There was heartbreak for the Donegal minors who just didn’t spark on the day and paid the price in Clones on Saturday.
For a side that were favourites to win Ulster, this was a major setback but there can be few excuses. Derry dominated for long periods and Donegal just had no answer to powerhouse Conor Glass while Patrick Kearney also played his part around the middle.
Donegal failed to score for long periods of the opening half and only really got their act together in the final quarter.
They did have a chance to steal the game with a last minute penalty but Conor Doherty pulled his shot just over the crossbar. They could argue, with some strong justification, that they were not helped by referee Sean Laverty of Antrim, who was very severe on them with some decisions (one against Stephen McMenamin for overcarrying was baffling and led to an easy point) while he only allowed three added minutes after a lot of injuries and time wasting by Derry in the second half.
Donegal just didn’t settle in the first half being cleaned out at midfield where Patrick Kearney was superb and Conor Glass was working in the wings.
There was confusion after two minutes after a 45m free from Rory Carr seemed to be waved wide by the umpire but then appeared on the scoreboard.
However, it was soon removed but Donegal did the lead almost immediately when Rory Carr was fouled and Ethan O’Donnell tapped over from short range.
They were two up on five minutes when a great run by Ethan O’Donnell saw the ball being turned over twice and Conor Doherty punished with a good point.
But after that Donegal struggled and Derry dominated, especially around the middle. They got their first point on nine minutes when Conor Glass pointed a ‘45’. Six minutes later he repeated the feat as Derry continued to dicate proceedings.
Glass then landed his third, from a free, on 17 minutes before Donegal got their only other point of the half, Conor Doherty finding the range from a free after a jersey tug on Ethan O’Donnell.
But before half-time Patrick Kearney hit a mighty point, Derry’s first from play and in added time the Donegal defence went to sleep as Shane McGuigan lined up a free kick. McGuigan took it short and from a one-two he found the range to leave Derry ahead by 0-5 to 0-3 at the break.
It was a poor half of football from Donegal, who didn’t seem to up to speed and they had seven wides, with some good chances from frees going to waste.
Donegal didn’t heed the warnings and Conor Glass had another free within 57 seconds of the restart and he then worked a one-two to put four between the sides on 32 minutes.
Then came the poor decision against Stephen McMenamin on 37 minutes which Shane McGuigan pointed.
Donegal’s first point of the half was a ‘45’ by Rory Carr on 40 minutes but almost immediately Shane McGuigan left the gap at 0-9 to 0-4.
Donegal’s comeback came with three points in three minutes from the 44th to 47th minutes. Ethan O’Donnell pointed a free and then won another free which Conor Doherty pointed before Rory Carr landed a monster 55m free after Michael Langan was hauled down.
Donegal were almost in for a goal but Conor Doherty’s shot was blocked by Downey with Derry now using any method they could to stop Donegal. Conor Glass pushed them three clear with a free on 53 minutes.
Ethan O’Donnell added a free while Jason McGee was fouled but got no free before Conor Glass pushed Derry three clear again with two minutes left.
Rory Carr replied on 60 minutes before Donegal’s final attack saw Kane Barrett foot blocked and a penalty awarded. There was huge pressure on Conor Doherty and his effort went just too high.
The reaction of the Donegal players as the referee blew the whistle from the kick-out was devastation. The referee played three minutes and 10 seconds of added time and there was a stoppage for an injury to Conor Glass that was that length on its own!
But overall, Donegal were well below par with few players, apart from Stephen McMenamin, getting to the pace of the game.
Donegal: Danny Rodgers; Philip McNern, Stephen McMenamin, Gary McFadden; Dáire Ó Baoill, Seaghan Ferry, Brendan McCole; Michael Carroll; Jason McGee; Ethan O’Donnell (0-3,3f), Niall O’Donnell, Naoise Ó Baoill; Conor Doherty (0-4,2f,pen), Michael Langan, Rory Carr (0-3,1f,’45’). Subs.,Mark Coyle for N O’Donnell ht; Kane Barrett for McCole 35; Eoghan McGettigan for N O’Baoill 53; Philip Doherty for Langan 55.
Derry: Callum Mullan-Young; Niall Keenan, Conor McGrogan, Conor Maunsell; Oisin Duffin, Michael McEvoy, Eoghan Concannon; Patrick Kearney (0-1), Jack Doherty; Patrick Coney, Shea Downey, Conor Glass (0-7,2’45s’,2f); Tiarnan Flanagan, Barry Grant, Shane McGuigan (0-3,1f). Subs., Fergal Higgins for Grant 37; Niall McAtamney for Duffin 53; Brian Cassidy for Kearney 53.
Referee: Sean Laverty (Antrim)