Tyrone retained the Ulster Minor championship crown at St.Tiernachs Park in Clones on Sunday afternoon when they held off a spirited Derry side to take the County’s 25th title at this grade.
It was a contest that ebbed and flowed throughout between two well matched sides and as was the case in the League Final at the start of the season there was very little between the two sides. The Red Hands though once again came out on top and just like that day in Maghera it was their ability to get goals that proved to be the difference in the end. Eoin McElholm and Ronan Molloy both found the net in the first half to enable the winners to lead by four points at the break.
Derry reappeared for the second half with all guns blazing and with the bit between their teeth they had drawn level inside ten minutes. At that stage they had all the momentum but Tyrone didn’t panic as they responded with 1-2 without reply with Caolan Donnelly grabbing the goal. Again though Derry showed great heart and determination to hit back to reduce the deficit to the minimum with a minute of normal time left to play. It was anybody’s game at that stage but two minutes into injury time team Captain and man of the match McElholm bagged his side’s second goal and that finally broke Derry’s resistance.
Odhran Murphy and Ciaran Chambers had Derry in front twice early on but each time Tyrone responded through McElholm and Molloy and in fact the Oaf Leafers failed to get their noses in front again. In the 14th minute Tyrone struck for their first goal when a sweeping move saw the ball played to McElholm and he finished in style with a low shot across keeper Ben O’Connor and into the bottom right hand corner of the net.
Chambers responded from a free but in the 19th minute Tyrone found the net again when Molloy reacted quickest to blast to the net after a shot from Conan Devlin had come back off the crossbar. Derry were in trouble but they responded with two converted frees from Eoin Higgins although Tyrone had the final say of the half via Noah Grimes to leave it 2-3 to 0-5 at the interval.
Odhran Crozier opened the second half scoring for Derry but Tyrone replied with a well struck free off the ground from Sean Hughes. Derry though lifted their game and four quick fire points had them on level terms by the 40th minute. Cahir Spiers, Higgins and Murphy all scored to close the gap to the minimum before wing half back Shea Birt landed a terrific equaliser from out on the right wing.
Questions were now being asked of Tyrone but they came up with all the right answers. Michael McElhatton hit two crucial points the second of which was a tremendous effort with the outside of his boot from the right before the same player collected a pass from Noah Grimes to offload for Caolan Donnelly to slot past keeper O’Connor.
Tyrone were now in the ascendency again with a five point lead but Derry dug deep to fight their way back into contention again. Johnny McGuickan pointed with Higgins converted two frees before Tyrone substitute Ruairi McCullagh responded at the other end of the field via the post. A seventh free from Higgins was followed by a second from play from Spiers to leave the scoreboard reading 3-8 to 0-16 with just three minutes of normal time left to play.
Moments later Derry almost got in for a goal but for a timely interception from Conan Devlin after Dara McPeake crossed for Conal Higgins whose palmed effort was charged down by the Ardboe clubman. Extra time was looking a distinct possibility but two minutes into the allotted three minutes of injury time Tyrone wrapped up the silverware. The move began with wing half back Nathan Farry who found Niall McCarney who in turn offloaded for team Captain McElholm to fire home to seal victory.
Tyrone: C McAneney, J Clarke, B Hughes, Conor Devlin, B McMenamin, C Daly, N Farry, Conan Devlin, C O’Neill, S Hughes (0-1, 1F), E McElholm (2-1), C Donnelly (1-0), N Grimes (0-2, 1F), R Molloy (1-1), M McElhatton (0-2). Subs: C McGarvey for McAneney, N McCarney for Molloy, R McCullagh (0-1) for Hughes, S Fay for Conan Devlin, L Hughes for McElhatton
Derry: B O’Connor, F McEldowney, E Scullion, D McDermott, J Murray, O Crozier (0-1, “45”), S Birt (0-1), D McPeake, R Forbes, J McGuickan (0-1), C Higgins, C Spiers (0-2), E Higgins (0-7, 7F), C Chambers (0-2, 1F), O Murphy (0-2). Subs: D McGurk for Murphy, A Donnelly for Birt