Dublin inflict Derry’s first defeat of league season in Celtic Park

Derry manager Mickey Harte chose to rest players with a possible league final in mind

National Football League Division One: Derry 1-11 Dublin 1-16

Given manager Dessie Farrell’s Zen utterances on the immateriality of the league when it wasn’t going so well, he was never going to get too worked up over this even though it was a first win in Derry in 30 years and the first time the Ulster champions had been beaten this season.

It was though a good display by the team and Farrell acknowledged the grip his team had on the match before a near-capacity attendance of 13,265 in Celtic Park on Saturday evening.

“In general, I thought we managed the game well. We controlled good chunks of it in the first half and again in the second half. We kept the scoreboard ticking over. I am happy with the way we showed composure there at times. We were able to eke out the scores to keep that bit of distance and to keep Derry at bay when it was needed.”


That was the match in a nutshell. Dublin dominated possession but weren’t making it count commensurately on the scoreboard until replacement Cormac Costello, back after a shoulder injury, showed his predatory instinct within a minute of coming on to fire the goal that killed any uncertainty about outcome before the final quarter was even underway.

The chance was opened up by Con O’Callaghan, who linked with Seán Bugler and his pop pass was batted goalwards by Niall Scully. Donncha Gilmore blocked it on the line but Costello was alert to the rebound and planted the ball in the net. From then on, the margin bobbled around between five, six and seven before Derry were formally consigned to a first league defeat.

There was a context, however, which was that Mickey Harte rested a pile of players to give some of his panellists a run. Was this to give well deserved down time to the likes of Conor Glass? Or a desire to keep powder dry before potentially more consequential meeting with the All-Ireland champions, including the live possibility of a rematch in the competition final in four weeks?

Either way, Derry had an alibi but it wasn’t uncomplicated evidence. Harte acted at half-time to tweak the team and address some early problems, bringing in three front-liners, Paul Cassidy, Eoin McEvoy and Ethan Doherty. Despite these upgrades, Dublin were more dominant in the second half.

“You want to put players in against the best and see what that standard is like,” said Harte afterwards. “Some of our newer and younger players will have seen that tonight and that’s good. The men we brought on at half time added a bit of power to our game but we still didn’t get the scores we needed.”

That was no fault of captain and All Star Shane McGuigan, who apart from one shot dropped slightly short just after half-time gave a display of striking accuracy, shooting seven points from eight attempts, four from play. He also showed a sharp opportunism, nearly punishing a Dublin turnover by lobbing David O’Hanlon, who was stranded out of goal but got back to get a hand to the ball and deaden its menace.

Yet again though even with flares of flair from Cormac Murphy and Lachlan Murray, it was again a defender who scored the only goal, the sixth out of eight scored so far in the league not to come from a forward. Farrell was irritated by how easily Conor McCluskey got through the defence to run on to Murphy’s well-judged pass and the finish was accurate.

Dublin have now beaten two of last year’s provincial champions, Kerry and Derry, with Galway to come in a fortnight. They lost their first two matches by a point but are now motoring better and having their best league campaign in six years.

There had been a tendency to run up big possession counts without translating them into commensurate scoring totals until they got medieval on Kerry in the previous round.

Saturday marked a reversion to the norm in that their measured point taking – Ciarán Kilkenny with 0-4 from play and Brian Fenton, 0-3, flawless and to the fore while Con O’Callaghan, recent fireworks giving way to a steadier wattage, supplied three frees but could have had a goal but for Ryan Scullion’s fine save.

Dublin have been getting fine performances out of their established players. Fenton was the dominant figure at centrefield but had decent support from Peadar Ó Cofaigh Byrne in the first half and Tom Lahiff in the second, as they squeezed the Derry kick-outs.

In contrast to Derry, Farrell was able to bring back players. Cormac Costello returned after injury and there was a first glimpse of Paul Mannion, named on the bench for the first time this season.

There was further good news in the display of Brian Howard, named as a late replacement for Theo Clancy. Playing as a sweeper, he was a constantly available option and directed the traffic as Dublin rolled forward, holding possession for long periods and waiting for an opening.

Howard doesn’t take on shots from distance anymore, which is a pity because they were always well chosen and accurate but whether because of loss of confidence or the demands of playing farther back. But he was very effective on Saturday.

There was some concern for the All-Ireland champions when Lee Gannon had to depart injured in the 68th minute but otherwise they are in great form with a number of experienced players still to re-appear.

DUBLIN: D O’Hanlon; S McMahon, E Murchan, C Murphy; B Howard, J Small, L Gannon (0-1); B Fenton (0-3), P Ó Cofaigh Byrne; S Bugler (0-1), C Kilkenny (0-4), R McGarry (0-2); P Small (0-1), C O’Callaghan (0-3, three frees), N Scully.

Subs: T Lahiff for Ó Coifigh Byrne (half-time), C Costello (1-0) for P Small (51 mins), L O’Dell (0-1) for McGarry (56 mins), G McEneaney for Gannon (68 mins), K McGinnis for Scully (73 mins),

DERRY: R Scullion; D Baker, C McKaigue, C McCluskey (1-0); S Downey, C McFaul, E Mulholland; E Bradley (0-1), B Rogers; N Toner, D Cassidy, D Gilmore; L Murray (0-1), S McGuigan (capt; 0-7, three frees), C Murphy (0-1).

Subs: E Doherty for Mulholland (half-time), E McEvoy for McKaigue (half-time), P McGrogan for Downey (half-time), P Cassidy (0-1) for Murphy (47 mins), C McGuckian for Murray (59 mins)

Referee: Martin McNally (Monaghan).

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times