EirGrid Ulster U-21 Football Final
Donegal 3-17 Derry 0-13
The sheer quality and depth of talent at Donegal’s disposal was paraded in style in the Athletic Grounds as the county were crowned EirGrid Ulster U21 champions for the first time since 2010.
Declan Bonner’s side came into the game with a big reputation with a dozen players in the senior panel and goals from Lorcan Connor, Ethan O’Donnell and Michael Carroll made it a comfortable win over 14-man Derry.
Connor’s first-half goal had Donegal in front 1-8 to 0-7 at the break and Derry’s challenge faded when defender Oisin Duffin was sent-off 10 minutes after the restart.
The dismissal of top forward, Slaughtneil’s Shane McGuigan, to a black card also deflated Derry and Donegal finished strongly.
The winners will face Dublin in a mouth-watering All-Ireland semi-final on Saturday at Kingspan Breffni Park.
In front of a crowd of 3,521, it was cagey stuff in the opening 10 minutes with both teams feeling each other out.
Donegal came into the game with a big reputation but having lost three Ulster U21 finals in a row between 2013 and 2015, the early nerves were understandable.
Derry too hadn’t won a title at this level in 20 years and were slow to settle.The opening four scores were all from placed balls, Danny Tallon’s early free wiped out as Donegal hit three in a row from Connor (two) and a Michael Langan ’45’.
The game really opened up with both teams kicking some lovely scores from distance in near perfect conditions in Armagh.
Peter Hagan, Conor Doherty and then Slaughtneil’s Shane McGuigan floated over a lovely point from a difficult angle for Derry to briefly put them in front at 0-6 to 0-5 in the 21st minute.
Donegal responded instantly with speedster Jamie Brennan getting on the end of a well-worked score after Derry had cheaply kicked the ball straight into their goalkeeper’s hands a few seconds earlier.
Big midfielder Jason McGee got on a lot of ball for Donegal and was a big influence. He kicked a difficult score off his left foot, having ignored an easy chance off his stronger right, and the goal came at a great time for the favourites just before half time.
It was all about the speed and composure of Brennan, who broke clear and controlled the ball on the ground, rolling it across to the unmarked Connor who had the easiest of finishes at the back post.
McGee tagged on his second long-range point to make it 1-8 to 0-7 at the break. Donegal started the second half like they’d finished the first and two points in as many minutes, with Cian Mulligan getting on the scoresheet, stretched the lead to six.
Then two refereeing decisions went against Derry which cost them any hope of a revival.
Their most dangerous forward Shane McGuigan was black-carded on the advice of the assistant referee on the stand side for a late trip on Conor Morrison just five minutes into the second half.
Five minutes later they were reduced to 14 men when Oisin Duffin picked up a black card followed by a red for taking down Eoghan Ban Gallagher.
Langan’s lovely free-kick off the ground made it 1-12 to 0-8 to Donegal and Derry;s challenge wilted in the second half.
It was one-way traffic with Brennan tormenting the Derry defence and 10 different Donegal players got on the scoresheet in a convincing display.
After spurning a few goal chances, Donegal got a second when O’Donnell weaved his way through and Carroll palmed the ball to the net in injury time for Donegal’s third.
Scorers for Donegal: L Connor 1-5 (5f), E O’Donnell 1-0, M Carroll 1-2, M Langan 0-3 (2 ’45’s, 1f), J McGee 0-2, J Brennan 0-1, C Mulligan 0-1, N O’Donnell 0-1, C Morrison 0-1, EB Gallagher 0-1
Scorers for Derry: D Tallon 0-3 (3f), S McGuigan 0-2 (1f), P Hagan 0-2 (1f), P Coney 0-1, C Doherty 0-1, J Doherty 0-1, C Mulholland 0-1, J Curran 0-1, N Keenan 0-1
DONEGAL: D Rodgers; C Morrison, C Kelly, E Ban Gallagher; D O Baoill, T McClenaghan, B McCole; M Carroll, J McGee; J Brennan, S McMenamin, S McBrearty; L Connor, M Langan, C Mulligan. Subs: C Doherty for Kelly (24), N O’Donnell (0-1) for McBrearty (41), E O’Donnell (1-0) for Doherty (53), C McLaughlin for Connor (58)
DERRY: B McKinless; N Keenan, O Duffin, C McGrogan; C Mulholland, M McEvoy, J Curran; J Doherty, P Kearney; P Hagan, D Curran, P Coney; D Tallon, S McGuigan, C Doherty. Subs: T Flanagan for McGuigan (BC, 35), E Magill for Curran (44), J Donaghy for Doherty (44), C Feeney for McEvoy (54), F Kearney for Coney (59)
REFEREE: Sean Hurson (Tyrone)