‘They were mean at the back’ - Derry show old defensive grit to knock out Mayo

Mickey Harte’s side prevail after ding-dong encounter but the home side will regret the chances missed prior to the penalty shootout

Derry’s Conor Doherty celebrates scoring the winning penalty. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

All-Ireland SFC preliminary quarter-final: Derry 0-15 Mayo 1-12 (Derry won 4-3 on penalties)

Nothing is ever simple. Derry and Mayo fought each other to a standstill in Castlebar until eventually, at three minutes past nine on a dank June night, Mickey Harte’s side found themselves the winners. Conor Doherty took the last penalty in the shootout and though Mayo goalie Colm Reape got a strong hand to the ball, it was not enough.

For Derry, rapture. For Mayo, oblivion. In front of a 13,955 crowd, the home side left enough chances behind them to win. That they weren’t good enough to trouble the steps of the Hogan Stand won’t sting nearly as much as the fact that they were good enough to get further than this.

But when it came right down to it at the end of normal time, they had a lead they couldn’t see out. Same as the Connacht final, same as the Dublin game. Three games where they led in injury-time, none of which they won. It was this year’s fatal flaw and it caught up with them in the end.


To Derry’s credit, they were a different proposition here than we’d seen all year. While it wasn’t the Rhapsody in Red version that carried them to a league title in the spring, neither was it the leaden, lumpen model that has stunk out the summer. Instead, it was somewhere in between, set up to frustrate Mayo in the first instance and commendably spiky in attack when they turned over possession.

“We didn’t want to concede goals,” said Mickey Harte. “Just the way we were playing, we were actually offering more opportunities for the opposition. It’s a question of offering less opportunities and being more stubborn in defence and asking hard questions of them to break us down, which we probably hadn’t been doing in the three championship games we lost before the Westmeath game.

Derry’s goalkeeper Odhran Lynch saves a penalty from Ryan O'Donoghue of Mayo. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

“So that was part of the plan, to be what they have been for the last couple of years, mean at the back. And they were mean at the back. Derry have had a great defensive record over the last number of years and maybe we just slipped away from it a bit and took it for granted without actually thinking about, let’s make this work again. So I think we did make it work pretty well there today.”

He can sing that. The score at the end of normal time was Derry 0-11 Mayo 1-8. For the last time Mayo only scored nine times in 70 minutes of championship football, you have back as far as a Connacht preliminary round defeat to Sligo in 2010. For Derry to hold them to that paltry a total meant that Harte’s side were always only one good punch away from turning the fight.

Derry were much the better side in the first half or normal time, leading 0-6 to 0-3 at the break. Lachlan Murray was having a signature night, ending up with five points to his name. But Mayo came out after the break looking like they’d had a damn good talking to and with Aidan O’Shea and Tommy Conroy in full flow, managed to forge a lead.

Ryan O’Donoghue’s penalty ought to have been the killer score, pushing Mayo 1-7 to 0-8 ahead on 49 minute. But they only added another point the rest of the way and had bad wides from Reape and Sam Callinan that would have finished matters had they gone over. Conceding an equaliser in the 75th minute felt a little inevitable from there, given how bad Mayo have been in closing out games in this championship.

Derry wouldn’t have managed this at any stage since the league final, however. With their season teetering, they gathered their guts in their hands and found a way to get up the other end of the pitch. They were first to the rebound when Conor Glass’s shot came down off the post and found Chrissy McKaigue, who levelled from pretty much the same spot on the pitch as Cormac Costello had scored for Dublin a week previously.

Derry’s Gareth McKinless blocks Tommy Conroy of Mayo shot resulting in a penalty. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Extra-time was a tombola spin. Derry’s number’s came out first, with Brendan Rogers and Ethan Doherty (two) quickly building up a three point lead. But Jordan Flynn grabbed one back before the break and then Conor Loftus and Flynn again managed to level it again. It was ballsy stuff all around and it left us with penalties to decide it.

Nothing is ever easy but everything assumed a vulgar simplicity from that point on. Derry scored four of theirs, Mayo only scored three. Derry progress, Mayo slink off into a winter’s torture.

Derry: Odhran Lynch; Conor McCluskey, Chrissy McKaigue (0-1), Diarmuid Baker; Ciarán McFaul, Eoin McEvoy, Gareth McKinless (0-1); Conor Glass, Brendan Rogers (0-2); Ethan Doherty (0-2), Emmett Bradley, Paul Cassidy; Conor Doherty, Shane McGuigan (0-4, two frees), Lachlan Murray (0-5, one mark).

Subs: Eunan Mulholland for Bradley, 44 mins; Cormac Murphy for Cassidy, 67 mins; Donncha Gilmore for C Doherty, 67 mins; Niall Toner for Murray, 73 mins; Ruairí Forbes for Baker, 73 mins; Baker for Forbes, extra-time; Cassidy for Murphy, extra-time; C Doherty for Baker, 83 mins

Penalties scored: McGuigan, Glass, McFaul, C Doherty

Missed: E Doherty (wide)

Mayo: Colm Reape; Jack Coyne, David McBrien, Donnacha McHugh; Rory Brickenden, Sam Callinan (0-1), Eoghan McLaughlin; Stephen Coen, Mattie Ruane; Tommy Conroy (0-2, one mark), Darren McHale, Jordan Flynn (0-2); Aidan O’Shea (0-1), Jack Carney, Ryan O’Donoghue (1-4, one pen, three frees).

Subs: Conor Loftus (0-1) for McLaughlin, half-time; Diarmuid O’Connor for McHale, 53 mins; Enda Hession for Coyne, 57 mins; Cillian O’Connor for Ruane, 67 mins; Bob Tuohy for O’Shea, 73 mins; Paul Towey (0-1) for Brickenden, 80 mins; Michael Plunkett for Callinan, 87 mins

Penalties scored: C O’Connor, D O’Connor, Loftus

Missed: Towey (post), O’Donoghue (saved)

Referee: Brendan Cawley (Kildare)

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times