Derry’s hopes of landing their seventh National Football League title - and their first since beating Kerry in 2008 - were dashed in emphatic fashion by a ruthlessly rampant Dublin side before 38,841 fans in Croke Park.
Even though the Oak Leafers had the superb boost of a third minute goal from Cailean O’Boyle, after good work from Fergal Doherty and Emmet McGuckin, the remainder of the half belonged to the All-Ireland champions in an ominous show of strength ahead of the upcoming championship campaign.
From early in the game at Croke Park, it was clear the Derry defence were in for a torrid afternoon against a side that moved the ball at pace in all sectors of the pitch and Derry struggled to get a foothold in the middle of the field where Michael Darragh Macaulay ruled for most of the game.
The outstanding Bernard Brogan had opened the scoring from a free and, after the shock of the Derry goal in response, Dublin quickly banished thoughts of an upset with nine unanswered points as Derry failed to score for 20 minutes.
By the 25th minute they were 0-10 to 1-00 ahead, five of the six Dublin forwards on target before half time, the injured Paddy Andrews not scoring before retiring six minutes from the break.
It could have been worse but for a terrific block by Dermot McBride in the 13th minute, although Derry did have very strong claims for a penalty eight minutes later when Enda Lynn was clearly bundled to the ground as he cut into the goalmouth.
Eoghan O’Gara was the stand-out performer in the first half, repeatedly driving at a shell-shocked Derry defence, scoring one point himself and setting up several others for team-mates.
McGuckin landed Derry’s first point of the match - it could have been a goal - in the 27th minute as Brian McIver’s men rallied somewhat before the break, trailing 0-13 to 1-3 at half-time.
Derry really should have had a goal in the final minute of the half when Emmett Bradley, after good work by Gerard O’Kane, was through on goal but his attempted fist pass across the goalmouth was cut out with the net beckoning.
Derry fought back with the first two scores of the second half, Mark Lynch clearly disappointed that his close-range pile-driver was just a fraction too high. But Dublin goals from Bernard Brogan, Kevin McManamon and Diarmuid Connolly ensured that Derry’s latest experience in Croke Park was a chastening one.
Dublin’s phenomenal firepower was showcased once again, with Bernard Brogan flawless from frees, and Diarmuid Connolly, Paul Flynn and Alan Brogan all scoring fine points.
Brogan’s goal was spectacular to say the least!
The corner-forward took possession on the 20m line and sent an angled drive into the top corner of the net, striking the ball so sweetly that it had hit the stanchion and bounced back on to the pitch before some of the Derry defenders realised it had gone in!
While Dublin were on a different plane, Derry’s failure to take their goal chances ensured there was never any real pressure applied on Dublin in any sector.
Gerard O’Kane had a spectacular volleyed effort stopped on the line, the wing back who scored two points, commenting ruefully afterwards: “I had a goal chance. I hit it as sweet as you would like. It beat the keeper. On another day, had I scuffed it the ball might have ended in the net but today there was a Dublin player standing on the line and the ball hit him. He knew nothing about it. I suppose that summed up or day really.”
As the horde of Dublin fans celebrated on the Hill the Derry players could only watch and wonder at the awesome display of Dublin’s attacking prowess. A sombre Derry manager, Brian McIver, tried to make sense of Derry’s below par performance.
“It’s difficult to say, whether it was the occasion or whether it was that, on the day, Dublin really clicked and everything worked for them,” explained the Derry manager.
“It’s hard to put an old head on young shoulders but we were very much aware that we were exposing very young lads to a very big occasion.”
“There was no losing the head or anything like that at half time, we just knew that we had been overawed and all we wanted them to do in the second half was to settle down an play a wee bit of their own football.
“And for a period of time we had that actually starting to work for us, but then ‘bang’ goal and thereafter the game went away from us.
“We did create a lot of goal chances but we did not take them. But by the same token Dublin created quite a few goal chances themselves. It was a very open game but, as we would have seen it we missed ours at very crucial stages, which would have brought us right back into contention.”
On Dublin McIver pointed out: “Well they are not reigning All Ireland champions for nothing. They are a really, really good side.
“I’d like to think that, had we been much more like ourselves in the first half, and stayed with them, you would have got a much better idea of how good they are, because ,to be honest, once they got that lead and were able to relax, we were not able to put them under any pressure today.”
When asked if they were way ahead of everyone else he retorted: “I would not say that. Every game is different but they are a fine side and rated the best side in the country.
“However, if you were able to stay with them for a greater percentage of the half, who knows what might happen.
“We simply did not turn up in the first half, so it’s hard to judge how good Dublin are, considering that our performance was not up to the level that we want it to be.”
On the goal chance that Emmett Bradley had, when he tried to square the ball across the goalmouth to a colleague but only hit it straight to a Dublin defender, towards the end of the first half was a big moment in the game with six points between the sides, McIver was philosopical.
He stated: “Even a point would have been a good score for us going in at half time, but listen, Dublin are sharp, they’re quick and they punished us every time we gave the ball away.
“We were slow to react to a lot of things, we were cleaned for break ball for most of the first half, and with clean catching around the middle of the field. Once Dublin get that momentum going it’s very hard to stop it.”
With the Ulster championship game against Donegal in four weeks, McIver was adamant that it’S not be difficult to lift them for that challenge.
“Not really. That game today, we knew that it was going to be our biggest test of the season to date. When we got to the semi final we were always conscious of the Donegal game. That was a real good test for us, as good as two or three training sessions.
“We have learned a lot coming out of that today. I would not like to think that we would give the ball away in Celtic Park on the 25th of May, believe me.”
DUBLIN: Stephen Cluxton; Philly McMahon, Rory O’Carroll, Johnny Cooper; James McCarthy, Nicky Devereux, Kevin Nolan; Michael Darragh Macauley, Cian O’Sullivan; Paul Flynn, Paddy Andrews, Diarmuid Connolly; Alan Brogan , E0ghan O’Gara, Bernard Brogan. Subs: Kevin McManamon for P Andrews; Davy Byrne for K Nolan; Michael Fitzsimmons for R O’Carroll; Ciarán Reddin for E O’Gara; Darragh Nelson for C O’Sullivan; Tomas Brady for A Brogan.
Scorers - Bernard Brogan (1-6), Diarmuid Connolly (1-2), Kevin McManamon (1-0) Paul Flynn (0-3), Alan Brogan (0-2), Eoghan O’Gara (0-2), Stephen Cluxton (0-1), Johnny Cooper (0-1), Ciarán Reddin (0-0) and Darragh Nelson (0-1)
DERRY: Thomas Mallon; Oisin Duffy, Chrissy McKaigue, Dermot McBride; Kevin Johnston, Gerard O’Kane, Aidan McAlynn; Fergal Doherty, Patsy Bradley; Enda Lynn, Mark Lynch, Ciaran McFaul; Benny Heron, Emmet McGuckin, Cailean O’Boyle. Subs : Emmet Bradley for B Heron; Declan Mullan for Patsy Bradley; Declan Brown for O Duffy (Black Card; Mark Craig for K Johnston; Niall Holly for E Lynn.
Scorers - Cailean O’Boyle (1-1), Mark Lynch (0-2), Emmet McGuckin (0-2, Gerard O’Kane (0-2), Fergal Doherty (0-1), Kevin Johnston (0-1) and Emmet Bradley (0-1)
Cormac Reilly, Meath