Derry 5-13 Clare 2-8
From the claustrophobia of Clones and an Ulster final chess match to a Croke Park goalfest, Derry have straddled the extremes in this year’s Championship. Ultimately, they’re still standing and have shown they’re capable of thriving in pretty much any environment.
The standard will rise, of course, when they return to GAA headquarters on July 9th for an All-Ireland semi-final clash with Galway or Armagh but, right now, Derry are looking mightily impressive.
From the moment that Conor Glass smashed in Derry’s second goal in the 13th minute, putting them into a 2-1 to no score lead, a sense of inevitability swept over proceedings.
Sure, Colm Collins’ side briefly came to life in the run up to half-time with a 1-2 blitz, reducing the gap to six points but Derry’s third goal, from Paul Cassidy, just before the interval nipped that insurgence in the bud.
And when Gareth McKinless delivered Derry’s fourth goal shortly after the restart, that was pretty much that. Shane McGuigan scored the fifth Derry goal and finished with a terrific 1-8, placing him firmly in All-Star territory.
Collins, the longest serving inter-county senior football manager with one team, has been in the Clare role nine seasons and kicked to touch afterwards when asked if he’ll stay on. What’s certain is that Clare’s season is over while Derry will march on with the tag of All-Ireland dark horses on them.
They tweaked things tactically by positioning Brendan Rogers, their full-back hero in the Ulster final, at midfield alongside Glass.
Emmett Bradley was initially named to start at midfield but was withdrawn before throw-in and replaced by Niall Toner who lined out in a two-man full-forward line next to Heron.
Meanwhile, Shea Downey, wearing number 11, dropped back to defence to cover the gap in the full-back line left by Rogers.
In the head to heads, veteran Chrissy McKaigue picked up Clare dangerman Keelan Sexton, fresh off 2-6 against Roscommon, while Conor McCluskey tracked Aaron Griffin.
It was a setup that worked nicely for Derry who gained early control of the game and capitalised with 10th and 13th minute goals from Heron and Glass.
Heron’s goal came after a turnover on Clare goalkeeper Tristan O’Callaghan’s kick-out, clearing Ethan Doherty to play in Heron on the left.
Three minutes later, Glass played a one-two with Doherty on the same side of the field and smashed a shot through the gloves of O’Callaghan.
Suddenly, Derry led 2-1 to no score and had the game in the palm of their hands. If the Ulster final taught us anything about Derry, it’s that they’re entirely comfortably playing a patient, counter-attacking game so the seven-point lead played right into their hands.
McGuigan then came storming into the game with three points to help open up a 2-5 to 0-1 lead and already it was looking like the game may be beyond Clare.
They finally gained a foothold in the contest after 30 minutes of difficulties though and reeled off 1-2 in a matter of four minutes - Pearse Lillis cracking in a 34th minute goal - to reduce the lead to six points.
Just when it looked like Clare might be capable of reeling in what was at one stage a 10-point deficit, they coughed up a third goal to Derry just moments before half-time. Rogers and McGuigan were centrally involved in the buildup and Cassidy eventually capitalised with a terrific finish to the top corner.
It all added up to a 3-6 to 1-3 half-time lead for Derry who went a long way towards killing the contest with a fourth goal from McKinless early in the second-half.
The Ballinderry man broke free down the right and booted to the far corner of the Clare net.
McGuigan then got the goal his performance deserved in the 48th minute and almost struck a second late on when he pounced on an errant kick-out.
Still, five was more than enough and while Eoin Cleary, who finished with 1-5 for Clare, pulled back a second Clare goal it was no more than consolation.
Derry: O Lynch; C McCluskey (0-1), C McKaigue, S Downey; C Doherty, P McGrogan, G McKinless (1-0); C Glass (1-1), B Rogers; P Cassidy (1-1), S McGuigan (1-8, 0-1f), E Doherty; B Heron (1-1), N Loughlin (0-1, 1f), N Toner.
Subs: E Bradley for Heron (48 mins), B McCarron for Glass (61), P McNeill for Downey (66), D Cassidy for McGuigan (68).
Clare: T O’Callaghan; C Rouine, C Russell, M Doherty; C O’Dea, C Brennan, J Malone (0-1); D O’Neill, C O’Connor; P Lillis (1-0), E Cleary (1-5, 0-2f), E McMahon; P Collins, K Sexton, A Griffin.
Subs: A Sweeney for Rouine (h/t), B Rouine for McMahon (43 mins), D Tubridy (0-2, 2f) for Griffin (43), J McGann for Sexton (53), G Cooney for Collins (53).
Referee: M McNally (Monaghan).