Five things we learned from the GAA weekend: Derry prove that shoot-outs are no lottery

Clare bounce back, Cork’s goals dry up, Brennan onto something special in Louth and Laois coming to the boil nicely

Derry’s goalkeeper Odhran Lynch saves a penalty from Ryan O'Donoghue of Mayo on Saturday. The Derry goalkeeper has faced 13 shots and saved five in the county's last three shoot-outs. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Say this much for Derry – they are putting the lie to the notion that penalty shoot-outs are a lottery. Saturday night was the third time in just over a year that they’ve had to settle a game on spot kicks and it’s the third time they’ve come through the test. To Armagh in last year’s Ulster final and the Dubs in this year’s league final, we can add a preliminary quarter-final in the 2024 championship.

If nothing else, Kerry have a definite body of work to examine should it come to it in Croke Park this weekend. Across the three shoot-outs, Derry have scored 10 penalties out of 12. Shane McGuigan, Conor Glass and Ciaran McFaul have scored theirs each time. Ethan Doherty has scored one and missed one. Paul Cassidy had his saved in the Ulster final last year and has been replaced on the roster by Conor Doherty.

But the key to their shoot-out prowess has undoubtedly been Odhran Lynch. The Derry goalkeeper has faced 13 shots and saved five. Another three have hit either the post or the crossbar. Interestingly, Lynch has dived to his right for six of the eight shots that haven’t beaten him – he saved to his left from Rian O’Neill last year and dived that way when Con O’Callaghan hit the crossbar back in March.

The chances of them bringing Kerry that far on the weekend might be slim enough when you factor in the fatigue they must be feeling. But if it happens, they will know they have a master of the genre in Lynch. - Malachy Clerkin

Big drop, better bounce
Clare's Shane O’Donnell scores a goal against Wexford. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/inpho

Clare’s disappointment at their least competitive Munster final in the past three years’ trilogy against Limerick popped up as a factor in the team’s focused win over Wexford in Saturday’s All-Ireland quarter-final.

Displays in previous quarter-finals had been compromised by fatigue – the wan 2022 defeat of Wexford – or the shortcomings of the opposition – last year’s turkey shoot against Dublin. If the weekend also featured opponents weakened by Rory O’Connor’s 33rd minute red card, the overall performance was sharper and bounce back from the provincial final all the more evident.

The team’s star on the day, as on so many others this season, was Shane O’Donnell, whose typically bustling display harvested 1-4 from play as well as the RTE Man of the Match award.

Asked had the different nature of the provincial final defeat, compared with extra-time and a one-point margin in the past two years, actually given the team more room for recovery, O’Donnell agreed.

“It’s easier to rebound when the game is a little bit farther away from you, to be honest. The last two years when it’s been a draw or one point, there have been a lot of ‘what if’s’ and ‘if only’s’ but when you’re the second-best team, that isn’t really the case.

“In some ways it’s more disappointing but easier as a psychological battle to get over it. We were able to put it behind us after a couple of days and move on.” Seán Moran

Brennan creating something magical in Louth
Louth manager Ger Brennan celebrates after their win over Cork. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

In the aftermath of what was the most significant achievement of his fledgling managerial career, Ger Brennan would have been forgiven on Sunday for basking in the afterglow at Grattan Park and taking all the plaudits and claps on the back.

Instead, it was noteworthy how he wanted to spread the praise around. In particular, Brennan displayed the egoless trait of highlighting the work done by Mickey Harte and Gavin Devlin in the years before he took the reins. Given the circumstances of Harte’s departure, Louth fans would have forgiven Brennan if he veered towards taking all the acclamation. And it wasn’t just previous Louth managers, Brennan name-checked club and juvenile coaches.

“When a new management comes in, we are getting them in the here and now, but all the donkey work has been done by multiple other people over the years, not forgetting the previous management as well,” he said.

“So everybody has had a hand, it’s just an incredible achievement for the county.”

And a feeling this is a player-led environment was further enhanced when Brennan explained what happened at half-time. Louth trailed Cork by three points at the break but came out and won the game – so what did Brennan do to turn it around?

“There was great leadership from Sam (Mulroy) inside as well with the tactics board, coaching his team-mates and leading his team-mates.

“We have a super management team there, a lot of experience and different skillsets, so you are able to encourage and coach the guys in different areas. The group themselves are incredibly talented and knowledgeable, they are telling us stuff and we are going, ‘You know what, that’s actually better than what we were thinking,’ so you just gel the thing together and you make it happen.”

By spreading the praise far and wide, Brennan paints himself as merely the facilitator. But it is that self-confidence to empower all around him which has allowed the Dubliner create something magical in Louth this season. Gordon Manning

Cork will need goals to have a chance against Limerick
Cork's goals dried up against Dublin. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

The 100th goal of this season’s Liam MacCarthy Cup was scored in Thurles on Saturday, though not by Cork, the top goal scorers in Division One of the league this year, and the highest goal scorers in the championship. According to one canny source who knows a thing or two, the odds on no goal being scored in the Dublin-Cork game were 25/1. Before Saturday, Cork had been the only team in the country to have scored a goal in every league and championship game this year.

After the Dublin-Cork game there was much handwringing about the colourless, lifeless spectacle. The epidemic of wides was blamed, along with the brunch-time throw-in. The absence of goals, though, or even the threat of goals, was an active ingredient too.

Dublin played with just one inside forward for much of the game, and only threatened a goal in the last few minutes when Eoghan O’Donnell was pushed into centre field and they finally populated their attack. In the Leinster final, they stacked players out the field too and only picked up a posthumous goal when they flooded their forward line in the closing minutes. Piling forward late on in lost matches is not a sustainable strategy though.

Goals were crucial for Dublin at other times this summer – in injury time against Wexford, and in the first half in Salthill – but their further development will be stunted without a consistent goal scoring threat.

Cork’s manager Pat Ryan was clearly annoyed about his team’s failure to score a goal, especially when goal scoring had been their most potent weapon all year. There is no chance of beating Limerick without goals.

Statistically, Saturday was an outlier. Of the 31 games played in this year’s Liam MacCarthy Cup only two have failed to produce a goal, and the number of goals per game is a healthy 3.3. With the biggest games to come, this is no time for the averages to drop. Denis Walsh

Laois coming to the boil at the right time
Laois fans celebrate after their win over Antrim on Sunday. Photograph: Tom Maher/Inpho

It has taken some effort for Laois to gather themselves and make it to the Tailteann Cup final. After drawing with Carlow in their opening group game, they only had a point to spare over Wicklow and ended up losing their final game in a ding-dong scrap with Fermanagh. Nobody had them figured for title contenders after that 3-11 to 2-13 defeat in June.

If any of Justin McNulty’s team or set-up felt like throwing their hat at the competition, that was the time to do it. But they took advantage of a soft draw by beating New York at home in the preliminary quarter-final and have since put Kildare and Antrim away in the past two weekends. With eight goals in their last four games, they are fizzing with intent every time they go out.

A hat-tip in particular to 38-year-old defender Mark Timmons who is still in there pitching having made his senior debut all the way back in 2008. Evan O’Carroll is still there too, a survivor from McNulty’s first stint when he made his championship bow as a 17-year-old in a qualifier against Wexford in 2013. Paul Kingston has put in close to a decade in the trenches too.

If they get up the steps in three weeks, nobody will begrudge them their moment. Malachy Clerkin