2000 All-Ireland SHC
The Derry hurlers’ first foray out of Ulster in 92 years was supposed to end in a ritual humiliation at Croke Park, turned into anything but.
Even in defeat, it was Derry who stole the show. What was supposed to be a Sunday stroll for Offaly turned out to be nothing of the sort as Derry flew the underdog flag with real pride.
At the midpoint of the second half, Derry were level and pressing, and it took a strong finish by the overwhelming favourites to earn a six-point cushion at the end.
Offaly’s manager, Pat Fleury, readily admitted that his team would have to make enormous improvements before the semi-final against Cork.
The truth is, Derry were always in contention in this game despite the dire predictions of a massacre. Geoffrey McGonigle returned from suspension to rattle in two goals and the full forward line of Gary Biggs, Michael Collins and John O’Dwyer scored 0-10 among them.
There were high-class performances at midfield from Ronan McCloskey and Oliver Collins, and at the back, Derry held both John Troy and Gary Hanniffy scoreless.
"We came down here to win," said manager Kevin McNaughton. "We know we are not that far away and I always thought we were in with a chance, we were hurling so well."
There was the feeling throughout the first half that Offaly always had the upper hand, but once McGonigle pounced for goals in the final quarter, the complexion of the contest changed.
Brian Whelahan had been left out of the starting lineup due to a hamstring strain, but he was quickly pitched into service to shore up a leaky defense, and Joe Errity was also sent into the action.
Their presence had the desired effect as Derry managed only two scores in the closing stages, while Offaly had five points and a vital goal by Brendan Murphy.
Derry were five points in arrears at the changeover, but they had the advantage of the breeze to come. McGonigle got the first of his goals when he latched on to Kieran McKeever’s probing delivery, and then when Stephen Byrne made a save from John O’Dwyer’s shot, McGonigle was perfectly positioned to dispatch the rebound.
"We put in a hell of a performance," said Ollie Collins, who was forced out with injury during the second half. "This our first time down here. I’m certain this team will be back at this stage of the competition and go better."
OFFALY: Stephen Byrne, Simon Whelahan, Kevin Kinahan, Dave Franks, Michael Duignan, Kevin Martin, Niall Claffey, Johnny Dooley (0-12), Ger Oakley, Johnny Pikington (0-5), John Troy, Brendan Murphy (2-1), Conor Gath (0-3), Garry Hannify, Aidan Hanrahan.
SUBS: Joe Dooley (0-2) for C Gath (40), Joe Errity for J Troy (41), Brian Whelahan for G Oakley (53), John Ryan for M Duignan (60).
DERRY: Kieran Stevenson, Collie McGurk, Conor Murray, Niall Mullan, Michael Conway, Colin McEldowney, Benny Ward, Ronan McCloskey (0-2), Ollie Collins (0-2), Kevin McCloy, Kieran McKeever, Gary Biggs (0-4), Michael Collins (0-4), Geoffrey McGonigle (2-3), John O'Dwyer (0-2).
SUBS: Gregory Biggs for K McCloy (40), Danny McGrellis for O Collins (INJ 42), Paddy McEldowney for R McCloskey (60).
REF: Michael Wadding (Waterford).
Grab a copy of this week's County Derry Post for a full feature on Derry's Ulster glory.
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