Cumann Lúthchleas Gael Uladh

Ulster SFC: Derry v Donegal – Match Preview, Pivotal Players and Previous Meetings

April 20th, 2024

Derry v Donegal

Celtic Park, 6.15pm (Live on RTÉ 2 & BBC 2)

Referee: David Gough (An Mhí)

IT’S here. The most talked about game in this year’s championship is upon us as champions Derry put their title on the line.

Derry capped off an excellent league season with silverware in Croke Park. It was a day when today’s opponents Donegal applied the polish of league silverware to their successful promotion mission. Now it gets real.

In the 24 years between Derry’s 1998 Ulster win and ending the famine – again against Donegal – in 2022, the counties met 10 times in championship.  Derry’s 2008 win, thanks to 10 Paddy Bradley points, was their only success, ironically in the year they last tasted league success.  Donegal won the other nine games. The closest Derry came was in the All-Ireland qualifier in when a Kevin Cassidy goal sunk Derry in extra-time at Celtic Park.

It’s all irrelevant today. Now it’s about the last three championship meetings. Patrick McBrearty’s winner was the killer blow in 2021.  It was Brendan Rogers and Conor Glass running the show in extra time 12 months later. Despite a brilliant performance from Oisín Gallen last season, Derry’s eye for goal told the tale.

In the decade Derry were dropping the divisions, the rivalry wasn’t there. Donegal were further up the tree.  It was an era when Mickey Harte and Jim McGuinness were going toe to toe. Harte with his native Red Hand County, McGuinness as his 2012 Sam Maguire crusade grew legs.

When the championship draw, 182 days ago today, paired Derry and Donegal for the latest arm wrestle the Jim v Mickey narrative ramped up an already frantic race for tickets even more.

Derry are hopeful Gareth McKinless can see off his latest injury scare. Training this week will have told the tale.  Donegal have their own concerns. McBrearty limped out of their win over Meath. Ryan McHugh got a bang in the game and Dáire Ó Baoill was withdrawn at half-time.  Eoghan Bán Gallagher hasn’t walked over the whitewash since their February win over Cavan with a groin injury. Brendan McCole’s toe injury saw him in a cast.

There are plenty of ifs. On the flip side, there has been the return of Caolan McColgan and his mobility will be useful today.  Niall O’Donnell, the gamebreaker in Ballybofey before McBrearty’s winner in 2021, is back and will keep Derry honest over defensive matchups when the game goes down the stretch.

Caolan McGonagle has played all but 35 minutes of the since voided McKenna Cup win Armagh’s U-20 group this season.  Either side the use of his positional, Peadar Mogan and Ryan McHugh have been an excellent counter-attacking platform Ó Baoill has added to.

For Derry, Shane McGuigan has more support. Lachlan Murray has found form. Niall Toner and Cormac Murphy have pace and purpose.  There is a well-documented threat of goals coming from deep with Ethan Doherty at the core. The plan Jim McGuinness began hatching 182 days ago will dictate who steps back into the championship arena next Sunday.  Derry’s home comforts might be enough to tip the scale. We’ll see.


  1. Odhran Lynch
  2. Conor McCluskey
  3. Christopher McKaigue
  4. Diarmuid Baker
  5. Conor Doherty
  6. Eoin McEvoy
  7. Padraig McGrogan
  8. Conor Glass
  9. Brendan Rogers
  10. Ethan Doherty
  11. Ciaran McFaul
  12. Paul Cassidy
  13. Niall Loughlin
  14. Shane McGuigan
  15. Lachlan Murray
  16. Ryan Scullion
  17. Emmett Bradley
  18. Declan Cassidy
  19. Matthew Downey
  20. Shea Downey
  21. Donncha Gilmore
  22. Conleith McGuckin
  23. Gareth McKinless
  24. Eunan Mulholland
  25. Mark Doherty
  26. Niall Toner


  1. Shaun Patton
  2. Mark Curran
  3. Ciaran Moore
  4. Peadar Mogan
  5. Ryan McHugh
  6. Caolan McGonagle
  7. Shane O Donnell
  8. Ciaran Thompson
  9. Michael Langan
  10. Odhran Doherty
  11. Niall O Donnell
  12. Daire O Baoill
  13. Patrick McBrearty
  14. Oisin Gallen
  15. Aaron Doherty
  16. Gavin Mulreany
  17. Kevin McGettigan
  18. Stephen McMenamin
  19. Hugh McFadden
  20. Domhnall MacGiolla Bhride
  21. Jeaic MacCeallbhuí
  22. Brendan McCole
  23. Jamie Brennan
  24. Jason McGee
  25. John Ross Molloy
  26. Cathal MacAonghása

Pivotal Players 

Derry – Eoin McEvoy  

The Magherafelt youngster’s rise up the ranks in recent years has been phenomenal. Back in 2022 he was lifting the MacRory Cup as captain of St Mary’s Magherafelt. Last season he graduated to senior setup and was imperious at full-back as Derry won their second successive Ulster title, earning himself a Young Footballer of the Year nomination in his debut season.  

This year, he looks to have scaled new heights as a key player in the centre of the Oakleaf defence, and that rise was exemplified in his stunning performance in the Division One league final where he stormed up the Croke Park pitch to score 2-2 against the Dubs, his best senior performance in a Derry senior jersey to date.  

Still only 20, he is the youngest player in this Derry side to have played Championship football, but has all the composure and awareness of a player many years beyond him.  

Donegal  – Ciaran Thompson 

Ciaran Thompson made his Donegal debut back in 2016 against Fermanagh. Three weeks ago, the Naomh Conaill man marked his 100th senior game by getting his hands on the Division 2 league title following Donegal’s 0-15 to 0–14 win over Armagh.  

Adding to that, he picked up the Man of the Match award as he captained his side to their first piece of silverware since 2019. The centre-forward kicked four points as he reached the milestone of a century of Donegal senior appearances.  

Thompson has proven to be reliable scorer from frees and play as well as being industrious and creative in attack. A perennial winner at club level with Naomh Conaill, he carries on the tradition of representing Donegal at senior level from his older brothers, Anthony and Leon. With Anthony winning four Ulster titles and an All-Ireland in his time, Ciaran will be hoping he can spearhead a new Donegal team to glory. 

Previous Three Meetings in Ulster SFC 

USFC Final
Derry 1-16 Donegal 1-14
Referee: Sean Hurson (Tyrone) 

This game was a compelling encounter with extra time required to decide the destination of the Anglo Celt Cup, with it heading onto the front of the Derry team bus for the first time since 1998.   Extra time points from totemic figures Brendan Rogers and Conor Glass were pivotal in seeing Derry collect their 8th Ulster title.  In his acceptance speech Chrissy McKaigue alluded to it “Just being our time” and that proved to be the case as there was so little between the sides in this decider. 

Derry:?O Lynch; C McKaigue, B Rogers (0-3), C McCluskey; C Doherty (0-1), G McKinless, P McGrogan; C Glass (0-1), E Doherty; P Cassidy (0-1), S Downey (0-1), N Toner; B Heron, S McGuigan (0-6), N Loughlin (1-2). 

Subs:?E Bradley (0-1) for Loughlin, L Murray for Heron, B McCarron for Toner, P McNeill for Downey, N Toner for McCarron, B Heron for Murray, O McWilliams for Doherty. 

Donegal:?S Patton; C Ward, B McCole, S McMenamin; R McHugh (0-1), EB Gallagher, O McFadden-Ferry (1-0); C McGonagle (0-3), J McGee (0-2); P Mogan, S O’Donnell (0-2), M Langan; P McBrearty (0-2), M Murphy (0-2), J Brennan 

Subs: C O’Donnell for Brennan, A Doherty (0-1) for McFadden-Ferry, N O’Donnell for S O’Donnell, H McFadden for McGee, C Thompson (0-1) for McGonagle, P Brennan for Langan. 

USFC Quarter Final
Donegal 0-16 Derry 0-15
Páirc Mac Cumhaill
Referee: David Coldrick (Meath) 

This tussle was point for point for long spells and Derry led by one at half time, emphasising that this one was going to the wire.  Donegal came into the game as hot pre match favourites but this Derry team were showing signs that they were coming of age.  They raced into a 0-12 to 0-8 lead forcing Donegal to bring an injured Michael Murphy off the bench and it had the desired effect.  Murphy, Paul Brennan and Niall O’Donnell all with points brought the sides level heading down the stretch.  Patrick McBrearty had been well curtailed by Chrissy McKaigue but he popped up ‘on the loop’ to kick a monstrous winner in injury time to break Derry hearts. 

Donegal: S Patton; E McHugh, N McGee, S McMenamin; E O’Donnell, O McFadden Ferry, E Bán Gallagher; H McFadden, C McGonagle (0-02); C Thompson, R McHugh, N O’Donnell (0-03); M Langan (0-03), P McBrearty (0-03,2f), J Brennan (0-02). Subs: B McCole for McMenamin; P Brennan (0-01) for McFadden Ferry; M Murphy (0-02,2f) for J Brennan; O Mac Niallais for E O’Donnell; O Gallen for Thompson. 

Derry: O Lynch; C McKaigue, B Rogers, P McGrogan; P Cassidy (0-01), G McKinless (0-01), C Doherty (0-01); C Glass, E Bradley (0-01); E Doherty, N Loughlin (0-01), C McFaul (0-03); B Heron (0-02), S McGuigan (0-04,2f), P Cassidy. Subs: O McWilliams for Heron ; N Toner for Paul Cassidy; C McCluskey for E Doherty; P McNeill for N Loughlin. 

USFC Quarter Final
Donegal 2-16 Derry 0-16
Celtic Park
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois) 

In front of 9,356 supporters, Donegal controlled this game for long spells.  A first half goal from Hugh McFadden coupled with Patrick McBrearty hitting everything over the bar put Donegal in a commanding 1-10 to 0-7 lead.  Derry battled gamely until substitute Cian Mulligan notched a second goal to ease Donegal to a six point victory.   

Donegal: S Patton; P McGrath, N McGee, E Ban Gallagher; C Ward, F McGlynn, P Brennan; H McFadden (1-0), L McLoone (0-3); C Thompson, M Langan, R McHugh (0-2); P McBrearty (0-8), M Murphy (0-2), J Brennan (0-1). Subs: S McMenamin for N McGee, O MacNiallais for M Langan, C Mulligan (1-0) for P Brennan, C McGinley for C Thompson, D O Baoill for P McGrath, M McHugh for F McGlynn.
Derry: B McKinless; P McNeill, B Rogers, K McKaigue; K Johnston, C McKaigue, S L McGoldrick; C McAtamney, M Bateson; P Cassidy, E Bradley (0-8), P Coney; E Lynn, S McGuigan, M Lynch (0-5). Subs: L McGoldrick for S L McGoldrick, J Doherty for M Bateson, C McWilliams for B Rogers, N Toner (0-1) for S McGuigan, J Kielt (0-2) for C McAtamney, P Hagan for P Cassidy. 



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