglen man after seven minutes, was moved off him and sitting on the bench after 22 minutes.

Indeed, when Clarke scored an outrageous point he appeared set to demonise Derry again. But his influence declined with McBride foiling the little ball that came his way.

That Clarke point had brought Armagh’s tally to five points, just one behind Derry. But it was the closest they got. Bradley pointed his fourth in the 20th minute to once more bridge the gap to two.

McDonnell, while being fouled, returned fire but Bradley grabbed his fifth, which was followed by an impressive Lynch goal.

He followed it up with a tasty point, a successful kick repeated by McDonnell from a long-range free before David Coldrick called time on the half.

McDonnell fighting a one-man battle, Derry swamping his efforts... the portents of the eventual result were evident even at that early stage.

Scorers for Derry: E Bradley (2fs), C Gilligan (5fs) 1-5 each, M Lynch 1-2, C Kielt, SL McGoldrick 0-1 each.

Scorers for Armagh: S McDonnell 0-6 (4fs), M O’Rourke 1-1, A Kernan, J Clarke, C Vernon, P Duffy 0-1 each.

Subs for Derry: C Mullan for McAlary (22), C O’Boyle for Muldoon (63), E McGuckian for Bradley (66), C McGoldrick for Lynch (70).

Subs for Armagh: J Lavery for Martin (36), P Duffy for Dyas and D McKenna for Padden (49), B Mallon for O’Rourke (52), J Murtagh for T Kernan (57).

Referee: D Coldrick (Meath).

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