Donegal 1-9 Derry 0-10: If it was hardly intriguing, it was tight. Mercifully. Because in truth, Saturday’s Ulster SFC semi final in Clones had little else going for it as a spectacle.

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Derry left ‘sick’ as Donegal book fifth final in a row

Donegal 1-9 Derry 0-10: If it was hardly intriguing, it was tight. Mercifully. Because in truth, Saturday’s Ulster SFC semi final in Clones had little else going for it as a spectacle.

Derry left ‘sick’ as Donegal book fifth final in a row

Brian McIver and Derry were left to rue a slipped chance. A hat-tip to them for making life so difficult for a Donegal team coming off two excellent wins but they should be countered with criticism of their one-dimensional attacks.

Donegal never went behind in this game in front of 19,237 souls who never really sparked to life or, to be fair, had little reason to raise their voices. They commanded the middle third and although Derry had two purple patches in the middle of each half they looked more comfortable in trying to contain Donegal than actually nudge ahead of them.

In a shoot-out of speculative strikes at the posts forced by two well-drilled defensive units, it was Donegal who had the crack-shots. Derry, when they were forced to snipe in the second half, racked up eight wides.

“Derry set up very, very defensively,” said Gallagher. “There is no doubt about that. We just left one extra man back. There was no big deal about that. When we started the game we had no problem with it. I think we went 4-1 up early on. Then Derry took over and we had a barren spell. It looked like a lot of energy drained from our legs. We looked tired to be honest during that period of the game.” The sides were level at five points apiece at half-time, Martin Reilly’s goal 10 minutes into the second half giving Donegal the jolt they needed. The excellent Neil Gallagher strode forward after winning a Derry kick-out and laid the ball on a plate for his team-mate.

Remarkably, that was Donegal’s penultimate score of the game yet even if they didn’t raise a flag for the remainder of the game it would have been sufficient enough for victory, which probably says more about Derry’s shortcomings than those of the reigning Ulster champions.

“Sick, absolutely sick,” said McIver when asked how he felt afterwards. “We had enough chances, but didn’t take them whenever we were on top. That wee spell they got when they got the goal and a couple of points gave them a wee bit of breathing space, you know. But right to the end, we had chances. Disappointing to play so well and get nothing out of it.”

What mystified so many watching on was Donegal’s refusal to take off Paddy McBrearty when, 14 minutes into the game, it appeared he had suffered a reoccurrence of the hamstring injury he had picked up in the latter stages against Armagh. Yet he finished out the game despite being subdued for large periods and clearly struggling to run properly.

“Definitely, we were tempted to take him off,” admitted Gallagher, “and the medical team said it was just a bang on the knee. Then he seemed to think it was his boots so… he changed his boots at half-time. I have given up. I just say ‘Yes, Patrick!’”

Maybe it was expecting too much even of a team like Donegal to be as good as they were having beaten Tyrone and Armagh but they and everyone else know Monaghan would beat them on this performance. Derry, though, were disciplined in defence, giving their opponents just one scoreable free for the duration of the game.

Players who had sparked so far this summer like Frank McGlynn and Odhrán Mac Niallais had quieter outings. Michael Murphy picked off two fine points but wasn’t his usual commanding self. All together, Donegal didn’t muster a score for two periods that combined came to 39 minutes.

“Every single day we are beatable,” remarked the Donegal manager. “We are only as good as how we work and every day we have to work hard. I think while it was far from a perfect performance you couldn’t fault our work rate our effort there today.”

After criticism in the run-up to the game from within the county in the shape of Joe Brolly and Paddy Bradley, there was an air of defiance about McIver after such a tight encounter. “Look, we are not worried at all about people sniping. That’s a very honest bunch of players. They gave an honest display and I am disappointed for them because on that game today we deserved a draw out of it.”

It will be Clones once more for Donegal on July 19 when they renew acquaintances with a team that, in conjunction with them, have defined the provincial championship these last few seasons.

“I think it is a great testament to these boys’ consistency and their pedigree that they are in their fifth in a row. But all that goes out the window. It’s just about us and Monaghan in 2015 and it’s going to be a hell of a battle.

“That era has moved on. We are in a different era now. The boys have done an awful lot right over the last five years but that will all go out the window. It will be a hell of a battle. The two teams know each other well. We have one Ulster final victory each and there is a lot at stake. I think it will be dogged. I think it will be tense and I think it is going to be nail-biting.”

Scorers for Donegal:

M Reilly (1-0); P McBrearty (1 free), C McFadden, M Murphy (0-2 each); O Mac Niallais, C Toye, M McElhinney (0-1 each).

Scorers for Derry:

E Bradley (frees), M Lynch (1 free), C O’Boyle (0-2 each); C McKaigue, N Holly, B Heron, C McFaul (0-1 each).

DONEGAL:

P Durcan; P McGrath, N McGee, E McGee; R McHugh, K Lacey, F McGlynn; N Gallagher, M McElhinney; C Toye, O Mac Niallais, M Reilly; P McBrearty, M Murphy, C McFadden.

Subs for Donegal:

M McHugh for C McFadden (58); A Thompson for C Toye (62); H McFadden for M McElhinney (70+1); D Walsh for P McBrearty (70+3).

DERRY:

T Mallon; O Duffy, B Rogers, D McBride; C McFaul, C McKaigue, K Johnston; N Holly, F Doherty; C O'Boyle, E Lynn, SL McGoldrick; M Lynch, E Bradley, D Heavron.

Subs for Derry:

B Heron for SL McGoldrick (inj, 47); L McGoldrick for O Duffy (48); T O’Brien for E Lynn (51); N Loughlin for E Bradley (62); E Lynn for C O’Boyle (65); C McAtamney for B Rogers (BC, 6); C McFaul (BC, 69).

Referee:

R Hickey (Clare)

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