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Two weeks prior to Christmas came the last game of the season,
The Brandywell was tension-packed and not without good reason.
For Finn Harps and for Derry, ‘twas an awesome situation,
And it turned out to be an unforgettable occasion.
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Derry were so proud that they had ne’er been relegated,
But not without misgivings was escape anticipated.
Finn Harps, in the past two years, had lost out on promotion
And were hoping third-time-lucky would reward their keen devotion.
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Suffice to say, ‘twixt managers, there was not much love lost.
Was it Gavin Dykes or Noel King who’d count the cost?
And Dykes got in an early blow [it wouldn’t be the last],
When miming comic demon horns as King was walking past.
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Both teams, as on Wednesday night, had dreadful fear of losing,
And the opening encounters were quite cynical and bruising.
Defenders and attackers were both keen to stamp their mark,
And grudges were continued where they’d finished in Finn Park.
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With two miserly defences, instinctively one knew
That clear-cut opportunities were going to be few.
Half-chances fell to either side, but it was strange indeed,
To watch the Candystripes contrive a fourteenth minute lead.
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Sean Hargan, prowling down the left, crossed in with great precision,
And Gary Beckett flicked it on with most impressive vision.
The ball fell for Mark Farren as Finn Harps looked on with dread,
He smashed a lovely left-foot shot and Derry were ahead.
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The Foylesiders reacted better after that lead goal
For, though Finn Harps were fighting, they began to take control,
And Gary Ramsey earned his pay with two important saves,
As Derry, sensing victory, poured forward in strong waves.
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But half-time came and half-time went with just the one goal in it,
O’Brien missed a good chance in the forty seventh minute,
And Hutton was superb in foiling Whitehead and McHugh,
As Harps enjoyed a purple patch and optimism grew.
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But slowly and inevitably, the men from Donegal
Were finding it more difficult to get first to the ball.
The Derry men found second wind and seemed to be much fresher,
Winning many tackles and applying steady pressure.
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Halfway through the second half, it should have been all over
When a lovely flowing move near put the home team in the clover.
McGlynn and Holt combined out right, young Martyn then escaped,
But he chipped it ‘gainst the crossbar as the Finn Harps goalmouth gaped.
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But Derry were in calm control, though Harps still had some chances,
McHugh and Whitehead might have scored in different circumstances.
But time was ticking slowly on, and just before the end,
Dykes sent on sub Liam Coyle, to help his team defend.
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Four minutes into inj’ry time, the match was still one nil,
Though Harps, to their great credit, kept on battling with great skill,
But as the cheering Candystripes were counting down the clock,
McHugh produced a wonder strike to send them into shock.
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It would have been the final kick, for time had just run out,
But once the ball had left his foot, a goal was not in doubt.
It flew in like an Exocet and crushed the Derry mood,
Crashed into the net and pandemonium ensued.
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Extra time then started and Finn Harps were back on top,
The momentum of that late, late goal just did not want to stop.
Minno’s free kick went just wide and Whitehead’s volley strayed
Just around the post to leave the striker most dismayed.
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But in the hundredth minute, the defining moment came,
A controversial incident to spoil a mammoth game.
Martyn took a quick free kick, but though the ref showed grace,
He did not take it quite from where the incident took place.
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Liam Coyle, the Derry legend, ran onto the ball.
He nicked it past the keeper, though it had no pace at all,
And slowly trickled o’er the line! Another goal for Coyle,
Despite the frantic efforts of Asokuh and of Boyle.
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Elation then for Derry, but Finn Harps were sore affronted,
And when the halftime whistle blew, young Kelly was confronted,
And Kinger got a red card as the protestations flew,
Refused to leave the field, as the gnawing tension grew.
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The second half was thus delayed, ‘ere Kinger was persuaded
To leave the dugout finally, as optimism faded.
And that was just the signal for hostilities to reign –
The mass brawl that ensued served just to cause Finn Harps more pain.
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Shane Bradley got the only red, though lots were out of line,
McHugh then got another one, and Harps were down to nine,
And that was how it ended with the status quo maintained,
Though all around the Brandywell fierce controversy reigned.
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So Derry keep their status with the Premier elite,
While Harps go back to Donegal, once more with a defeat.
For three years in succession, they have felt the Judas kiss,
Though never in a manner as unbearable as this.