Nothing free and easy for Derry or Donegal

Pitfalls of conceding scoreable frees all too evident for Harte and McGuinness

In the tactical battle between Derry and Donegal at Celtic Park on Saturday evening, disciplined defending around the scoring zone will be a pivotal factor in the outcome.

Both Mickey Harte and Jim McGuinness will be drumming the message into to their players not to gift scores to the opposition by conceding unnecessary frees within shooting range of the posts.

Both sides played eight games in the National League – albeit it in different tiers with Derry in Division One and Donegal operating in Division Two. Over the course of the league, Derry had 33 points scored against them from frees, while Donegal only had 20.

Derry conceded scores from frees in all eight games, with their most disciplined display in that regard coming in the low-scoring encounter against Tyrone when only two of the latter’s nine points came from frees – one by Niall Morgan and one from Darragh Canavan.


Donegal actually didn’t concede any scores from frees in their ultra tactical encounter against Armagh at the Athletic Grounds in February. Both sides spent much of that afternoon probing for weaknesses but without wanting to fully expose their game plans with an eye to the championship.

Of the four provincial senior football championship games last Sunday, three were won by the team which scored more from frees than their opponents – Kildare, Louth and Dublin all registered more scores from placed balls than Wicklow, Wexford and Meath respectively.

And in the most significant Ulster SFC fixture of the year to date, Paddy Lynch’s seven frees against Monaghan were hugely valuable in getting Cavan over the line.

Derry were reliant on Shane McGuigan for nearly all of their frees in the scoring zone during the league – in fact he was their only scorer from frees in six of the Oak Leaf County’s eight games. Paddy McBrearty was Donegal’s chief free-taker, scoring 18 points, but Oisín Gallen also chipped in with 0-8 from frees.

Derry’s deep-running approach did see them get scores from defenders with eight of their goals in the league coming from players selected to primarily carry out defensive duties. However, the nature of their build-up play seems to limit their opportunities to take an inside mark – the first Derry forward to score a mark during the league was Lachlan Murray in the Division One final against Dublin.

Midfielder Conor Glass claimed their only other mark of the league during their round four win over Galway. Donegal scored from five marks during the league. Either way, the scoring return of each team from frees this Saturday will go a long way to determining the outcome in what is the biggest football game of the summer so far.

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning is a sports journalist, specialising in Gaelic games, with The Irish Times