Madden on Monday: Naive defending cost Derry dearly
AS AN Antrim footballer, it was hard to take the snide remarks you would often have been subjected to from fans of self-perceived stronger counties. It usually came from people who wouldn’t have known if it was pumped or stuffed.
On one occasion, I actually had to listen to it from a fellow player, who played for a successful Ulster county. After the Railway Cup final in 2004, we sat down at the players’ banquet that night in a beautiful five-star hotel in Paris.
In our pre-final team talk earlier that day, Brian McEniff spoke about the rise of Ulster football, pointing to the strides made by Tyrone, Antrim and Fermanagh. Of course, he meant to say Armagh, not Antrim.
Maybe harmless enough, but this particular player found the reference to Antrim hilarious and made a joke about it. No-one else around our table laughed, mostly due to me sitting there, I expect. I wanted to reach over and take the head off him.
Three years ago, Limerick and Offaly were promoted from Division Four on the last day of the National League after wins over who? Yes, you guessed it - Clare and Tipperary. They both were plying their trade in Division Four just two years ago.
Although I was hoping to see Derry progress, I also felt happy for the footballers of Clare and Tipperary, who fully deserved their wins to see them reach the All-Ireland quarter-finals. The more new counties coming through to the latter stages, the better.
Plenty will use the lambs to the slaughter analogy, but I don’t see Kerry and Galway getting it all their own way in the quarters. Something I took from watching these ‘weaker’ counties was that Gary Brennan, David Tubridy, Michael Quinlivan, Conor Sweeney and Danny Heavron would make any team in the country.
So now we have established we do not need a two-tier Championship, here are my five main talking points from Derry and Tipperary...
1. DANNY HEAVRON was simply outstanding and the most effective player on the pitch.
Derry are guilty of slow build-ups and lateral passing and often lack the courage and knowhow to break the line. But not the gutsy Heavron, who was in a class of his own, particularly going forward, where he kicked four points from play, set up the first goal and won other scoreable frees.
But the Oaks had serious defensive deficiencies, problems at times with their own kick-outs but, most of all, a major slice of bad luck. Few will recall the two tremendous stops made by Thomas Mallon prior to his blunder or the fact Derry had recovered from this to get back into the lead.
But the loss of Gareth McKinless prior to throw-in was a massive blow and one which robbed Derry of a serious man-marker better suited to snuffing out the threat of Tipp marksman Conor Sweeney, who kicked five points from play.
2. DEFENSIVELY, Derry lacked both structure and accountability. I’m thinking about the damage a Conor McManus would have done out there.
When you play like Derry did with lots of loose men behind the ball, you have got to ask yourself the following questions. Are your extra men doubling up on the opposition main scorers? Are the opposition players away from the ball who are in a scoring position being man-marked? Are the hard runners being tracked? Is the centre closed off? Are the tackles being executed early enough and with discipline?
In all these areas, Derry came up short and Tipperary had no problems picking pockets of space to exploit. I cannot recall one occasion when the lethal Conor Sweeney was being attended to by more than one man.
On the Derry team, I was also really impressed with forward Niall Loughlin. Very strong, not afraid to go at his man and extremely accurate. But at times, he was too far from the Tipperary goal, making tackles in his own defence.
Discipline in the tackle was a weakness as Tipperary scored 0-8 from frees.
3. WHEN you look at the scoreable frees stat and the overall free count, which read Tipperary 33 Derry 12, it is fair to ask the question: Did Marty Duffy show any hint of bias towards Tipperary?
There is no doubt Tipp were awarded at least two scoreable frees that were, at best, dubious, but it would be imbalanced to point this out and not admit Derry’s tackling was very poor. I don’t think I can ever recall a referee blowing for as many instances of overcarrying in the one game. I counted eight. Most of them were correct, but against the grain of what players are used to and usual refereeing standards.
The problem with blowing so sharply is where do you draw the line? Could Kevin O’Halloran have taken five or six (albeit short) steps before he fired to the net? I think he probably did.
4. THE goalkeeper has become so important and, as a result, is under more scrutiny than ever.
‘Postie’ will get slated, but two things people need to remember. Prior to this, Thomas Mallon made two point-blank saves and Derry had recovered sufficiently to hit a purple patch that brought them back into a winning position.
Before the blunder, he had mixed success with his kick-outs, but I felt, on occasion, he was actually let down by the player he had picked out on the run. The movement off the ball needed to be better. Understandably, his confidence was shot after the goal and, instead of going on his instinct, he drove every single kick down the centre, where Peter Acheson and Michael Quinlivan were dominant.
I also thought the red-haired Josh Keane had a massive second-half, where he won good possession and scored 0-2 from play. Brian Fox dropping back to sweep also worked in Tipperary’s favour.
5. AFTER the goal, it was no coincidence the turning of the game back in Derry’s favour came with the introduction of four subs.
This, coupled with a full press on the Tipperary kick-out, put them back in pole position. Emmet Bradley was barely on the field before he kicked a score and, not long after, he caught a kick-out to feed fellow sub Liam McGoldrick to score.
From the next Tipperary kick-out, Conor McAtamaney fetched and fed another sub, Christopher Bradley, to score. Tipp tried to go short from the restart, but another squeeze led to a turnover which ended with substitute Eoghan Brown finishing to the net. Derry had scored 1-2 off the Tipp kick-out courtesy of subs.
Before and after that, the Tipp goalie was able to pick his players out next to the sidelines too easily. Derry needed to mark from the outside to deny that space.