Mistakes cost Derry Croke Park appearance: Conor McAtamney
DERRY midfielder Conor McAtamney says mistakes cost the Oak Leaf men a place in this weekend’s All-Ireland quarter-finals following their dramatic loss to Tipperary.
Alongside Danny Heavron, the Swatragh clubman was outstanding for Derry at Kingspan Breffni Park last Saturday evening. Two points up entering five minutes of stoppage-time, McAtamney felt Derry should have been able to hold off Tipp’s late rally.
But marksman Conor Sweeney stepped up and hit two injury-time points, while Kevin O’Halloran converted a free as Tipp edged through with just a point to spare. In the 48th minute, Thomas Mallon slipped and his mishit clearance fell invitingly to O’Halloran, who thumped the ball into Derry’s net.
The beaten Munster champions now face Galway in Sunday’s All-Ireland quarter-final at Croke Park - but McAtamney believed the Ulster men should have sealed the game: “We had the game, definitely,” he said.
“I thought the momentum that was with us would have won it, but mistakes cost us in the end up. If we had won it, it would have been great, but we didn’t. We’re very disappointed. We were happy enough going in at half-time even, though we weren’t playing all that well, but we were still a point up, which was a plus for us. But Tipp rattled over two or three at the start of the second-half and they got a goal too that didn’t help us. In fairness, we came back and we probably should have held on, but we didn’t.”
McAtamney book-ended the inter-county season with two brilliant displays. He had an outstanding game in that unforgettable Dr McKenna Cup final against Tyrone at the Athletic Grounds in January and ended his year with another gargantuan performance in the defeat to Tipperary.
“After the first round of Ulster [when Derry lost heavily to Tyrone], nobody gave us any hope and some of ourselves never gave us any hope either, but after a few wins momentum started to grow and we certainly started to enjoy training more. It’s just disappointing we couldn’t push on and get to play at Croke Park in an All-Ireland quarter-final,” he added.
Despite the acute disappointment of last Saturday evening, McAtamney believes Derry will come back stronger in 2017: “We showed what we can do, even though people were writing us off and saying we weren’t even good footballers. But the Qualifiers have proved that we can play a bit of football and we’ve a bit of motivation looking ahead to next year,” he said.
Meanwhile, Damian Barton would dearly loved to have guided his native Derry to Croke Park in his first season in charge and follow in Fermanagh’s footsteps by reaching the All-Ireland quarter-finals: “At the end of the day, nobody will remember us,” he said.
“We all remember Fermanagh from last year - they deserved to be there on merit. It would have been nice to go down and play in Croke Park next week because it doesn't come around that often.”
The Derry manager added: “We couldn't cope with the hard running from the Tipperary half-back line all day. They kicked on. We left ourselves too much to do. We hung in there in the first-half and I thought the performances of Daniel Heavron and, in the first-half, Niall Loughlin were two of the highlights.”