In many ways this final was a tale of two No.11s – one scored 2-01 as Tyrone clinched the Ulster Minor football title in dramatic fashion; a spectator unable to influence a game that his presence would undoubtedly have improved.
Tyrone captain and centre-forward Eoin McElholm was ‘player of the match’ as the Red Hands’ ability to score proved the difference against a Derry side who had long been the better side but the price of a somewhat lackluster first half paid.
However, it was ironic that Derry captain Ryan McNicholl could only watch as McElhom’s goals gave his side the platform to victory. His season ended with a cruciate ligament injury in the quarter-final win over Donegal.
McNicholl’s team-mates made him proud with a performance that should give them plenty of confidence to go into the All Ireland Series, but the Glenullin player’s ‘X’ factor was notable as he missed a day when his Attack strength could prove to be critical.
Derry had her chances, Shea Birt’s brilliant run and shot that found Tyrone straight in the 44th minute; Conal Higgins fisted the effort of being climbed off the line by Conan Devlin. There were many turning points but at the end of the day goals from McElholm (2), Ronan Molloy and Caolan Donnelly proved too much for Derry to fight back.
The first half was an odd tale of decent Derry possession but ruthless Tyrone efficiency off the post as a McElhom and Ronan Molloy goal gave the young Red Hands a 2-03 to 0-5 lead.
The irony of that four-point interval lead was that Derry had started the better team, controlling possession and appearing composed as they tried to find a way through a well-placed Tyrone defensive line for the full-bacl Ben Hughes was in brilliant shape.
Danny McDermott was the man to pick off Tyrone captain McElholm and on the whole he did an effective job but in two brilliant moments the centre-forward showed his worth.
The first was the game’s opening goal, which came after 13 minutes in which Derry had been the better side. In a tie two points apiece, the ball moved between the hands of Callum Daly, Barry McMenamin and Molloy with one fluid Red Hand motion, eventually finding its way to McElholm.
The danger didn’t seem easy to spot and he ran over the goal, but McElholm produced a beautiful reverse finish, over the goal and into the far corner of Ben O’Connor’s goal for a moment that changed the momentum.
Earlier, Derry had led twice before Odhran Murphy got off to a great start with a point after just 33 seconds. It was nullified minutes later by McElholm’s first first of excellence, only for Ciaran Chambers to put Derry back in front.
A fist from Molloy ended the game 2-0 but by that point the Red Hands had already injured keeper Conor McAneney after a clash with Eoin Higgins who bravely blocked the Dungiven player before being substituted off and replaced by Conan McGarvey.
Not that it was a retirement for Tyrone, as within seconds of his introduction McGarvey had brilliantly parried Murphy’s sharp shot after the Derry player superbly caught an erratic ’45’, turned and fired on target.
It could have been the first goal, instead McElholm gave Tyrone the confidence boost and while the Chambers reacted within seconds of Tyrone’s first goal, they soon had a second.
Five minutes after his captain scored, Conan Devlin hit the underside of the bar with a great run down the left flank and bounced back to the line. Luckily for Tyrone, Molloy was in the right place at the right time to fire home from close range and put his side 2-03, 0-3 up after 18 minutes.
Derry responded well to the double strike, scoring the next two points from two frees from Eoin Higgins. A placed ball from Tyrone’s Noah Grimes broke the sequence and secured Tyrone his four-point half-time lead, but Derry was far from out.
To prove it, Boyle’s team had leveled the game within seven minutes of the restart when a Crozier ’45’ kicked off the second period. Sean Hughes responded with his own but back-to-back goals from Cahir Spiers, Higgins (f), Murphy and Shea Birt saw Derry back in the lead with 0-10 to 2-04 after 37 minutes of play.
Derry had their cocks up, but a third body punch wasn’t far away. Michael McElhatton had put Tyrone back in front by two points but Eoin Higgins had already reduced that lead to the bare minimum, only for Tyron to score a third.
Again it was a fluid movement, stimulated by Noah Grimes’s raised ball inside to corner forward McElhatton, who turned to feed the onrushing Caolan Donnelly, who smashed the ball home to make it 3-06 to 0-11.
Fewer teams might have done that but this Derry side proved their character more than once, refusing to cave in and answering the goal with three straight points of their own through Johnny McGuckian and two more frees from Higgins to make it 3-06 leave until 0-14.
The sides traded shots and Derry had it back to 0-16 and played 3-08 as the clock ticked into injury time. Conal Higgins had seen his effort cleared and Derry was pushing forward when Tyrone turned them around in midfield, allowing McElholm to race forward and score the crucial goal home.
It was a grueling final for a Derry side who will feel they are past it, but that frustration can be a powerful tool when they face an All Ireland quarter-final against winners Cork and Kerry.
Derry Goalscorers: Odhran Murphy (0-2), Ciaran Chambers (0-2, 1f), Eoin Higgins (0-7, 7f), Odhran Crozier (0-1, 1’45’), Cahir Spiers (0-2), Shea Birt (0-1), Johnny McGuckian (0-1)
Tyrone Scorers: Eoin McElholm (2-1), Ronan Molloy (1-1), Caolan Donnelly (1-0), Noah Grimes (0-2, 1f), Sean Hughes (0-1, 1f), Michael McElhatton (0-2 ), Ruairi McCullagh (0-1)
Derry: Ben O’Connor, Fionn McEldowney, Eoin Scullion, Danny McDermott, James Murray, Odhran Crozier, Shea Birt, Dara McPeake, Ruairi Forbes, Johnny McGuckian, Conal Higgins, Cahir Spiers, Eoin Higgins, Ciaran Chambers, Odhran Murphy. (Subs) Dara McGurk for O Murphy, 57 minutes; Antain Donnelly for S Birt, 59 minutes.
Yellow cards: J Murray, 38 minutes;
Tyrone: Conor McAneney, Joey Clarke, Ben Hughes, Conor Devlin, Barry McMenamin, Calum Daly, Nathan Farry, Conor Devlin, Conor O’Neill, Sean Hughes, Eoin McElholm, Caolan Donnelly, Noah Grimes, Ronan Molloy, Michael Elhatton. (Subs) Conan McGarvey for C. McAneney (Inj), 5 minutes; Ruairi McCullagh for S Hughes, 49 minutes; Niall Carney for R Molloy, 52 minutes; Sheehan Fahy C. Devlin, 59 minutes; Charlie Donnelly for M McElhatton, 61 minutes; Leo Hughes for C. Devlin, 61 minutes
Yellow cards: C. Devlin, 50 minutes;
Referee: Pat ClarkeCavan