The Championship

Disbelief surrounds last gasp Derry defeat to Tipperary

Tipperary celebrate after beating Derry in Saturday's All-Ireland Qualifier at Breffni Park
Picture by Margaret McLaughlin   
Cahair O'Kane at Kingspan Breffni Park

All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers round 4A: Tipperary 1-21 Derry 2-17

THEY say it’s better to die on your sword, but it seems no less painful.

As the Derry players stood around the same Breffni Park pitch they’d celebrated on seven days previous, there was an air of disbelief. What just happened? When substitute Eoghan Brown palmed into an empty net with five minutes to go and then man-of-the-match Danny Heavron followed it up to put Derry two clear with a minute to play, visions of Kerry in Croke Park this weekend began to form.

Six-and-a-bit minutes later, they were out of the Championship, beaten by three injury-time points in the best game of the year so far. It was heart-stopping viewing for the supporters. One team would attack, then the other for a full 70 minutes. In the end, it was a cruel way for Derry to lose, but they couldn’t argue too strongly.

When Heavron kicked his fourth point of the afternoon, he made it 2-17 to 1-18. Derry were in the ascendancy, having hit an unanswered 1-4 in eight minutes. And then they retreated. It seemed they settled for a two-point lead, but the plan unravelled very quickly. No sooner had the fourth official put his board up to signal five added minutes, Michael Quinlivan was darting through the middle to win a free that Kevin O’Halloran pointed.

It was the 32rd free Marty Duffy had awarded Liam Kearns’ side and one more would follow in the dying moments and lead to Conor Sweeney’s winner. Derry, by contrast, were given just 12 frees over the 70 minutes by the Sligo official. That is a particularly large disparity.

When O’Halloran pointed, the gap was back to one and Derry, like Tipperary, had suffered on their own kickouts all day. Derry won 50 per cent of their own kickouts  and Tipperary won 57 per cent. Not the statistics you’d expect of teams in the last-12.

The Oak Leafers couldn’t buy a ball to get out at the death. Peter Acheson made a sublime catch on the restart and Bill Maher was thrice involved in a move that led to Conor Sweeney kicking the equaliser.

It was a siege by then. A brilliant Liam McGoldrick block turned away a Shane Leahy chance. Neil Forester had to die on the break to prevent a certain Tipperary winner.

But it proved only a mechanism for delay. Sweeney’s winner crept so narrowly inside the post that Jimmy Feehin meeting it on the volley behind the goal seemed to suggest it had gone wide. The Tipperary crowd sat silent. And then the umpire reached for the flag. Silent no more.

Brendan Rogers carried Derry forward and O’Halloran took a black card to stop him. But Duffy gave Derry the seconds to manufacture one final chance. It looked like no-one wanted to shoot until it fell to Rogers just beyond the 45, straight in front of goal. His shot tailed away to the left and the final whistle sounded.

Tipperary celebrated wildly. The scenes were reminiscent of the Cavan invasion of Celtic Park in 2013. Then, that seemed like a big step for the Breffni men. Time will tell if this Tipperary win is to have more significance.

Saturday evening, as entertaining as it was, didn’t suggest they’re lined to cope with Galway’s attack. That it was gripping, end-to-end stuff masked the poor quality of defending. Had Derry come through, they would have had to take a serious look at their defensive setup before going to play Kerry.

As it is, Tipperary will face Galway. The way the Tribe forward line tore Roscommon to shreds in last weekend’s replay doesn’t bode well for Liam Kearns’ side in Headquarters.

The game is best summed up by highlighting its two best players. Danny Heavron was absolutely superb for Derry. Robbie Kiely was outstanding for Tipperary. They were the two free men. They both retreated into defence, but they spent most of the game in attack mode. Neither side really had any cover behind their half-backs at all, which explains why the running game was so particularly effective for the Munster side.

They had raced into a 0-5 to 0-1 lead with the wind at their backs before Heavron sparked Derry. The cool, calm Niall Loughlin kicked three fine first-half points as well to underline his progression.

Derry fought back to 0-8 to 0-7 behind by the half-hour mark before Heavron left a trail down the left-wing, cutting back for a joyous Mark Lynch to meet on the half-volley.

Enda Lynn kicked them three up. Tipperary responded in injury-time, with a Kevin O’Halloran free and a late Quinlivan score reducing the arrears to a point. The latter score came three-and-a-half minutes into added-time, when Marty Duffy had signalled two.

Thomas Mallon made a superb stop from the dangerous Sweeney - who finished with 0-5 from play - early in the second-half, but it was the beaten Munster finalists who made the running in the third-quarter.

Derry's Ciaran McFaul battles for the ball with Tipperary's Josh Keane
Picture by Philip Walsh 

Forty-eight minutes in, Mallon routinely caught a dropping ball but, as he went to play the pass out, his standing foot gave way. It fell right into Kevin O’Halloran’s arms and, after some hesitation, he blasted to the net to put Tipp 1-13 to 1-10 ahead.

By the hour mark, they had stretched five clear and looked to be in the last-eight. Quinlivan, who was well marshalled by Chrissy McKaigue, kicked three frees and Josh Keane and Bill Maher added scores to make it 1-18 to 1-13.

Just when the Oak Leaf challenge was set to fade, they grasped the nettle again. Mark Lynch (free), Liam McGoldrick and Christopher Bradley roused the troops by raising white flags in the space of just over three minutes.

Then, Conor McAtamney - another who had a fine game - forced an error out of Peter Acheson and Derry transferred the ball to Mark Lynch. He squared for McFaul, who calmly played in substitute Brown to palm home from six inches.

O’Halloran dropped a free short to level it and Derry had acres on the break. Danny Heavron turned from his kick long before it crossed between the posts. Two up, 69 minutes gone, home and hosed surely.

Credit not only Tipperary’s steel, but their composure in the dying moments. Sweeney’s winner was from a tricky angle, the wrong side for a left-footer, but he kept his head to secure a first ever All-Ireland quarter-final for his county.

 

MATCH STATS
Derry:
T Mallon; O Duffy, C McKaigue, K McKaigue; C McFaul, B Rogers, C Mullan; C McAtamney, N Holly; D Heavron (0-4), E Lynn (0-1), J Kielt (0-2, 0-1 free); N Loughlin (0-3), E McGuckin, M Lynch (1-4, 0-3 frees); Subs: N Toner for Lynn (42), C Bradley (0-1) for Kielt (49), E Bradley (0-1) for Holly (52), L McGoldrick (0-1) for Duffy (55), E Brown (1-0) for McGuckin (62), N Forester for Heavron (73); Yellow card: N Loughlin (68)
Tipperary: E Comerford; C O’Shaughnessy, A Campbell, C McDonald; B Maher (0-1), R Kiely, J Feehin; P Acheson (0-1), G Hannigan; J Keane (0-1), K O’Halloran (1-5, 0-4 frees, 0-1 45), B Fox (0-1); P Austin (0-1), M Quinlivan (0-6, 0-4 frees), C Sweeney (0-5); Subs: A Moloney for Hannigan (HT), S Leahy for Acheson (66), M Hanley for O’Shaughnessy (74); Yellow card: J Keane (44); Black card: K O’Halloran (75), no replacement
Referee: M Duffy (Sligo)

 

WHAT WE LEARNED: DERRY
It’s been worth the £16 in to watch Derry play every week, but it’s not really a recipe for success beyond the level they’ve reached.

They weren’t even at their fluid best in attack, but they still scored 2-17 and caused the Tipperary defence plenty of bother. Danny Heavron is an absolute gem of a player and the perfect man to attack from deep in a free role - but Derry’s lack of cover hurt them big time.

Tipperary’s runners pierced the same holes Meath and Cavan did in the earlier rounds only, this time, it was costly. Niall Loughlin has also come on leaps and bounds since his introduction to county football.

But the lack of options presented to Thomas Mallon for kickouts is still a serious concern and the Loup man’s confidence seems to be suffering as a result.

 

WHAT WE LEARNED: TIPPERARY
That they are best when they go on the front foot.

Alright, they were wide to the world against Derry and they could go out against Galway and concede a big score if they play like that. But they went out to contain Kerry in the Munster final and conceded 3-17 without ever troubling the Kingdom defensively.

When they play with their half-forward line up the pitch and they get runners like Robbie Kiely coming through at pace, they will definitely create enough chances to win a game.

There’s no denying they look suspect defensively though. Alan Campbell holds it well at three, but they will struggle there when the step into the last-eight comes. They also have a serious issue with retaining their own kickouts.

If Galway have any sense, they’ll push right up.

 

KEY MOMENT
The game swung so many times over the 70 minutes it’s hard to pick one, but it was arguably the way in which Derry retreated when Danny Heavron kicked them two points clear on 69 minutes.

They visibly retreated into defence and conceded the kickout for the first time all evening. It invited the Tipperary attack that led to the gap being cut to one. The Oak Leaf struggles on their own kickouts and the four added-minutes that remained offered the initiative to Tipp and they took it.

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