Rory Gallagher’s Derry carried their Ulster championship momentum into Croke Park, demolishing Clare to reach a first All-Ireland semi-final for 18 years.
An authoritative and ruthless first-half display set the platform for the victory, Benny Heron and the magnificent Conor Glass blasting home goals after a cagey opening and Paul Cassidy rocketing another into the top stanchion just before half-time.
Four weeks on from their memorable Ulster triumph, the Oak Leaf County had their first All-Ireland quarter-final in 15 years virtually wrapped up by half-time after hitting three first-half goals.
Heron and Glass raised early green flags to put Derry in the ascendancy.
And while Clare briefly threatened a revival when Pearse Lillis shot past Odhran Lynch three minutes before the break, Padraig Cassidy’s goal gave Rory Gallagher’s side a nine-point advantage at the halfway point.
Derry found two more goals – taking their championship total this year to 10 – either side of an Eoin Cleary strike through Gareth McKinless and Shane McGuigan to complete the demolition job and take their place in the last four where they will face either Armagh or Galway.
While Clare built up momentum with qualifier wins over Meath and Roscommon, Derry came into the game a month removed from reclaiming their place at the Ulster summit for the first time in 24 years.
But despite a couple of early wides from Shane McGuigan and Brendan Rogers, Derry roared out of sight with two excellent goals in a five-minute period.
The first came after a short Clare kick-out had gone badly awry, allowing Derry to work the ball to Heron, who sidestepped a half-hearted Cillian Rouine challenge before blasting the ball into Tristan O’Callaghan’s net to add to the two goals he scored against Monaghan.
Glass was a standout performer in Derry’s Ulster Final win over Donegal and the imposing Glen midfielder was a key figure at Croke Park, his driving runs through the heart of Clare often resulting in scores or chances for his team-mates.
Indeed, less than five minutes after Heron’s opener, Glass combined smoothly with Ethan Doherty before lashing an unstoppable shot high into O’Callaghan’s net.
While an Eoin Cleary free gave Clare their first score in the 15th minute, four successive Derry scores – three from McGuigan and one from Glass – put Derry 2-5 to 0-1 up on the half-hour mark.
Pearse Lillis offered Clare much-needed reprieve when he collected Ciaran Russell’s pass and found the top corner of Odhran Lynch’s net, and while Cleary quickly notched his second score to bring the Banner to within six, Cassidy’s goal delivered a hammer blow to the Munster county’s hopes of reaching the All-Ireland semis for the first time since 1992.
Cassidy’s goal – brilliantly finished after fine work from McGuigan – gave Derry a nine-point half-time lead which they quickly stretched out to 12 when McKinless charged onto Conor Doherty’s short handpass, surged forward and floated a deft right-footed shot into the top corner.While Clare never looked up for taking a significant chunk out of Derry’s lead, Cleary was rewarded for his undimmed endeavour when he chased down a deflection, beat Lynch to the ball and stroked it past the Oak Leaf keeper for Clare’s second goal.
But much like with Lillis’ effort in the first half, Derry responded quickly and emphatically to conceding with a goal of their own, this time through McGuigan, who took Conor McCluskey’s pass and tore through the Clare defence to score the Ulster champions’ fifth goal after 47 minutes.
From there, the game was a foregone conclusion with the Derry fans giving big standing ovations to Glass and McGuigan as Rory Gallagher’s side kept alive the ultimate dream of lifting the Sam Maguire Cup at this venue on 24 July.Tags: