Derry 5-15 Donegal 1-11
Derry have become the first Ulster winners of the Nicky Rackard Cup thanks to a 5-15 to 1-11 victory over Donegal in today’s final at Croke Park.
Ruairí Convery tallied up 2-7, while man-of-the-match Sean McBride bagged 3-3 as the Oak Leafers earned a safe passage through to next year’s Christy Ring Cup.
Convery’s low-slung ‘65’ dipped in under the Donegal crossbar on 22 minutes, and a defensive mix-up allowed him backhand home his second just before the interval.
Shaun McCloskey’s side led 2-8 to 0-7 at half-time despite hitting seven wides to Donegal’s three.
There was a mini-revival for Donegal when Niall Campbell reacted quickest to smack home their only goal, four minutes into the second half. That strike got the gap down to five points but Derry and the elusive McBride bossed the closing half-hour as they banished the memory of May’s Ulster semi-final defeat to New York.
The game was only two minutes old when John O'Dwyer had the first sight on goal – he plucked a Convery ball from out of the sky and struck goalward, only for Donegal’s young ‘keeper Ger Grindle to parry and clear his lines.
Grindle was in the thick of the action throughout and only for some misfortune, would have kept the Derry tally to two or three goals.
Donegal captain Colm Breathnach settled his side with a third-minute point and while Kevin Campbell launched over a free soon after, a brace of Convery frees and scores from Danny McGrellis and Kevin Hinphey pushed Derry 0-4 to 0-2 clear.
The Tír Chonaill men, who had 12 points to spare on Longford in their semi-final, were playing a skilful brand of hurling and managed to level the game for a second time in the 18th-minute thanks to points from Eugene Organ and Breathnach, who is a former Waterford U21 footballer.
Derry's momentum picked up when wing back Cathal Brunton followed up an excellent catch with a soaring point, and seconds later, Convery's ‘65’ was nestling in the Donegal net, just evading the grasp of Jamesie Donnelly on its way in.
Kevin Campbell added two more frees to lessen the blow for the underdogs and get it back to a two-point game. Then a neat interchange between Hinphey and McBride saw the latter point and Convery hit over a free for a 1-7 to 0-6 score line.
Organ and Convery, with his first score from play, swapped points before cruelly, Donegal conceded a second goal.
Full-forward Hinphey began the move, darting around the cover defence for a shot on goal – Grindle was equal to it, knocking the ball to the ground, but in the DIT student's attempt to regain possession he collided with his defender Aiden Begley, and Convery's ground shot speared home, taking his personal tally to 2-4.
A seven-point half-time lead was decidedly flattering for Derry, but they took their goals when the opportunities came and Donegal were ultimately left to pay for their errors at the back.
Swatragh forward Convery opened the second half's scoring with a free, although Donegal nudged right back into contention when Kevin Campbell and the 39-year-old Anthony McDaid combined to force an opening for corner man Niall Campbell. He gleefully beat Kieran Stevenson with a rifled shot off the ground.
Crucially, after a McBride point had taken the sting out of the goal, the burly Stevenson did brilliantly to throw himself to his right and save a certain goal from Donegal midfielder Organ.
A goal then and the green and gold would have been just three points behind their Ulster rivals, but that was their last real chance.
McBride was toasting his first and best goal on 50 minutes when a solo run from McGrellis ended with him being thwarted by Grindle, however McBride was lurking out to the right and his first time shot from an acute angle flew into the Donegal net – a cracking strike from the Ballinascreen man.
Derry moved 4-11 to 1-9 in front seven minutes later, when Hinphey launched a ball deep into Donegal territory, Grindle caught it but was unfortunate to see the sliotar spill from his grasp and into the path of McBride who kicked it to an empty net.
A couple of Campbell frees kept Donegal interested, and while Danny Cullen managed to land the game's final point in injury-time, Derry were out of sight by that stage.
Grindle redeemed himself on 63 minutes, almost unintentionally, when McBride raced through on him and rapped a short-handed shot goalward. Grindle turned his back on the ball and it managed to somehow knock off the back of the 'keeper's head and away. Convery mopped up with a point.
Goal number five duly arrived for Derry in the 65th-minute – another ball in from the stick of Hinphey caused havoc in the Donegal defence, McBride beat his marker to it and got the better of Grindle from close range to add a flattering look to the scoreboard.
In almost dreamlike fashion, McBride added a stunning point from a sideline cut out on the right to end his afternoon's scoring and rubbish the notion of Derry being a third tier hurling county.
It was certainly a moment to recount to his grandchildren in years to come.
DERRY – K Stevenson; S McCullagh, M Conway (capt), E McKeever; C Brunton (0-1), L Hinphey, P Sweeney; R Kennedy, P O'Kane; R Convery (2-7 (1-0 ‘65’, 0-5f)), Gregory Biggs, D McGrellis (0-2); S McBride (3-3 (0-1 sl)), K Hinphey (0-1), J O'Dwyer.
Subs used: R McCloskey for Sweeney (45 mins), P Hearty (0-1) for O’Dwyer (49), A Rafferty for L Hinphey (55), C Quinn for Biggs (63), Gary Biggs for McGrellis (64)
DONEGAL – G Grindle; M McGrath, C Dowds, J Callaghan; J Donnelly, A Begley, J McGee; M McCann (0-1), E Organ (0-2); K Campbell (0-5 (0-5f)), C Breathnach (capt) (0-2), A McDaid; D Cullen (0-1), G Dwyer, N Campbell (1-0).
Subs used: C McLaughlin for Callaghan, P Tooher for Dwyer (both 52 mins), J Dolan for McDaid (63)
Referee: Dominic Connolly (Kilkenny).