Eoin McEvoy says Derry will not abandon roaming goalkeeper tactic

Oak Leaf defender turns focus to All-Ireland series after Ulster campaign was brought to an early end by Donegal

Derry's Eoin McEvoy celebrates with Conor Glass (left) after scoring a goal against Dublin in the league final victory at Croke Park. Photograph: Leah Scholes/Inpho

Eoin McEvoy does not believe Derry will abandon the use of a roaming goalkeeper, and he hopes they can take lessons from the Donegal defeat to help in their quest for Sam Maguire success.

Donegal’s 4-11 to 0-17 victory over Derry in the Ulster quarter-final last month was the first major upset in this year’s championship and it has ultimately left the Oak Leaf side facing an All-Ireland SFC round-robin against Westmeath, the Connacht champions (Mayo or Galway) and the defeated Ulster finalists (Donegal or Armagh).

The main talking point after the provincial quarter-final at Celtic Park was the game plan deployed by Jim McGuinness, as Shaun Patton’s booming kickouts exposed the Oak Leaf defence and left Odhran Lynch scrambling helplessly back towards his empty goal.

The manner of Donegal’s win generated significant debate around the merit of teams using their goalkeeper as a plus one – especially on opposition kickouts.

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And while McEvoy says the future of Derry’s roaming goalkeeper tactic is a question which should be directed towards Mickey Harte and Gavin ‘Horse’ Devlin, the centre back does not see them totally discarding the ploy.

“Nobody was saying much after the league final when Odhran was doing the exact same and had a very good game,” says McEvoy.

“On the kickouts, Odhran still had a good game [against Donegal], it’s probably just the opposition ones, but that’s the beauty of the Ulster championship as well. We have three or four weeks to fix the flaw in the system.

“If Odhran is coming out with the ball, he’s creating a plus one. If someone is coming to Odhran there is always a spare man free. So, in those terms it is beneficial to have him.

Derry's Odhran Lynch celebrates after saving a penalty against Dublin in the league final win. Photograph: Leah Scholes/Inpho

“Odhran has been playing that role for three or four years now for the county, and he plays it for the club as well. He’s well used to it, and I think he is very good at it. It would be wise probably to stick with it, if he is that good with it, I think.

“Thank God it’s not July, the business end of the season, and you are scratching your head for months to try back on to it – now we have the time and we are going to use it wisely.”

It has been a rollercoaster few weeks for Derry, the high of winning the Division One League title matched by the low of losing their grip on the Anglo Celt Cup.

It was McEvoy’s first defeat in the Ulster championship, as the Magherafelt clubman only made his debut during the 2023 campaign.

“I suppose you can learn from every game,” added the 20-year-old. “I suppose we probably didn’t play to the level of what we could have but we still scored 17 points.

“It is not the end of the world. We are still in a good place in the group. It could be a good thing if we use it wisely. We pride ourselves on the performances we give. And when you’ve been doing so well but you get beaten, that sharpens your mind as well.

“Even getting beaten in the Ulster championship, regardless of who you were playing, it just sharpens the mind. It gets that wee bite back into training.

“Playing a provincial champion [Mayo or Galway], who are coming off the high of winning their title, it’s obviously going to be a challenge for us but it’s something we’re going to really relish in the next couple of weeks.”

Derry’s Eoin McEvoy scores his side's second goal against Dublin in the league final win at Croke Park. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

McEvoy has become a key player for Derry in a short space of time. He made his breakthrough last year as a formidable full back – his performances at three earning him an All Star nomination and he was also shortlisted for the Young Footballer of the Year accolade.

But he has been demonstrating his array of skills this term as a playmaking centre back who is comfortable on both sides of the ball – he scored 2-2 in the league final victory over Dublin.

His transition from full back to centre back was a consequence of happenstance more than anything else. McEvoy picked up an injury early in the year and in his absence Diarmuid Baker produced several confident displays in the full-back line.

And just as McEvoy was fit again, Derry centre back Gareth McKinless suffered a hamstring injury.

“They said they were just going to try me out and thankfully it just stuck,” said McEvoy. “It’s more just a sink or swim type of thing, you just had to adapt.”

♦ McEvoy has been named as the PwC Footballer of the Month for March, while Clare’s David Fitzgerald has picked up the hurling accolade. Aimee Mackin (Armagh) and Eimear McGrath (Tipperary) were the winners for women’s football and camogie respectively.

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning

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