DERRY GAA: Rafferty goal key as Drumsurn bounce back to see off Banagher

Ruairi Rafferty grabbed the key goal as Drumsurn defeated Banagher in Fr. McNally Park. (Photo: Derry Journal)
Ruairi Rafferty grabbed the key goal as Drumsurn defeated Banagher in Fr. McNally Park. (Photo: Derry Journal)

Banagher 0-09, Drumsurn 1-08

It appears rumours of Drumsurn's demise have been greatly exaggerated!

By the standards they set last season Sean Brady's 2022 Intermediate Championship runners-up had been off colour this year, though key absentees would go a long way to explaining why. One of those 'missing men' - the influential Cahir Mullan - was back in Fr. McNally Park on Sunday for a tactical masterclass that stuck two fingers up to those who had already written the St. Matthew's off as contenders. On this evidence, Drumsurn will have plenty to say about Derry's most open championship race.

Having been outplayed and out-thought at Foreglen, Drumsurn had a point to prove and did so with a game-plan Banagher struggled to deal with. Control was the key. Control the ball and you control the tempo. Control the tempo and you dictate the game is played on your terms.

Drumsurn did that perfectly, especially in the first half after Ruairi Rafferty's match defining goal arrived 10 minutes in. That gave Drumsurn a lead they would never lose, despite Banagher having plenty of chances to level in a second half that saw only five points.

Drumsurn set up with everyone inside their own 45 when out of possession, poised to spring should their intensive defensive pressure yield turnovers. Crucially though, when they did get up the pitch, they stayed there, pinning Banagher in for their own kick-outs and it was that forward pressure that brought Rafferty's goal.

Ciaran 'Banty' Mullan was given a free role to link play and the veteran knitted things together superbly, opening the scoring and setting up the Rafferty goal after Drumsurn had forced another turnover from Callum Armstrong's kick-out.

But it was the other Mullan - Cahir - who made the biggest difference, bringing a solidity to the St. Matthew's and a calmness in possession that allowed Drumsurn to hold the ball and frustrate Banagher. Whereas against Foreglen, Drumsurn had tried to force the issue, here they were patient and measured and it paid off handsomely, even if they only managed two points in the second half; the latter arriving in injury time from the hard working Shea Murray to finally secure the win.

In contrast Paul Bradley's Banagher had been purring and looked every inch the contenders. This result won't change much in that regard but it will give Bradley plenty to ponder over. To that end, this may be a blessing for the Banagher manager who could end up taking more from the game than his Drumsurn counterpart.

Banagher had enough chances to win, especially in a second half that saw Drumsurn inside their own half for most of the 30 plus minutes. Yet for all their possession, Banagher's decision making consistently let them down.

Drumsurn constantly forced the home team into areas they didn't want to be, yet rather than recycle, Banagher often took ill advised shots which simply played into the visitors' hands. Drumsurn were aiming to frustrate and it worked to a tee but they deserved their victory.

The opening exchanges saw Drumsurn defending and Banagher probing but the best chances still fell to the visitors. As early as the opening minute Banagher had their warning when a Tiarnan McHugh turnover saw the Drumsurn man surge into the empty spaces of the Banagher half and have to be brought down for a free Ciaran Mullan tapped over to open the scoring.

Banagher responded with a Mark Lynch special from 40m, followed by two from Ciaran Lynch, and it seemed the pre-match predictions of a home win would be on the money. That changed with a burst of 1-2 inside three minutes that had 'Banty' Mullan's playmaking stamped all over it.

First Mullan teed up Ruairi Rafferty for a point before Drumsurn pressing on the restart led to another score for Tiarnan McHugh to level. The next kick-out saw Drumsurn again win breaking ball from which Mullan spied the inside run of Rafferty. The pass was perfect, as was the finish, Rafferty firing high past Armstrong to turn the game on its head.

Drumsurn had the lead they wanted and managed the remainder of the opening half impressively, their spells of possession never allowing Banagher to build any pressure nor momentum.

Tiarnan Woods increased the lead, only for Tiarnan Moore to reply. A massive McHugh free was then cancelled out by another Tiarnan Moore point before Niall Moore brought it back to two points at 0-6 to 1-05. However, McHugh's second huge free from the right wing ensured Drumsurn went into the break with their three point lead intact.

The second half brought a much improved Banagher over three quarters of the pitch, but they couldn't carry that improvement into the scoring areas.

Eamon Og Feeney opened the half with a wonderful score, which was cancelled out by Daniel McNicholl's fisted effort which would be Drumsurn last score for 26 minutes. In between Niall Moore and Eoin Devine brought it back to a one point game but Banagher could not steady themselves to level despite having ample possession to work with. Murray's injury time score settled it. For the time being.

Banagher scorers: Ciaran Lynch (0-2), Tiarnan Moore (0-2), Niall Moore (0-2), Mark Lynch (0-1), Eamon Og Feeney (0-1), Eoin Devine (0-1).

Drumsurn scorers: Ruairi Rafferty (1-1), Ciaran Mullan (0-1, 1f),Tiarnan McHugh (0-3, 2f), Tiarnan Woods (0-1), Daniel McNicholl (0-1), Shea Murray (0-1).

Banagher: Callum Armstrong, Darragh McCloskey, Cathair McGilligan, Jack Lynch, Gabriel Farren, Gavin O'Neill, Eamon Og Feeney, Mark Lynch, Callum O'Kane, Eoin Devine, Peter Hagan, Ruairi Quirk, Ciaran Lynch, Niall Moore, Tiarnan Moore. (Subs) Liam Eoin Campbell for N Moore, 50mins; Keelan O'Kane for J Lynch, 56mins; Brian Og McGilligan for R Quirk, 56mins.

Drumsurn: Pearse McNickle, Fearghal McIntyre, Daniel McNicholl, Michael McCloskey, Aaron Butcher, Cahir Mullan, Eoin Ferris, Dara Rafferty, Shea Murray, Tiarnan Woods, Tiarnan McHugh, Sean Butcher, Harry Foster, Ruairi Rafferty, Ciaran Mullan.

Referee: Emmet McShane (Steelstown)