Ulster SFC Semi-Final:
Fermanagh 1-11 Derry 1-09
Fermanagh will contest their first Ulster football final since 1982 following their sensational comeback win over Derry at Omagh.
The Erne Men are the only Ulster county without a single provincial title to their name, but all that could change on July 20 when they take on either Armagh or Down in the Anglo-Celt Cup decider.
It was fairytale stuff at Healy Park, where former All-Star full-back Barry Owens made his return from heart surgery with a match-winning goal. He came off the bench after 53 minutes to slot in at full forward, and within seconds he punched home what was to be the match-winning goal.
Derry led by 1-5 to 0-6 at half-time, after Eoin Bradley’s goal on 12 minutes had given them the early impetus, but they had spurned an opportunity to go eight points clear when Ronan Gallagher saved a Conleith Gilligan penalty.
After an uneventful opening, which saw Michael McIver and Eoin Bradley hit Derry points in response to Ryan Keenan’s early free, Eoin Bradley illuminated the contest with a superb individual goal, taking a pass to acclerate away before driving an unstoppable shot past Ronan Gallagher.
The Oak Leafers should have had another goal in the 15th minute, when they were awarded a penalty for a foul on Niall McCusker, but Gallagher superbly saved Gilligan’s kick.
Fermanagh responded with Damien Kelly, Tommy McElroy, Liam McBarron and Keenan clipping over points, and they were back to within two points of the hot favourites.
The underdogs also had a goal chance when Keenan and Mark Little took advantage of slack defending by Francis McEldowney to send Eamonn Maguire clear, but his shot was brilliantly saved by Barry Gillis in the Derry goal.
Paddy Bradley swung over a point from wide on the right, but poor handling cost the All-Star full forward what should have been a shot at goal when he failed to gather a pass from his brother, Eoin.
Fermanagh also had a goal chance in stoppage time when Keenan and Little took advantage of slack defending by Francis McEldowney to send Eamonn Maguire clear, but his shot was brilliantly saved by Barry Gillis.
Derry led by 1-5 to 0-6 at the break, but their slender lead was cut back to a single point early in the second half by Little.
The Oak Leafers were looking nervous, and extremely shaky at the back, some poor Erne finishing was keeping them ahead at this stage, with Little sending an effort against a post.
The workrate of Maguire and Little, and the tenacity of Kelly and Ryan McCluskey at the back made life difficult for a struggling Derry attack, and it took Paddy Crozier’s men 16 minutes to get their first score of the second half, a Paddy Bradley free.
That was after he had missed an easy effort, and Eoin Bradley had poked a tame effort straight at goalkeeper Gallagher.
Fermanagh were hanging in there, and in the 54th minute they struck gold. Former All-Star full back Owens, out of action since January, was sprung from the bench and within seconds made a magical impact, punching to the net from Ciaran McElroy’s delivery.
A Marty McGrath point eased the Lakelanders into a two points lead, and suddenly they began to dream that a major upset was possible.
Derry needed to dig deep, but they found it impossible to stem the green tide, and there were further scores from Maguire and Keenan as the gap grew to four.
Goalkeeper Gallagher had more heroics to offer with a superlative save from James Conway.
They did get two late scores from substitute Raymond Wilkinson, but Fermanagh held on for their place in the dreamland Ulster final showpiece.
Derry: B Gillis, K McGuckin, K McCloy, F McEldowney, G O’Kane, N McCusker, M McIver (0-1), J Conway, J Diver, M Lynch, P Murphy, E Muldoon, C Gilligan (0-2, 1f 1 ’45’), P Bradley (0-3, 1f), E Bradley (1-1).
Subs: B McGoldrick for Muldoon (blood, 7 mins), M McGoldrick for McEldowney (h-t), Patsy Bradley for Murphy (54), P Carton for McIver (58), C Devlin for Lynch (65), R Wilkinson (0-2) for Diver (66)
Fermanagh: R Gallagher, S Goan, S McDermott, P Sherry, D Kelly (0-1), R McCluskey, T McElroy (0-1), M McGrath (0-1), M Murphy, C McElroy, J Sherry, R Keenan (0-4, 3f), E Maguire (0-2), L McBarron (0-1), M Little (0-1).
Subs: S McCabe for Maguire (blood, 8 mins), McCabe for McBarron (50), B Owens (1-0) for J Sherry (53), S Lyons for McElroy (69)
Referee: S Doyle (Wexford).
Wides: Derry 6, Fermanagh 7
Derry: F McEldowney
Fermanagh: R Keenan, L McBarron, R McCluskey, P Sherry (2), B Owens
Red Cards: P Sherry (Fermanagh)