Selector Martin Birt hailed the character shown by his Derry minor hurling side in the epic second-half of Saturday’s game as they move one step closer to retaining their Celtic Challenge title.

Derry led Offaly by two points at half-time and Birt felt they were ‘playing within’ themselves.

“Leo’s (Passmore) two points were the difference.  It was a swirling breeze and they went well over the bar, two really good strikes and that was all that was in it.”

Derry won the toss and elected to play into the teeth of the wind in the first-half.  The message conveyed at the interval was to go more direct in the second-half.

Offaly levelled the game with a 33rd minute goal but Derry were soon back in front with the first of two Shea Cassidy goals.

The manner in which Derry cancelled out Offaly’s second goal was the key moment in the game, according to Birt.

“It brought it back to three points but we went up the field and for the next four fantastic scores, from four different players and that gave us that push to really drive on.

“To change the momentum like that, with four different players, was really good.  I thought that character was the key thing in the second-half - that lads, at different times, stood up and really performed well.”

Derry went into the game as reigning division three champions and while they had six of last year’s starting team back on board, the Oakleafers didn’t feel they went into Saturday’s clash as favourites.

“It is hard to judge a competition that runs on a yearly cycle and you don’t know much about the opposition,” Birt replied.

“All we can really do is focus on our own game and go out and try and manage it as best we can on the day.  The lads’ application all year has been first class, so I never really doubted them.”

Derry’s Padhraig Nelis was replaced late in the game but Birt stated there ‘shouldn’t be any issues’ with the Na Magha man’s availability for Saturday’s semi-final.

“It was a knock to the back of the head and we took him off as a precaution,” he said.

The manner of the win and having to dig deep stand to Derry and give them a boost going forward?

“For the newer lads it probably will,” replied Birt.  “But for the lads who were there last year, they are confident in their own ability.

“They have applied themselves very well and their skill level has been first class.  And the work rate from number 15 back, in terms of blocking and hooking and every facet of the game. So we can’t fault them at all.

“People look at it in isolation as a one year competition but we (management) look as developing hurlers for U20s and for future seniors.”

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