Derry 1-11 Dublin 0-13
In the fullness of time, it may prove no more noteworthy than Derry snatching a Division Two injury-time victory over Dublin. But it felt significantly weightier than that at the final whistle. It felt like a pin in the map moment for Derry. Perhaps it may turn out to be one for Dublin, too.
Where do they both go from here? Derry’s trajectory continues skyward. They showed incredible character, belief and endeavour in the second half. All hallmarks of a united and confident team. These are exciting times for Derry.
As for Dublin, their first-half display at Celtic Park on Saturday night was a throwback to that recent era when they dominated Gaelic football. A recently departed era, it must be added.
For while they were scintillating in the first half, the manner of how it all unravelled for Dublin in the second was quite something. Dessie Farrell’s men led 0-7 to 0-2 at the break and on the restart extended the gap to six points.
Dublin don’t lose games from those positions, they pound their opponents to dust. Dessie Farrell pointed to fitness levels of returning players as a possible reason for their fade out, but the reality is Dublin’s aura of invincibility has been shattered for quite some time now and it took a few more belts on Saturday.
Brendan Rogers struck the last blow with a 75th minute winning point after Dublin had been reduced to 14 men just seconds earlier when Michael Fitzsimons picked up a second yellow card.
“With all due respect to some of the opposition we’ve played in the league over the years, we would feel we’re better than that,” said Rory Gallagher afterwards. “It’s just great to be playing Dublin, we want to be playing them regularly.”
Gallagher’s deployment of Rogers at midfield this year has been one of Derry’s key positional switches.
Brian Fenton and James McCarthy dominated the middle sector in the first half on Saturday, surging forward, tracking back and doing well on kickouts. Rogers was on Fenton and Conor Glass on McCarthy. However, as the tide started to turn in the second half the balance of power started to shift in that area too.
“Brendan’s just an incredible fellah,” added Gallagher. “I’m delighted to move him to midfield, whether Eoin McEvoy appeared on the scene or not, we were moving him to the middle of the field. Just a phenomenal player and a phenomenal person.
“We were 7-2 down (at half-time) and by a long stretch the second best team on the pitch because we were standing off them, we weren’t playing with enough hunger, weren’t playing with enough intensity with the ball.”
Derry’s ability to turn Dublin over in possession during the second half was also a key reason for their comeback, as was the impact of their bench – not least Gareth McKinless, whose purposeful 45th minute run led to Niall Toner’s match-changing goal, 1-4 to 0-9.
That goal ignited Derry, and their supporters, and from that moment on there was a sense that if there was to be a winner of the contest, it would be the home side. They only hit the front for the first time in the 69th minute, but a Cormac Costello free soon brought the sides level as a draw looked on the cards. Rogers had other ideas, though.
“Obviously this was a big game,” said Dessie Farrell. “The next one against Meath becomes very big for us as well, in Navan. It’s a very competitive division. This will give some other teams a glimmer of hope obviously as well.
“Derry are a really well conditioned team, you could see that from their performances throughout the season, we knew they were going to come with everything in the second half.
“We still have some of our crew working their way back into full fitness and I think it probably showed at the end there but overall disappointed with the result but a lot of progress.
“To be fair, it was great for us to get this type of a test, because while some of our earlier performances were a bit patchy, we always knew you were coming into a cauldron here, you were coming up against a very good team, good outfit, very impressive all season and last season as well.
“That’s where you see your real character, that’s where you test yourself to the max. A lot of fellas stood up really well, there’s definitely a bit for some fellas to do in terms of getting back to full fitness.”
The last time Dublin played Derry at Celtic Park was in 2014. Derry won that league group game as well. But when the sides met in a league final a few weeks later, Dublin wiped Derry at Croke Park, winning by 15 points.
There is a decent chance these teams will meet in the 2023 Division Two final, but there is a much different energy around this Derry group than the side of nine years ago. Whether they will admit it or not, the Ulster champions are now justifiably part of the All-Ireland conversation.
The Derry players were mobbed on the pitch afterwards on Saturday night, still signing autographs and posing for photos as Dublin were packing up and heading back down a road less travelled for them. Uncertainty.
“Today is not a defining moment,” stressed Gallagher. “But it’s a nice day.”
It could yet turn out to be both.
Derry: Odhran Lynch; Chrissy McKaigue, Eoin McEvoy, Conor McCluskey; Conor Doherty (0-1), Padraig McGrogan, Padraig Cassidy; Conor Glass, Brendan Rogers (0-1); Benny Heron, Ethan Doherty (0-1), Niall Toner (1-0); Paul Cassidy (0-2), Shane McGuigan (0-3, three frees), Niall Loughlin (0-1, one free). Subs: Gareth McKinless for Padraig Cassidy (ht); Oisín McWilliams (0-1) for Heron (50 mins); Laclan Murray (0-1) for Toner (60 mins); Shea Downey for McEvoy (66 mins); N Toner for Loughlin (73 mins).
Dublin: David O’Hanlon; David Byrne, Michael Fitzsimons, Eoin Murchan; John Small (0-1), Lee Gannon (0-2), Daire Newcombe; Brian Fenton (0-2), James McCarthy; Tom Lahiff (0-1), Con O’Callaghan (0-1), Ciaran Kilkenny (0-2); Lorcan O’Dell, Dean Rock, Cormac Costello (0-3, one free). Subs: Niall Scully for O’Dell (43 mins); Colm Basquel (0-1) for Lahiff (54 mins); Sean Lowry for Rock (58 mins); Brian Howard for McCarthy (64 mins).
Referee: Sean Hurson (Tyrone)