Kevin Madden: Pride and regret the overriding emotions for Derry footballers
DERRY will look back on their game on Saturday night with a mixture of pride and regret. Perhaps what Down had accomplished last weekend filled them with hope and, at the same time, reinforced the notion that they could go to Castlebar with absolutely nothing to fear and everything to gain.
In truth, the final scoreline was what most would have expected but it tells us very little about just how hard Mayo had to fight to through this exciting Qualifier.
They may have had a horrendous day at the office in front of the posts, with 13 scores in normal time from over 40 chances telling a grave tale. But take nothing away from a Derry team who came with the attitude that they would fight for everything.
The turnover by Brendan Rogers on Tom Parsons at the start of the second half underlined the honesty and endeavour that the Oak Leafers would bring.
They were prepared to chase the lost causes.
Defensively they were disciplined in the tackle for the most part and going forward the build-up was quicker and more direct than usual.
There is no doubt, with just a few minutes to go, Derry looked like they were going to cause a massive upset.
To pick a turning point in this game is almost impossible. The loss of Conor McAtamney to a black card was significant as he was doing a good job of marking Aidan O’Se and Derry began to struggle on their own kick-out after he went off.
The bad kick-out in extra-time that led to the Mayo goal was a big moment but credit must go to Jason Doherty for the amount of ground he made up to steal the ball in front of the flat-footed Derry defender.
The penalty missed by James Kielt was more of a defining moment than a turning point. Derry had given their all and, at five points down, the tank was now well and truly empty. Carlus McWilliams had a fine game, but he also spurned two big opportunities, one in each half.
In fairness he kept his goal chance low and hard so it was more a brilliant save than a bad miss.
With 10 minutes left, he had another great chance for a point which would have put three between the teams.
To his credit he took a fine catch after that and also sent the pass in for the goal.
With almost 67 minutes on the clock, Derry were still two points up and, after more bad misses from Cillian O’Connor, Lee Keegan and Kevin McLoughlin, it looked like they would hang on.
Approaching injury-time with Derry still a point to the good Chrissy McKaigue spurned a great chance to put two between the teams after McWilliams had taken a brilliant catch from the Derry kick-out.
The impact of Conor Loftus was critical for Mayo as his 1-1 pulled the game from the fire. Derry showed great resilience and heart to force extra-time but I would have question marks over the move that led to the Mayo goal.
Maurice Deegan blew Ben McKinless up for not hitting a kick-out the required distance in the first half.
Yet the move that led to that critical Mayo goal started with a similar restart where the ball travelled about 11 metres and not the required 13.
The Mayo player collected the ball just inside the 21-yard line, about four metres to the right of David Clarke.
I also felt the free Deegan awarded to Derry at the very end was taken from the wrong place.
When he raised his arm to indicate the foul and that he was playing an advantage, James Kielt was about 15 yards further in from the sideline where you would have expected him to score from.
Aidan O’Shea had a fine game for Mayo, winning about six scoreable frees, but some of them were questionable to say the least.
It also seemed to escape the attentions of the referee how, during some of the throw-ins, Tom Parsons would obstruct the Derry midfielder at the back to allow O’Shea to take the clean catch.
Derry got their match-ups right. Niall Keenan had a great tussle with Andy Moran and the Derry man once again underpinned his status as a top quality player.
He was very unlucky to be blown up for touching the ball on the ground in the first half as it appeared that he was tripped up just prior to the free being blown.
Brendan Rogers nullified Cillian O’Connor during normal time and, on the front foot, both he and Chrissy McKaigue were the catalyst for many Derry attacks. Niall Loughlin had the unenviable task of tracking the enigmatic Lee Keegan and I thought he also did an excellent job.
Not only did Loughlin offer a scoring threat going forward to keep the current Player of the Year occupied but he was on his heels each and every time he attacked. Keegan got in a couple of times, but Loughlin never lost him.
Having said that, perhaps Danny Heavron on Keegan and Loughlin close to goal may have been more profitable as I felt we didn’t get to see the best of either on the front foot.
Conor Mcatamney was tasked with the job of picking up Aidan O’Shea and, up until his harsh black card, he was doing a really good job.
The Mayo man won three converted frees in the first half but one was immediately after the Derry man was dismissed.
Aidan O’Shea became more prominent for Mayo after his minder McAtamney went off.
I felt he was Mayo’s best player. I would have classified McAtamney’s tackle as clumsy but to judge it as a deliberate drag down was very harsh.
He went to ground more as result of losing his balance rather than any pre-meditated cynicism.
If you were rating goalkeeper Ben McKinless on his shot-stopping alone, it would have been hard to look past him for man of the match.
The harsh critics must remember that he was a big part of the reason why Derry were in a position to force extra-time in the first place.
He pulled off some outstanding saves with the ones from Cillian O’Connor spectacular.
In the first 25 minutes of the game, his kicking was excellent with the long deliveries working in Derry’s favour.
The one in particular when he landed the ball in the lap of Niall Keenan around the right half-back position was very good.
But Saturday was another example of how the short kick-out strategy can cause more problems than solutions, particularly if the movement out the field isn’t that great. In fairness to Mayo, they went completely man-to-man the entire game so picking passes for the Derry netminder was an onerous task.
I could understand the logic in reverting from the long deliveries as Tom Parsons was playing a big part in winning that primary possession at midfield.
But unlike a mistake out the field, when the short kick-out goes wrong for the goalkeeper, it often results in a score.
Derry paid the price on a few occasions but when the game was there to be won in the final moments of normal time, that wasn’t the issue.
At one point, they were just minutes away from an epic victory, yet so far away in the end.
Derry left McHale Park with their pride intact but with lots of regrets.