Momentum could be key for Derry
All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Qualifiers round 4A: Tipperary v Derry (Saturday, 5pm, Kingspan Breffni Park, live on Sky Sports 5)
THE last time these two met on the football field, Tipperary scored just two points and were hammered out the gate. Paddy Bradley hit 1-13 at Ballinascreen, with the visitors scoring just two points in a 27-point mauling.
A 2005 National League tie, Derry were All-Ireland semi-finalists the previous season. Tipperary? They simply weren’t on the footballing map. Kerry gave them their annual pasting in Munster and they lost at home to Westmeath in the first round of the Qualifiers soon after.
Eleven years on, ahead of a first ever Championship meeting, you could argue Tipperary’s underage success has nosed them ahead. But in terms of their current senior units, there is little to separate them. Picking a winner in Breffni Park is a perilous adventure, given the contrast in the performances of both teams from game-to-game.
Since Tyrone thumped them nine weeks ago, Derry have had rocky spells within games. Meath cut them apart in the first-half in Owenbeg. Cavan did likewise in Breffni Park last Saturday. But the Oak Leafers have shown great character over the past month. They’ve been behind at half-time in each of their three Qualifiers, but won the second-halves of those games by a combined score of 2-34 to 1-15.
If anything, this Derry run has shown the benefits of throwing the shackles off a bit. Their attacking play was so laborious against Tyrone that Emmett McGuckin was withdrawn without having even kicked a ball. Contrast that with last weekend. Ciaran McFaul had nothing on from the sideline, just inside the Cavan 45’, but McGuckin was one-on-one with Rory Dunne. Sure why not?
Why not indeed, as the Magherafelt man rose to punch home a goal that brought Derry to life. They had looked out of the game early on, but that brought them to within a manageable four points at half-time and they kicked on from there.
The leadership Mark Lynch has displayed across the last three games has given a huge lift to Damian Barton’s forward line, while James Kielt looked like he was in the mood for more against Cavan before being controversially black-carded in the first-half.
The one surprise in the unchanged Derry line-up is Niall Toner hasn’t been called forth from the start. He may yet be. The young Lavey man offers a fearless, Eoin McHugh-type pace that has brought great impact from the bench - three points last weekend and a big hand in Niall Loughlin’s late goal against Meath.
His clubmate Cailean O’Boyle’s return to the 26 after injury offers another option on the edge of the square should Derry struggle for a way to break Tipperary down. Kerry didn’t. They scored 3-17 and played much of the game at their leisure.
The lack of pressure put on by the blue shirts around the middle-third will be of grave concern to Liam Kearns. His side dropped deep and then stood off Kerry and allowed them to do as they pleased. Against Cork in their historic Munster semi-final win - their first over the Rebels since 1944 - their half-forward line had been hugely influential.
Brian Fox’s penetrating runs set up the first two goals and he scored the third off a poor kickout. Cork were at a complete loss when Tipperary ran at them. They ran at Kerry in the first five minutes, creating a goal for Jimmy Feehan inside 36 seconds and they looked like a side ready to take the game to Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s side.
But they retreated into their shell and, ultimately, gave it far too easy to Kerry. Their half-forwards came and played in the half-back line and that absence of a link was costly time and again as they repeatedly turned the ball over in that area.
Kerry’s ability to change up the style of the attack, using the bombing runs of Paul Murphy from deep as often as they went with the early kick to Paul Geaney, was too much for Tipp’s makeshift defensive layout.
They will not have the same fear of Derry. Expect that they will play with a sweeper, but that their half-forward line will stay much higher up the park this time. Michael Quinlivan is the focal point of the attack. It was understandable they looked at him, standing 6’3”, up against the 6’ Mark Griffin and thought the best route to goal was in the air.
Quinlivan never won a single ball that was hung up above the two. But when Tipperary got it in low on two occasions in the second-half, the Clonmel man spun Griffin twice, setting up a goal for Robbie Kiely and forcing a solid save from Brian Kelly.
The fact those two goals were their only scores from play in the opening 52 minutes of that game highlighted exactly where their problems lay. Conor Sweeney got no change out of Shane Enright and the flaws of abandoning a half-forward presence to then try and kick 65 yards to the full-forward line were fatally exposed.
Gareth McKinless has been having a fine Championship season for Derry and will line up against Sweeney, while Karl McKaigue is likely to track the roving Philip Austin. Key to Tipperary’s attacking play is captain Peter Acheson. Playing at midfield, he’s the one they look to get on the ball and spread the play. It’s likely Conor McAtamney’s defensive instincts will be deployed there rather than Niall Holly’s.
Derry’s attack could also look to try and exploit the fragile confidence of Ciarán McDonald, who had a real nightmare in the Munster final, giving away four scoreable frees, and getting badly burnt by Paul Geaney for his second goal.
Both sides will be concerned with their return from their own kickouts. Derry have struggled on their own restarts all year. There’s a distinct lack of movement in front of Thomas Mallon, which leads to serious problems for the Loup man.
Kerry were able to force turnovers high up the pitch against Tipperary. Evan Comerford clearly didn’t want to kick to his midfield against Bryan Sheehan and Kieran Donaghy. He did everything to avoid it, including a number of high-risk short kickouts.
Kerry’s constant pressure contributed to the overall lack of assurance about Tipperary’s flawed attacking plan. But they are a side with an eye for goal; three against Cork and, even on a poor day, two against Kerry.
Derry will be concerned by that. They’ve been picked apart when teams have run at them at pace and in numbers. The result could really hinge on how Tipperary approach it. They set their sights from early on to reach a first ever All-Ireland quarter-final. Their best chance of doing so is to go and attack Derry.
There is very little in it. It may take extra-time to prise them apart. Derry’s momentum may just be enough to carry them to their first quarter-final in nine years.