Ulster U-20 FC final
Down v Derry
Wednesday, BOX-IT Athletic Grounds, 7.30pm
By Michael McMullan
DOWN and Derry lock horns in Wednesday night’s u-20 decider with both sides hoping to add to a rich pedigree in the competition.
Conor Laverty led the Mourne County to the title two years ago with Derry last winning the title in 2018 – the county’s eighth and the first year of the u-20 grade – under current Down senior selector Mickey Donnelly during his tenure as Oakleafers’ boss.
It’s a competition played under the shadow of a change to rule 6.17 in mid-season, seeing players unable to partake in u-20 and senior championship games inside the same seven-day window.
Down made the call to keep their four players on the senior squad clear for u-20 duty – Odhran Murdock, Oisin Savage, Paddy McCarthy and captain Ryan Magill.
All but Savage hail from Burren who have a total of 11 players in a squad bidding for Ulster title number 11.
Magill went off injured in Down’s win over Monaghan, but has been listed to start despite being a major doubt for Wednesday’s outing.
Savage was the star of their semi-final win with a cracking goal to his name and hasn’t featured for the seniors this year.
McCarthy only started two senior games, but blotted out Tyrone star Ruairi Canavan in the quarter-final. Odhran Murdock was also a mainstay at midfield with 3-6 at senior level before sitting out the final two games of the campaign to focus on the u-20 grade.
All-Ireland champions Tyrone were well placed for another title challenge but goals from Savage – who hit 1-4 – and Jason Morgan shot Down to a 2-9 to 1-8 victory.
The Down men backed it up with a comfortable win over a Monaghan side who were minor finalists three years ago.
Savage’s battle with likely opponent Patrick McGurk will have big say in the destination of the Danny Murphy Cup.
Derry were comfortable winners over both Fermanagh and Donegal without senior player Eoin McEvoy who looks like missing out again after not being listed in Martin Boyle’s starting panel tonight.
Another not listed is Lachlan Murray who scored 1-1 in their win over Fermanagh u-20s, but sat out the Donegal game before featuring in the senior opener in Enniskillen.
McEvoy and Murray are expected to be unavailable and kept for Saturday’s senior semi-final against Monaghan in Omagh.
Oakleaf manager Martin Boyle will be able to call on goalkeeper Kian McGonigle after injury with Lee Brady’s sub appearance against Donegal leaving him closer to full fitness and he is listed.
Last year’s minor ‘keeper Ben O’Connor has acquitted himself well since a late call up with injuries to McGonigle and Newbridge stopper James Gribbin, who is also back to full fitness.
Matthew Downey, Niall O’Donnell and Lachlan Murray were on fire against Fermanagh – with 2-9 form their total of 3-12 – and Murray’s absence will leave Conor Laverty with one less headache to worry about.
The midfield battle with be crucial. Dan Higgins versus Odhran Murdock and Paddy O’Kane versus Tom McCarroll.
With Savage and Jason Morgan at one end and with Downey and O’Donnell at the other, there are match winners aplenty.
Down’s senior players’ availability tips the scales in their favour but Derry were All-Ireland minor champions at this age and will not be found wanting.
Derry: Ben O’Connor; James Murray, Jody McDermott, Lee Brady; Patrick McGurk, Donncha Gilmore, Ruairi Forbes; Dan Higgins, Paddy O’Kane; Peter McCullagh, Charlie Diamond, Mark Doherty; Matthew Downey, Niall O’Donnell, Ruairi Ó Mianáin
Down: Oisin Treacy; Fiachra McAvoy, Paddy McCarthy, Finn Murdock; Thomas Hardy, Ryan Magill, James Kelly; Odhran Murdock, Tom McCarroll; Tiernan Ryan, Oran Cunningham, Harry Magill; Oisin Savage, Jason Morgan, Callum Rodgers