Derry get back to winning ways but fail to impress against Westmeath

Goals from Conor McCluskey and Emmet Bradley at the end of each half prove the difference in Newry

Derry's Conor Glass and Ronan Wallace of Westmeath contest the ball during the All-Ireland SFC Round 3 game at Pairc Esler in Newry. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
All-Ireland Group 1, Round 3: Derry 2-7 Westmeath 0-9

This win alone won’t be enough to redeem Derry’s season, but if nothing else it at least allows them another shot at perhaps yet doing so.

For a team who had been on a run of three consecutive championship losses, the result was all that mattered for Derry in Páirc Esler on Saturday night. It wasn’t a win which indicated the end of a crisis, a sense prevails this may prove no more than a stay of execution.

After an hour of play, a raised voice from the stand angrily inquired if the Derry management planned to react to what was happening out on the pitch while loudly reminding Mickey Harte that subs were permitted during games.

Westmeath had just popped over three points without reply to reduce the gap to the minimum. The Lake County had all the momentum, the trapdoor creaked open beneath Derry’s boots.


A nervous energy swirled around Páirc Esler, it was tense and edgy.

But moments later Emmet Bradley was on the end of a sweeping move and managed to fire home Derry’s second goal of the game to push them four points ahead in the 65th minute. It proved to be the last score of the contest.

“We couldn’t think of anything else other than getting a result,” said a relieved Harte afterwards. “We knew that, coming off the results we had, morale was dented, and it was difficult for the players to get back the belief they had that took them to the top of Division One.

“That is the beginning of the process of building back a bit of confidence and a bit of belief that they can play very good football, but it doesn’t solve all our problems. We still have to be aware of what caused us damage in the games that we lost and try and continue to work so they don’t happen again, certainly in such a prolific fashion.”

The game was won by the goals Derry netted at the end of both the first and second half – outside of those scores Division Three league winners Westmeath had the measure of the Division One champions.

But the Leinster side’s Achilles heel has been a failure to keep the scoreboard moving in games and again it cost them here: you don’t win many matches posting 0-9.

However, in all other aspects of the game Westmeath went toe to toe with Derry and will feel they deserved more from the encounter after delivering a confident, disciplined and well-organised performance.

“The lads are disappointed because we sensed an opportunity with Derry because they are vulnerable with everything that is going on,” said Westmeath boss Dessie Dolan.

“We felt we could compete against them and certainly for large parts we felt we matched them in every sector. The goals at the wrong time were the deciding factor.”

Westmeath led 0-5 to 0-4 after 32 minutes – thanks in no small part to three well-taken points from the lively Ronan O’Toole. Ray Connellan also displayed some of his aerial prowess during the first half and the former AFL player knocked over his side’s fifth score of the evening.

O’Toole was the best forward on show and proved a real handful for All Star defender Conor McCluskey early on. Soon after O’Toole posted his third score, Derry switched Diarmuid Baker over to the Westmeath danger man.

Westmeath's Ronan Wallace dejected after the defeat to Derry in Newry. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

It proved to be a telling move to the outcome of the match, because it was McCluskey who found himself on the end of a Derry move for the opening goal just two minutes before half-time – with Baker involved in the creation of the chance.

Eunan Mulholland added a point for Derry in first-half injury-time to see Harte’s men lead by three at the interval, 1-5 to 0-5, a gap which was harsh on Westmeath.

To their credit, they didn’t use that late first-half sucker-punch as an excuse to pack up the tent for the year – instead they came out and popped over the opening point of the second half, James Dolan finishing a move which again involved O’Toole.

It took Derry 10 minutes and two wides to find the target in the second half, though Shane McGuigan almost squandered his close-range free with a tamely hit shot which just about made it over the crossbar.

It wasn’t a swashbuckling day for McGuigan either, who failed to score from play and finished the day with three wides and dropped another short.

Conor Glass floated over a lovely point midway through the second half to edge Derry 1-7 to 0-6 ahead, but Westmeath responded with three on the bounce – all impressive scores and all coming from subs.

The unthinkable was on. Derry were spiralling again. However, the tension was snapped five minutes from time when Bradley smacked home Derry’s second goal of the game – again thanks to a great surging run by Baker.

“Both goals were very important, the one at the end was very important because at that stage we were clinging on by a point,” said Harte.

“We didn’t actually push ahead as much as I’d like to at the start of the second half, we had chances to push out that scoreline rather than have it closed on us, and when it started to close on us, it was dangerous.”

Relief was the emotion of the day. It was not a statement win. Rather, Derry limp onwards towards the All-Ireland preliminary quarter-finals.

“We’ll be in the same position next week, we’ll be out to play a game where it’s winner takes all,” added Harte.

“If you win it, you can say yes, the confidence of this week was great, but if we don’t win that game then you might say it didn’t fix the confidence issue. That’s all to be answered yet.”

Tyrone in Omagh, anybody?

DERRY: Odhran Lynch; Conor McCluskey (1-0), Chrissy McKaigue, Diarmuid Baker; Ciarán McFaul, Eoin McEvoy, Donncha Gilmore; Conor Glass (0-2, 0-1 45), Brendan Rogers; Ethan Doherty, Emmet Bradley (1-0), Paul Cassidy; Eunan Mulholland (0-2), Shane McGuigan (0-2, 0-2f), Lachlan Murray (0-1).

Subs: Declan Cassidy for Murray (62 mins); Ruairí Forbes for Bradley, Cormac Murphy for Mulholland (both 65); Shea Downey for Cassidy (71).

WESTMEATH: Jason Daly; Charlie Drumm, Kevin Maguire, Jamie Gonoud (0-1); Ronan Wallace, James Dolan (0-1), David Lynch; Ray Connellan (0-1), Andy McCormack; Sam McCartan, John Heslin, Jonathan Lynam; Senan Baker, Luke Loughlin, Ronan O’Toole (0-3).

Subs: Robbie Forde (0-1) for Lynam, Stephen Smith (0-1) for Loughlin (both 50 mins); Jack Smith (0-1) for Baker (57); Shane Allen for Gonoud (58); Kieran Martin for Dolan (71).

Referee: Paul Faloon (Down).

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning

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