Donegal’s bid for a fourth Ulster Minor League title in-a-row is over following this afternoon’s defeat by Derry, in Ballybofey.
Following a draw with Fermanagh and defeat by Tyrone, Donegal needed to beat Derry (and Antrim next week) to qualify for a the knockout stages of the league.
And they came oh so close in the end with just two between the sides at the final whistle after Donegal staged a remarkable second half recovery.
Down by ten points, 0-14 to 0-4, at half time, Donegal took the fight to the Derry boys in the second half.
They outscored the winners 2-9 to 0-7 in the that period with Oisin Gallen and Aaron Doherty scoring the goals.
Derry started well and hit the game’s first four points, all inside the opening five minutes. Ben McCarron landed the first from a free on 30 seconds.
Martin Bradley strode forward from wing back for the second two minutes later before Ritchie Mullan landed two fine scores in the space of a minute for a 0-4 to 0-0, lead.
Donegal, who lined out without injured captain Peadar Mogan, finally got the scoreboard clicking when Colin McFadden fisted over after a penetrating run from Ronan Docherty. For a split second the goal was on but McFadden opted to take the point.
Aaron Doherty and Paddy Dolan quickly added points for Donegal to reduce the margin to one, 0-4 0-3, with nine minutes on the clock.
But Derry took over again and with Ritchie Mullan and Ben McCarron buzzing up front, reeling off nine points without response to race into a 0-13 to 0-3 lead by the 27th minute.
And but for a top drawer save from Sean Taylor to deny Cormac Murphy from five metres, it could have been worse for Donegal.
In the closing minute Oisin Gallen converted a close in free for Donegal who enjoyed a a good deal of possession, but found the Oak Leaf defence hard to breakdown.
Shaun Paul Barrett made a number of changes on the resumption with Brian O’Donnell and Keelin McGroddy replacing Lanty Molloy and Shane McDevitt in the attack.
Conor O’Donnell and Aaron Doherty stepped up on their first half performances.
And Donegal were back in the game by the three quarter mark thanks to the goals from Gallen and Doherty.
Gallen palmed the first of the goals on 40 minutes after good work in the corner by McGroddy.
And four minutes later Derry ‘keeper Oran Hartnan was plucking the ball out his net again after Doherty’s curved shot from 13 metres nestled in the right corner.
Doherty’s goal narrowed the gap to two, 0-16 to 2-7. And it got better for Donegal when Doherty converted from 46 metres to tie up the game with a little under ten minutes remaining, Donegal 2-11, Derry 0-17.
Derry pulled two clear again in the closing minutes with points from Conor Quinn and McCarron, to ease two back in front.
But Donegal continued to press and Michael Gallagher had the sides level once more as the clock ticked into injury time.
In a frenetic finish Alex Doherty and McCarron posted late Derry points to ease the visitors two in front again.
Aaron Doherty had one late chance when he rattled a 20 metre free off the crossbar.
DERRY; Oran Hartan; Conleith McShane, Conor McCloskey, Sean McKeever; Martin Bradley (0-1). Oran McGill, Oran Quinn (0-1); Padraig McGrogan (0-2), Dara Rafferty; J P Devlin(0-1), Ritchie Mullan (0-3), Simon McErlain (0-1); Cormac Murphy, Mark McGrogan (0-2,1f), Ben McCarron (0-6,145,2f).
Subs: Alex Doherty (0-3) for R McMullan, Calum Brown for D Rafferty, Lorcan Speer for S McErlain (all h/t); Conor Quinn (0-1) for O Quinn, 41; Tiernan Walsh for C Brown, 51.
DONEGAL Sean Taylor; Fionn Gallagher, Aaron Deeney, Conor McHugh; Conor O'Donnell (0-2), Ryan McMahon, Paul Murphy; Ronan Docherty, Colin McFadden (0-1); Aaron Doherty (1-2,1f), Paddy Dolan (0-2, 1f), Lanty Molloy; Karl McGlynn, Oisin Gallen (1-3,3f), Shane McDevitt.
Subs: Keelin McGroddy and Brian O'Donnell (0-2) for McDevitt and L Molloy h/t, Aidan Doohan for R McMahon 45, black card, Michael Gallagher (0-1) for C McFadden 54, Jack McSharry for F Gallagher 58, Niall Hannigan for C.O'Donnell.
REFEREE: James Lewis (Fermanagh).