GAA Football

Derry can curb David Clifford and end Kerry hopes of fourth All-Ireland title in-a-row

Damian McErlain's Derry minors bid to bring the Tom Markham Cup back to the Oak Leaf county for the first time since 2002 when they take on Kerry in tomorrow's All-Ireland final. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Neil Loughran

Electric Ireland All-Ireland Minor Football Championship final: Derry v Kerry (Sunday, 1.15pm, live on TG4)

STICK or twist? That is the question for Derry as they head into Sunday's All-Ireland final clash with Kerry, and the answer could have a huge bearing on whether the Tom Markham Cup returns to the Kingdom for the fourth year in-a-row or heads up to the Oak Leaf county for the first time since 2002.

Against a highly-rated Dublin team in last month’s semi-final, Derry stuck with their tried and trusted method of going man to man and pushing up on the opposition. Commitment to the attack has proved to be the best form of defence.

It paid rich dividends at times, especially early on, as they piled huge pressure on Dublin goalkeeper David O’Hanlon, severely restricting his options from the kick-out and making hay when forcing turnovers and winning possession.

Those bold tactics, and the belief that flows through this Derry collective, saw them over the line in the end but playing the same way tomorrow could be a dangerous game.

Having been dominated in those early exchanges, and with O’Hanlon struggling to find an out ball, Dublin switched the towering Karl Lynch-Bissett and finally started to get some from kick-outs, nosing ahead by the break.

Even in the second half, Derry relied heavily on some timely interventions from their full-back line to stop the blue wave, not to mention some wayward shooting from the Dubs.

In the final quarter the Oak Leafs showed the kind of steel that champions possess to get over the line but the concern is that, on another day, the chances the Dubs passed up would fly over the bar or worse, hit the net.

And, make no mistake, Kerry present a significant attacking threat.

There has been considerable discussion about the central role of David Clifford, perhaps at the detriment of his team-mates who have also made huge contributions, but such focus is simply unavoidable.

It’s not just the fact the Fossa sensation is generally head and shoulders above everybody else, he is physically well developed, deadly off either foot and displays the decision-making of a seasoned inter-county campaigner.

Going for a remarkable third All-Ireland minor title, he has amassed 4-38 in five outings thus far, scoring 1-10 in the last four defeat of Derry’s Ulster Championship final opponents Cavan.

Therefore, while Kerry have talent across the field, it cannot be downplayed how important it is to quell Clifford’s influence.

So, do Derry stick with what they have been doing and continue to go man on man, or do they deploy a sweeper to keep an extra pair of eyes on the Kerry number 11?

The expectation is that the Oak Leafs will persist with what has got them to this point, trusting that if they can keep a hold of the ball themselves, rather than ceding possession up the field, Clifford’s involvement will be limited.

It may leave them slightly open at times, but that is a calculated risk Damian McErlain has been willing to take.

Conor McCluskey is likely to be handed the Clifford brief, though there is a chance it could be captain Padraig McGrogan.

Derry are a strong, powerful outfit and will fancy their chances of writing their name into history as the last All-Ireland winners at this grade. For McErlain, meanwhile, there could be no more perfect note on which to end three years of hugely impressive work before stepping up to the senior ranks.

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