Minors' run comes to an end with loss to Derry

Ulster MFC semi-final

Derry 0-16

Cavan 0-11

Cavan minors’ season came to an end as they were defeated by a strong Derry side at the Athletic Grounds, Armagh this evening.

Cavan competed well early on and pressed hard in the closing stages but, in between, Derry were the better side and ran out deserving winners in the end.

Cavan came into this game as underdogs, having been well beaten by Derry in the Ulster Minor League. The Breffni boys had overcome Fermanagh and Antrim in the back door and were appearing in the first Ulster semi-final since 2018 while Derry have been consistent in this grade in recent seasons, having reached five of the last seven finals, winning it three times.

At half-time, Derry had one foot in yet another decider as they led by 0-12 to 0-4, having played with the wind at their backs. The exchanges were tight early on, with defences on top, but as the half wore on, Derry began to dominate, out-scoring Cavan by 0-6 to 0-1 in the 10 minutes before the interval.

Derry eased into a two-point lead with a free from the impressive Eoin Higgins and a good strike from Cahair Spiers. After a patient build-up, Cavan’s centre-back Oliver McCrystal opened their account but already, the Oak Leafers were looking dangerous, with Cillian Brady saving smartly from Conall Higgins after he was released by a clever quick free.

Most of Derry’s scores were the result of sharp defending; they forced turnovers and broke at speed and had the trigger men up front to punish Cavan. From once such move, Eoin Higgins finished and when they pinched the resulting kick-out and Johnny McGuckian registered, it was 0-4 to 0-1 with 12 minutes on the clock.

Cavan responded with a brilliant Matthew Smith effort but Derry always seemed able to muster a quick response and Conall Higgins responded with an excellent effort.

Ben Tully slotted over on the turn but Ruairi Forbes hit back and when Eoin Higgins was fouled, Ciaran Chambers converted from the dead ball.

Cavan’s last score of the first half fell to Lorcan Reilly (free) but Derry upped the ante before the break and points from Johnny McGuickian, Chambers, a huge effort from Ruairi Forbes, Eoin Higgins (free) and Chambers (free) left eight between the teams at half-time.

Cavan needed a fast start on the resumption but Derry drew first blood threw Forbes. After a foul on Niall Magee, Reilly pointed and Michael Smith added another after a sweeping move,

Chambers and Matthew Smith traded scores as Cavan looked to eat into Derry’s lead and when Cian Keaney stuck one over after a stylish dummy, the gap was down to a more manageable six. Cavan had their tails up by now, with five minutes of normal time remaining, and sensing some panic in the Derry ranks, they pushed forward.

Magee made a fine catch and got on the end of a move to make it 0-14 to 0-9 and when sub Cormac Galligan fed McCrystal for another fine score, it was a four-point game and the comeback seemed possible, with Derry down to 14 after a black card for goalkeeper Ben O’Connor.

However, Derry closed the game out well. Cillian Brady, who made a number of good saves, was called into action to avert a goal; from the resulting 45, Odhran Crozier converted and he added another before a Keaney free wrapped up the scoring as Derry advanced.

While they will be ultimately disappointed, Cavan got four games in the competition and two wins and will take a lot of positives from the campaign.

Cavan: Cillian Brady, Cian Halton, Nathan Levy Valensi, Cormac Callaghan, Kyle McCabe, Oliver McCrystal, Eanna Ward, Evan Crowe, Michael Smith, James Tully, Ben Tully, Niall Magee, Matthew Smith, Cian Keaney, Lorcan Reilly

Subs: Conall Mooney for C Halton (41 mins), Luke Allison for Michael Smith (47), Cormac Galligan for L Reilly (47)

Derry: Ben O’Connor, Fionn McEldowney, Eoin Scullion, Danny McDermott, James Murray, Odhran Crozier, Shea Birt, Dara McPeake, Ruairi Forbes, Johnny McGuckian, Conall Higgins, Cahair Speirs, Eoin Higgins, Ciaran Chambers, Odhran Murphy

Subs: Padhraic O’Neill for O Murphy (52 mins), Lorcan Calvert for F McEldowney (60)