16/07/2001

DERRY RETAIN ULSTER SENIOR HURLING TITLE

A POINT by former Tipperary under 21 star, John O'Dwyer, with the last puck of the game, saw Derry retain their Guinness Ulster senior hurling title, as they outscored Down in a thrilling second half at Casement Park.

In one of the best Ulster finals in years and with scores coming at regular intervals Derry secured their victory with a single point winning 1-17 to 3-10.

Derry owe their victory to a brilliant display by full forward, Geoffrey McGonagle, who finished with a goal and eight points. It was however, when he moved to midfield in the final 10 minutes that Derry came from behind to snatch victory.

The Down half-back line of Tom Coulter, Gary Savage and Gabriel Clarke were prominent throughout. The midfield honours were shared, with Oliver Collins collecting two brilliant long-range points from frees. It was in attack that Down lacked the penetration of their Derry counterparts, with Noel Sands being their only danger man.

Down had control by the end of the first half when they lead 3-7 to 1-8 thanks to a couple of snap goals by Noel Sands and the pinpoint accuracy of free-taker Tom Coulter.

Derry's only, but very significant contribution in those first 35 minutes came from master craftsman Geoffrey McGonagle. His string of points kept Derry in touch, and by the end he chalked up a personal tally of 1-8 with his vital goal in the 19th minute.

But it was a different story in the second half when Derry came out with all guns blazing.

A rejuvenated Derry just kept chipping away at Down's lead and a point by O'Dwyer in the 24th minute of the second half levelled the game up for the first time since McGonagle’s first half 20th minute goal. Scoring point for point the two teams battled for supremacy with Down finding their feet again with Ger Adair putting them ahead once more with eight minutes remaining.

But the final minutes saw Derry midfielder McGonagle and Biggs again, matching a point by Down forward Ger McGrattan to level the game at the end of normal time.

With five minutes of injury time already run down and an air of palpable tension, it was Derry's John O'Dwyer who belted that all important puck over the bar and 'stole' Down's glory.

Derry now proceed to the All Ireland hurling quarter finals and are scheduled to tackle the might of Galway, while Wexford take on Limerick. (AMcE)

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