Derry 0-11 Tyrone 0-22
If you are looking for evidence that the GAA may be in line for a future shock, then the disappearance of one of Ulster’s true romances is a good place to start.
Once, Derry-Tyrone days fizzed with animosity, barbed humour, passion, grudging respect and mental car-parking. And they produced the kind of epic encounters that sucked the oxygen out of the entire province. But you have to scroll back over a decade since Derry last enjoyed summer bragging rights over the Red Hand. That was in 2006 and on the evidence of this encounter, this rivalry is done for.
Derry has become a pale shadow of the 1990s force of nature on which Damian Barton played. This match was long over when young Shane McGuigan from Slaughtneil kicked Derry's 10th point of the day. Barton wasn't surprised when he was told that McGuigan is the 71st player he has used in his managerial term. The number of players who have walked away from the county scene is the most dismaying aspect of Derry's decline.
“I’m glad you’re keeping those stats,” Barton said.
“You know the story. People do things by choice, playing for your county is a very honourable thing and whether it’s New York or Sydney, even Perth. People are going to games and putting jerseys on, of all ages. Really and truly that’s what it’s all about, and that’s what it is all about.
“Derry is a community – as all these people are. For whatever reason people walk away and I don’t want to dwell on them, they’re no good to Derry and they’re no good to me. They made that decision. There are people striving for better things all the time. I’m happy with where we are.”
Just like last year, Tyrone finished winners with 11 points to spare, even if Derry made a brief surge early in the second half to leave themselves just three points adrift on the scoreboard. But it was clear to the crowd of 10,017 that the counties exist in different realms now.
A brief cry of rebellion rang out in the Creggan early in the second half when Brendan Rogers, Derry's full back, won a race to a 50-50 ball with Seán Cavanagh and then broke ahead of the Moy man in front of the stand before winning a free. It was about the only time Cavanagh was bested all day: on what looks certain to be his last tour of the province, Tyrone's figurehead was majestic here and his appetite for destruction is as keen as ever.
Was this a contest? Forty-six minutes in and trailing 0-8 to 0-11 – and with Tyrone looking temporarily purposeless – Derry had a sniff of chance. That was as good as it got. Tyrone pencilled in nine of the next 11 points and played their way to an inevitable win. Mickey Harte ran his bench and was rewarded with 0-8 from the reserves, with Darren McCurry firing three brassily confident scores into the sunshine. Christopher McKaigue, the inspirational figure at the heart of the Slaughtneil story, was visibly angered after an altercation with Mattie Donnelly which may have repercussions.
“I don’t want to see anyone suspended,” sighed Barton. “I thought the officials today; there is a bit of a laissez-faire attitude with a lot of officials. Sometimes the game can be seen as something of a pantomime as much as anything else. You cannot even ask an official a question.
“I mean what kind of sport are we playing that we cannot even query an official about a decision in a mannerly way? Not in an ignorant way, because as a coach I want to be able to tell the players how to fix it. But these people that just dismiss you and that appears to be the norm among officials now. You saw what happened poor old Kieran [McGeeney]. You can’t ask questions.”
This was an accomplished opening day for Tyrone. But for a desperate intervention from Niall Keenan, Derry's excellent corner back, they would have had a goal on a counter attack from Aidan McCrory to match their points haul. Seven starters scored and they had a further 0-8 from the bench, with Darren McCurry firing three eye-catching scores. Conall McCann gave a man-of -the-match display at midfield and their pressure-defence left Derry with no way through.
“We have plenty to think about,” Harte contended after acknowledging that he was pleased.
“I think in the first half we had 19 scoring opportunities and only got the 10 – six wide and three short. That is not a great return, Yes, it is good to have won by a margin that didn’t make us sweat but we have a lot to tidy up on because Donegal are going to be a different proposition and we definitely won’t get that amount of chances to score about them.”
The Ulster champions had hardly left the changing room when word spread that Donegal's Michael Murphy had been stretchered off in a club match across the border. Already, the prelude to that heavyweight tussle has begun. And it promises to be riveting. But the old boast that Ulster is the jewel of the provincial championships is beginning to seem fanciful.
DERRY: 1 B McKinless; 2 N Keenan (0-1), 3 B Rogers, 4 K McCaigue; 5 C McFaul (0-1), 6 C McKaigue, 7 C McWillians (0-1); 8 C McAtamney, 9 D Heavron (0-1, free); 10 R Bell, 11 M Loughlin (0-4, one free), 12 E Lynn (0-1); 13 D Tallon, 14 E McGuckin, 15 B Heron (0-1, free).
Substitutes: 20 M Lynch for 10 R Bell (49 mins), 18 S McGuigan (0-1 free) for 13 D Tallon (57 mins), 17 M McEvoy for 15 B Heron (66 mins), 25 G O'Neill for 14 E mcGuckin (67 mins), 19 C Nevin for 8 C McAtamney (69 mins).
TYRONE: 1 N Morgan; 2 A McCrory, 3 R McNamee, 4 P Hampsey; 8 C Cavanagh (0-1), 5 T McCann (0-1), 6 R Brennan (0-1); 10 K McGeary, 15 M Donnelly; 9 C McCann (0-2), 11 N Sludden, 7 P Harte (0-2, one 45, one free); 12 C Meyler, 13 M Bradley (0-1), 14 S Cavanagh (0-7, six frees).
Substitutes: 18 F Burns for 10 K McGeary 30 mins), 22 R McNabb for 12 C Meyler (half-time), 25 D Mulgrew (0-1)for 18 F Burns (55 mins), 20 D McCurry (0-3) for M Bradley (51 mins), 19 D McClure (0-1) for 11 N Sludden (61 mins), L Brennan (0-2, one free) for S Cavanagh (64 mins).
Referee: M Deegan (Laois).