Derry get over yellow peril to prove their class endures

 

Derry 1-9 Mayo 0-10:THE FOOTBALL landscape may have changed considerably since Derry were crowned National League champions. But yesterday the Oak Leaf County served notice that for all their recent championship disappointments, they are a quality ball club.

This must have been a highly-satisfying win for Damien Cassidy’s new management team, who watched a relatively young team overcome Mayo in the “lyric little bandbox” that is home to Ballina Stephenites.

The day was sparkling and the pitch heavy and although Derry finished emphatically, pulling clear with three handsome points, the inevitable conversations afterwards centred on the new rules.

The visitors had no less than four starting players yellow-carded in the match. They dealt with the disruptions smoothly – one could argue that the introduction of senior men Gerard O’Kane and Joe Diver bolstered the Ulster men’s cause considerably.

But it hinted at the kind of lightning fast decisions managers are going to face if the officials, as promised, enforce the new rules throughout the season. Patsy Bradley must feel like a motorist who finds himself stung for maximum driving penalty points just a week after their enforcement. For the fourth consecutive game, the big Slaughtneil man was hit with a yellow card and had to leave the match after just 19 minutes.

Full back Barry McGuigan – a late replacement for the unavailable Seán Marty Lockhart – was the first casualty and his full back colleagues Brian McAlary and Ryan Dillon followed in the second half. That Derry lost their entire full-back line hints at the kind of mayhem teams will suffer under this new vigilance.

“It comes back to the old thing that the tackle in Gaelic football is very hard to define,” said Kevin Madden of the Derry backroom afterwards.

“These rules make the referee’s job all the more difficult. There were borderline decisions there – Mayo could have had two men in the first half, but it just happened to be us. Certainly, they are open to interpretation and referees need to show common sense. Patsy tried to play the ball – possibly it was a foul, but it wasn’t a yellow-card offence.

“The idea is to take the cynicism out of Gaelic football, but we are punishing big, strong men who are going in there to make honest tackles and that is not what Gaelic football is about. Patsy is unfortunate – we have a responsibility as a management there too because there is a pattern emerging.

“But he is one of those honest tacklers prepared to put his body on the line – it is meant to take the cynicism out of the game, not the physicality.”

And it was a game of few hard knocks – the pitch was so soft the athletes could scarcely work up enough speed to do one another serious damage.

Further encouragement for Derry lay in the performances of their younger brood: Chrissy McKeigue caught the eye at wing back and James Kielt had a fine afternoon at corner forward.

He scored the 46th-minute goal that set Derry up for a commanding second half, taking Paddy Bradley’s hand pass at speed and sliding his shot coolly past David Clarke.

That score silenced the Mayo support. The home team had been motoring away in satisfactory fashion. The one complaint about their first-half show was the oldest Mayo complaint – too many wides. They posted seven and ought to have established something better than their 0-6 to 0-5 lead.

Peadar Gardiner gave them a platform with a fine point seconds after the restart, but, crucially, Mayo would manage just three more points in the remainder of the match, two of those frees for Conor Mortimer.

The other score from play was a brilliant effort from the industrious Ronan McGarrity, who claimed a short 50 from Andy Moran and floated a long range point that brought Mayo level.

Poised at 0-9 to 1-6 with 15 minutes left, this was now the perfect league test for both managers. Mayo pushed, with Tom Cuniffe capping a busy defensive day with a few breaks forward and Aidan O’Shea, yet to face his Leaving Certificate, adding a great physical presence to the Mayo attack.

Liam O’Malley won several critical balls as the last man in defence and Barry Moran, the Mayo big man on the edge of the square, kept the Derry back-line honest. But playing into a tricky wind, they couldn’t push ahead and Derry, breaking sweetly out of defence, sensed a win on the cards.

Wing back Paul Cartin exploited a collective lull in Mayo’s resistance and stole forward to fire the important point, with the impressive Keilty and Pól de Siún adding the grace notes.

The bonus of an away win in their first match could well set Derry up for another nice run through the spring, although they will be wary of courting the league too openly.

“The main emphasis will be on the championship, but if we win a league along the way, well and good,” said Madden.

“We are trying to create a culture here in Derry where the 15 guys on the sideline are just as good as those on the field.”

DERRY: S McGuckian; B McAlary, B McGuigan, R Dillon; P Cartin (0-1), J O’Kane, C McKaigue; F Doherty (0-1), P Bradley; E Lynn, B McGoldrick (0-3 2 frees), SL McGoldrick; J Kielty (1-2), E Bradley, S Bradley (0-1). Subs: G O’Kane for McGuigan (14 mins, yellow), J Diver for P Bradley (19 mins, yellow), P de Siún (0-1) for McAlary (37 mins, yellow), B Bradley for S Bradley (42 mins), B Mullan for B McGoldrick (52 mins), D McBride for Dillon (63 mins, yellow).

MAYO: D Clarke: L O’Malley, G Caffery, D Vaughan; P Gardiner (0-1), T Cuniffe, P Kelly; T Parsons (0-1), R McGarrity (0-1); BJ Padden, T Mortimer, A Dillon (0-3, frees); A Moran (0-2, one 50), B Moran, M Sweeney. Subs: C Mortimer (0-2´, frees) for Padden, P Harte for Parsons (both 49 mins), A O’Shea for T Mortimer (53 mins), M Ronaldson for Sweeney (65 mins), K McLoughlin for Vaughan (67 mins).

Referee: M Deegan (Laois).