Derry 0-21 Offaly 1-6
Derry for Ulster? Now there’s a thought.
Manager Rory Gallagher certainly didn't cloak his Championship ambitions with false modesty after hammering Offaly to secure the Division 3 title.
“I expected to get promotion, I expected to win all the games,” declared the former Donegal boss. “We want to be one of the top teams in Ulster and in the country.”
Derry admittedly will need to beat Down or Donegal on July 11th and then probably Tyrone just to reach the Ulster final but they’re a team on the up.
All of their midfielders and forwards, along with a couple of subs and captain Chrissy McKaigue, got on the scoresheet during Saturday’s big win.
Free-taker Shane McGuigan, who top scored with 0-7 and converted a line ball, had three decent goal chances - including a wasted stoppage time penalty kick - while Conor Glass hit the post and Niall Loughlin had a goal ruled out for over carrying in the buildup by the peerless Gareth McKinless.
So the 12-point defeat actually flattered Offaly who were worryingly overwhelmed - Eoin Rigney did at least perform well on McGuigan - eight days out from a Leinster SFC opener with Louth.
Right up through the centre of Derry’s team, from McKaigue and McMcKinless in defence to McGuigan at full-forward, and ex-AFL player Glass and Emmet Bradley in between, they possess quality performers and a Championship team that’s all but picked.
“Ah yeah, and I would want to be going into the Championship with 12, 13, 14 of my team crystal clear in fairness,” said Gallagher. “You don’t want to hide behind who the best players are. Everybody knows Dublin’s team, same with the Kerry team. That’s the level most teams aspire to. Donegal, Tyrone, Monaghan, they’ve dominated Ulster and people could pick their first 14 all the time.”
Save for a brief spell either side of half-time when Offaly pinched 1-3, Eoin Carroll scoring the goal with substitute Niall McNamee heavily involved, Derry dominated.
It meant that the 2,400 supporters who were allowed in and were dispersed throughout the upper and lower decks of the Cusack Stand were principally the ones cheering.
Asked to explain their recent revival - Derry slid down to Division 4 in 2019 having contested the Division 1 final in 2014 - wing-back Conor Doherty fixated on one word.
“Intensity,” said Doherty. “Our intensity has lifted an awful lot in the way we play.”
Offaly couldn’t match that appetite for destruction and have a job now to pick up the pieces in time for Sunday’s date with Mickey Harte’s Louth in Navan.
“Derry were formidable,” said Offaly manager John Maughan. “They are way advanced in their experience, expertise, the physicality of their midfield. They have a lot of top class performers. It’s hard to comprehend they were a Division 3 side to be honest.”
Maughan could be forgiven for wishing he didn’t push so hard for the Division 3 final to take place. They could have skipped the decider given the short turnaround to the Louth game though the manager stated immediately after their win over Fermanagh which clinched promotion that he wanted the final to go ahead. Any regrets now?
“No, none whatsoever,” shot back Maughan. “That was a bonus game for us, we didn’t anticipate it would go ahead so they were excited when I told them the game was going ahead. So I have no regrets whatsoever.”
Perhaps ominously for Offaly, Maughan noted that Louth, propelled to promotion from Division 4 by the likes of ex-AFL man Ciaran Byrne and the hulking Conor Grimes, remind him a little of Derry.
“Louth are a big team as well, they have a lot of big units around the place,” said Maughan. “Look, it’s something to look forward to.”
Derry: O Lynch; C McCluskey, C McKaigue (0-1), P McGrogan; C Doherty, G McKinless, Padraig Cassidy; C Glass (0-1), E Bradley (0-1); E Doherty (0-2), N Loughlin (0-4, 3 frees), C McFaul (0-1); B Heron (0-1), S McGuigan (0-7, 5 frees, 1 sideline), O McWilliams (0-1).
Subs: Paul Cassidy for McWilliams (41 mins), N Toner (0-1) for Heron (57 mins), J Doherty (0-1) for C Doherty (68 mins), K McKaigue for Bradley and B McCarron for E Doherty (both 72 mins).
Offaly: P Dunican; J Lalor, E Rigney, C Stewart; C Doyle, N Darby, J Hayes (0-1); E Carroll (1-0), P Cunningham; S Horan, D Dempsey, A Sullivan; B Allen, C Farrell (0-4, 3 frees, 1 mark), R McNamee.
Subs: N McNamee (0-1 mark) for Allen (26 mins), C Mangan for Lalor (half-time), A Leavy for Carroll and B Carroll for Horan (both 47 mins), C Donohoe for Hayes and J Maher for R McNamee (both 53 mins), J Moloney for Sullivan (60 mins).
Referee: S Lonergan (Tipperary).