Allianz League, Division Three
After a weekend during which ‘Ciara’ was blowing much of Ireland off track, Derry’s senior footballer emerged from the eye of the storm with their promotion credentials restored.
If a week’s a long time in politics, then it’s an age in league football. Seven days previously in Pairc Esler, a much better performance than Derry produced on Sunday against Tipperary brought nothing. Well, nothing except an apparent end to hopes of securing Division Two for next season and with it a place at the top table of Championship football.
Fast forward that one week and with the storm clouds literally gathering over Derry, Rory Gallagher’s men reminded everyone that this project is not about one result, one week or even one season. It’s about building a culture that can sustain Derry’s place among the game’s top teams.
To that end, it remains a work in progress. Sunday was certainly not one for repeat showings but it was another step forward. Ironically it probably wasn’t as big a step as the defeat to Down was in terms of performance but nit picking about a victory over a team that was All Ireland semi-finalists as recently as 2016, and who were playing Division Two football last season, is an encouraging place to be at present.
And as bad as Tipperary were in Celtic Park, remember they’d already taken points from the same Down side that defeated Derry as well beating Louth, both results gained playing the same type of football they produced in Celtic Park.
No game in this Division is going to be easy. Three games in and every side Derry have faced have been overtly defensive. With the exception of Cork, that trend is likely to continue in the remaining games. That’s exactly why the Derry manager has continually stressed the need to be more clinical.
Shane McGuigan has been superb since his return but Derry need to get more players on the scoreboard. McGuigan came in for some special attention from Tipp on Sunday and the more he is singled out, the greater the need for other players to help shoulder the burden.
Sunday did show Derry’s attacking versatility though. The inclusion of Niall Toner was a great move, the Lavey man’s low centre of gravity and ability to turn on a sixpence was ideally suited to the difficult underfoot conditions. McGuigan was clever enough to pull his marker into areas he don’t want to be and leave room for the likes of Toner and Benny Heron to fill the spaces.
It didn’t always work, but the movement was good, especially in the first half against a gale force breeze. Interestingly, Derry scored 0-4 against the breeze and only 0-6 with it while facing 13 men at times. Five second half wides and a couple of missed goal chances should have changed that statistic though.
Niall Loughlin’s imminent return is another reason to be optimistic even if the attack probably hasn’t clicked into top gear just yet.
Defensively, there were no such problems. Six points conceded but none from play was a great afternoon’s work and not solely due to the work done inside the Derry defensive ‘45’.
Against both Leitrim and Down, loose passing in attack cost Derry turnovers, which caused counter attacks and subsequently crucial points conceded. That didn’t happen against Tipp and when a team is set up almost exclusively to feed off mistakes, it rendered David Power’s team completely toothless. The lower down the divisions you go, the more teams rely on opposition mistakes for scores and Division Three is largely a division full of counter-attacking teams.
Rory Gallagher said before a ball was thrown in this season that he would evaluate the league after three games and there’s plenty for him to be positive about, but also plenty still to do before a promotion challenge can be seriously talked about.
Sunday was about being part of the promotion equation and it was mission accomplished on that front but the challenge now becomes turning one positive result into an upward trajectory.