Derry 0-11 Donegal 1-11
Donegal rediscovered the magic formula of hunger and intensity to turn Derry over at Celtic Park this afternoon.
They came from behind to get the better of their north-west neighbours in an enthralling Ulster SFC quarter-final, with skipper Michael Murphy once again leading his side to victory.
Leo McLoone scored the only goal of the game early in the second half to give Jim McGuinness’ side a platform from which they constructed a classic defensive strategy which enabled them to attack on the counter.
Derry did come from six points behind to close the gap to two, but they failed to score against a blanket of resistance in the final ten minutes.
In front of a sell-out crowd of 15,883, Mark Lynch converted an early free to settle Oak Leaf nerves, and it was the home side which made the early running, with the experienced Fergal Doherty winning valuable possession around midfield.
Darach O’Connor, one of a handful of pre-match Donegal introductions, showed searing pace to sprint away from marker Sean Leo McGoldrick for a fisted point.
And Donegal crafted a goal chance when Anthony Thompson broke away on the left, and spotted Paddy McBrearty galloping into open space.
The cross was perfectly timed and gathered at pace by the Kicar attacker, but he blazed wide and a golden opportunity was lost.
Derry suffered a massive blow after just 14 minutes when Doherty was forced out of the action after picking up a heavy knock, but his replacement, Niall Holly, made an immediate impact with a wonderful point from distance.
That was after Christy Toye had brought Donegal level in the 18th minute, cancelling out a second free from Lynch.
Karl Lacey, who was assigned the job of shadowing Derry skipper Lynch, got forward to shoot a point, but the home defence was keeping Donegal’s fabled full forward line of McFadden, Murphy and McBrearty well in check.
Both sides adopted a patient approach, confronted by packed defences, but it was Derry who handled the situation more impressively, hitting a string of points in the second quarter to go three clear.
Donegal went 15 minutes without a score, until skipper Murphy converted a 13 metre free from a difficult angle, and they went in at the break trailing by two points, 0-6 to 0-4.
Derry took a 0-6 to 0-4 lead into the interval, but Donegal were ahead within four minutes of the restart.
Thompson narrowed the gap, before Leo McLoone hit the net with a delightful finish, lifting the ball over the outstretched Thomas Mallon, after Murphy and Frank McGlynn had combined in the build-up.
Donegal had lifted the intensity to a new level, and Derry struggled to cope with the high tempo approach of their opponents.
Murphy thumped over a magnificent point from a sideline kick on the 45 metre line, and a series of swift attacks had the Derry defence stretched to breaking point.
McBrearty should have had a second goal when he got on the end of a defence-splitting move involving McLoone, substitute Martin McElhinney and McGlynn, but again his shot flew over the bar.
However, now Donegal led by 1-9 to 0-6, and looked capable of pushing on for a big win.
But Derry, to their credit, battled their way back into the game, with Lynch, McGoldrick, Benny Heron and McFaul lifting their game to a new level.
They shot a string of points through Lynch, Heron and Bradley to narrow the deficit down to two points.
But the final eight minutes witnessed a classic Donegal shut-out. They swarmed all over the Derry attack, with all 15 players back to play the part in the defensive effort.
And they succeeded in holding their opponents scoreless, and a breakaway raid ended with McLoone clipping over the insurance point.
Derry finished with 14 men, after substitute James Kielt received a black card, and could not be replaced, as he had already been booked.
Derry: T Mallon, D McBride, C McKaigue, G McKinless, K Johnson, G O’Kane, SL McGoldrick, F Doherty, P Bradley, C McFaul (0-1), M Lynch (0-4, 3f), E Bradley (0-3, 2f), E Lynn, E McGuckin, C O’Boyle.
Subs: N Holly (0-1) for Doherty, R Bell for O’Boyle, B Heron (0-2, 1 ‘45) for Holly, O Duffy for Johnson, J Kielt for McGuckin.
Donegal: P Durcan, E McGee, N McGee, P McGrath, F McGlynn, K Lacey (0-1), A Thompson (0-1), C Toye (0-1), O MacNiallais, L McLoone (1-1), R McHugh, D O’Connor (0-1), P McBrearty (0-1), M Murphy (0-4, 2f), C McFadden.
Subs: M McElhinney (0-1) for Toye, N Gallagher for O’Connor, D Walsh for MacNiallais, L Keaney for McBrearty, D Molloy for McFadden
Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan).