GETTING DOWN AND DIRTY Derry’s Emmett McGuckin tussles with Mayo’s Diamuid O’Connor during Saturday’s All-Ireland SFC Qualifier match in Castlebar. Pic: Sportsfile
WE don’t make it easy on ourselves, do we?
At the end of a ceremony to mark the naming of the ‘green room’ at MacHale Park, Castlebar in his honour last Saturday, Dr Michael Loftus expressed the hope that we’d be back at the county ground on September 18 ‘for another occasion’. The former GAA president’s dream of an All-Ireland homecoming looked pretty forlorn a couple of hours later ... and then his grandnephew intervened.
Conor Loftus’s 68th-minute goal – a super finish after good work by Seamus O’Shea and Cillian O’Connor – prompted most in the crowd of 11,465 to erupt. It was just one of many twists in a game that immediately took its place among the many labour-ward-without-the-epidural days that Mayo supporters have experienced in recent years.
That score looked to have secured a come-from-behind victory, especially when the young Crossmolina man followed up with a fine point. But Mark Lynch’s fisted goal in injury time tied things up, and James Kielt might have won it for Derry, but his free dropped short. Extra time produced one more goal, one red card, one missed penalty, two worrying injuries, and a partridge in a pear tree. Well, everything except the last thing.
The goal came from lively substitute Jason Doherty, after Derry goalkeeper Ben McKinless made what Midwest Radio co-commentator Martin Carney called “a complete monkey’s arse” of his kick-out. Goal chances, plentiful all evening, went a-begging at either end, as McKinless denied Cillian O’Connor after a peach of a pass from Conor Loftus, and David Clarke saved James Kielt’s penalty after Chris Barrett fouled Shane McGuigan. Paddy Durcan was shown a straight red card for an off-the-ball incident. Lee Keegan – who’d had a big second half on the front foot – hobbled off after a big hit from Kielt. Cillian O’Connor also withdrew through injury before the end.
They say you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, and Mayo broke plenty of them on Saturday. The wide count reached 18, piled on top of numerous goal chances. Their defence coughed up too many opportunities at the other end. Their build-up play seemed laboured, and Derry players coming forward had space to run into. Ten years after a defeat by Derry proved to be the last chapter in the inter-county careers of David Brady, Kevin O’Neill, Ciaran McDonald and Pearce Hanley, we wondered for long periods if another era was ending.
Still, there were reasons to be cheerful, too. Aidan O’Shea – in his first start of 2017 – was colossal. The Breaffy man got through a mountain of work, winning plenty of frees and denied others he seemed to entitled to. His point got one of the biggest cheers of the day. Colm Boyle, restored to a starting position, had a big game too, as did Tom Parsons and Lee Keegan. Trailing entering the closing stages, Mayo did what they failed to do in Salthill and dug out a result. Their most stylish play was left for the additional period, when their superior fitness told.
The first half left Derry 8-7 ahead, with five Cillian O’Connor frees and scores from Andy Moran and Lee Keegan accounting for the Mayo total. Derry lost Conor McAtamney to a black card, but free-taker Niall Loughlin led their early charge. Ryan Bell chipped in with three points too, while Carlus McWilliams tested David Clarke. Andy Moran and Cillian O’Connor both missed goal chances in both halves, but also kept the scoreboard ticking over until Paddy Durcan’s monster effort. Derry had the upper hand for much of the second period, with Chrissy McKaigue putting in a great shift, and they looked set for victory before Loftus’s great cameo.
Next stop: Ennis.
D Clarke; C Barrett, G Cafferkey, B Harrison; L Keegan (0-1), C Boyle, P Durcan (0-1); A O’Shea (0-1), T Parsons; D Vaughan, K McLoughlin (0-1), S Coen; F Boland, C O’Connor (0-12, 9f, 1 45’), A Moran (0-2).
Subs used: D O’Connor (0-1) for F Boland; S O’Shea for D Vaughan (55 mins); J Doherty (1-1) for S Coen (55 mins); C Loftus (1-1) for A Moran (58 mins); D Drake for B Harrison (64 mins); C Crowe for C Barrett (82 mins); S Nally for L Keegan (85 mins, inj); D Kirby for K McLoughlin (88 mins).
B McKinless; N Keenan, B Rogers, K McKaigue; C McFaul, C McWilliams, M McEvoy; C McAtamney, C McKague; B Heron (0-1), E Lynn, N Loughlin (0-6, 5f); D Tallon, D Heavron (0-1), R Bell (0-3).
Subs used: E McGuckin for C McAtamney (35 mins + 1, black card); M Lynch (1-1) for D Tallon (47 mins); J Kielt (0-1) for R Bell (58 mins); S McGuigan for E Lynn (68 mins); C Nevin for M McEvoy (70 mins + 5); N Forrester for C McFaul (76 mins); G O’Neill for Loughlin (85 mins); C Doherty for B Heron (87 mins).
Referee: M Deegan (Laois)