Derry stand on their own two feet in epic win over Dublin

Oak Leafers claim seventh Division One title, a first since 2008, in dramatic penalty shootout against the All-Ireland champions

Derry’s Conor Glass collects the Allianz GAA Football League Division One trophy after beating Dublin in Sunday's final at Croke Park. Picture: Mark Marlow
Derry’s Conor Glass collects the Allianz GAA Football League Division One trophy after beating Dublin in Sunday's final at Croke Park. Picture: Mark Marlow
Allianz Football League Division One final: Dublin 2-21 Derry 3-18 (AET; Derry win 3-1 on penalties)

IN his 1967 essay ‘Where The Action Is’, Erving Goffman wrote of German-American high-wire artist Karl Wallenda that “to be on the wire is life; the rest is waiting.”

This was life on the wire. Where you have to put the fear to the back of your mind and just go with it.

Whether Derry had come out the right side of a penalty shootout only mattered in terms of having silverware to put at the front of the Chambers bus for the road home. By that stage, they’d gotten everything else they wanted out of a compelling 90 minutes of football.

They’d gotten under Dublin’s skin. The last few moments of extra-time were indicative.

Brian Fenton was given the first straight red card of his career for uncharacteristically lashing out at Eunan Mulholland in the middle of the field while the ball was 70 yards away.

In the time in between that and the game stopping, Dublin missed a goal chance. They kept hold of their 45′ despite the red card and from Evan Comerford’s decision to go short and their discipline not to encroach on the square, they got their rewards.

Greg McEnaney somehow found a fraction of a yard in a sea of red shirts to lash into the top corner. Penalties.

Amid the elation, Dublin lost themselves. A gaggle of players went after Conor McCluskey as they streamed out in a manner you could only compare to the famous Martin Keown-Ruud van Nistelrooy sketch. That begat a messy few moments.

Dublin have never been bad winners, not in all of the last 13 years of unprecedented success. That’s how much Derry had gotten inside their heads.

Now, the other side of it is that you imagine Dessie Farrell’s men will keep Derry there for the rest of the summer. Should they meet again, Derry best be ready to bring war, because they’ll need it.

But that’s for another day.

There are caveats to the caveats. At some point, Stephen Cluxton, Michael Fitzsimons, Davy Byrne, James McCarthy won’t get back in. Eventually, Dublin need somebody to displace them, for their own health.

As far as know right now, they’ll all be summer regulars again, as will Lee Gannon, Cormac Costello, Jack McCaffrey, Paddy Small and Paul Mannion, the last two of whom came off the bench here.

Yet none of them have featured in a league campaign where Dublin had scored more than any team in Division One this century. They’d blown everyone away and seemed to be playing next-level football.

Derry shied away from the game in Celtic Park a few weeks ago and were questioned for it.

Mickey Harte, 21 years after winning the league in his first year with Tyrone, can feel plenty vindicated now.

At the end of normal time, Jim McGuinness popped up on the big screen, fresh from his side’s Division Two win over Armagh. The two games were night-and-day in terms of their approach. Where the first game was methodical, this was free and fluid.

Eoin McEvoy hit 2-2 on a stunning day. When he’s in on goal, the ball is getting hit hard, no two ways about it. The first off the underside of the bar, the second pummelling the roof of Evan Comerford’s net, they were key scores.

Shane McGuigan netted a penalty after Ethan Doherty was fouled after getting goalside, and they could have had more. Doherty had one cleared off the line, Paul Cassidy flashed one across goal, Lachlan Murray dragged one past the near post.

The sides were level at half-time, full-time and the end of extra-time, and separated by just a point midway through the extra 20 minutes.

Take the caveats away and you’re still looking for signs of progress from Derry at this stage, things that will take them to the next level. There was an irony in the way Donnacha Gilmore was robbed by John Small for Dublin’s equaliser in the 74th minute of normal time. When it’s come down to it in big games before, Derry haven’t been able to get their own kickouts away in those big moments. With Odhran Lynch and the movement combined, they were superb at it here.

They took Dublin’s aggressive press and threw it back in their faces. When Derry were forced long and won it, they transferred the ball forward as quick as they could. So often they got in behind the Dubs’ midfield and half-backs and hurt them.

Conor Doherty was excellent on Ciaran Kilkenny, while Brendan Rogers gave his best display of the year in the battle with Brian Fenton that everyone thought would be Conor Glass’s.

For 50 minutes, Lachlan Murray was the scoring addition to Derry’s attack that they’ve been crying out for. On a night when Shane McGuigan didn’t exactly run amok, Derry hit 2-15 in normal time. That they’re breaching that 20-point mark in a big game in Croke Park is hugely significant in itself.

Dublin made them man-up. It was frenetic, a throwback at times, a hard-squeezing, eye-popping rollercoaster ride that most men wouldn’t have withstood the pressure of. President Jarlath Burns enthused wildly on the microphone about what amateur athletes had just produced over almost two hours, to rapturous noise from everyone left enclosed in north Dublin’s big house.

The Dubs hurt Derry plenty. Three down in the first half, they were level by the break. Four down with 14 minutes to play, they got extra-time out of it. Three down on the last kick, they took it to penalties.

Derry will celebrate and Dublin will know there’s a serious challenger out there in the wilds of the Sperrins, but the All-Ireland champions will see plenty of good in themselves too when they look at this one back.

Their full-back line and their half-forward line will see the most of the improvement that they undoubtedly have left to give.

Maybe Gaelic football does have a summer ahead of it and Sam Maguire isn’t on a loop back home to Smithfield Square in late July.

We know more about Dublin’s fringe men now. Sean McMahon and Cian Murphy were comfortable on the ball but uncomfortable off it. Tom Lahiff had a tough afternoon. It was the man with Faughanvale blood, Killian McGinnis, who perhaps gave the best account in the time that he was on.

Derry are learning to walk the wire. They played this way against Kerry last year and backed it up, proved that they’re no longer utterly reliant on the system but that they can individually stand on their own two feet.

Dublin: E Comerford; S McMahon (0-1), C Murphy (0-2), E Murchan; B Howard (0-1), J Small, S Bugler (0-1); B Fenton, T Lahiff (0-2); R McGarry (0-2), K McGinnis (0-1), C Kilkenny; C Basquel (1-1), C O’Callaghan (0-5 frees), N Scully (0-1)
Subs: P Mannion (0-1 free) for McGinnis (52), P Small (0-1) for Basquel (57), L O’Dell for Scully (57), K O’Gara (0-2) for McGarry (70), T Clancy for Murchan (80), C O’Connor for MacMahon (80), G McEneaney (1-0) for Bugler (87)
Red cards: B Fenton (straight red, 92), P Small (second yellow, 94).
Derry: O Lynch; C McCluskey, C McKaigue, D Baker; C Doherty (0-1), E McEvoy (2-2), P McGrogan; C Glass (0-2, 0-1 45), B Rogers (0-1); E Doherty (0-1), C McFaul, Paul Cassidy; N Loughlin (0-1), S McGuigan (1-4, 1-0pen, 0-2 frees), L Murray (0-4, 0-1 mark)
Subs: G McKinless for McGrogan (HT), N Toner (0-2) for McKinless (53), C Murphy for Loughlin (66), D Gilmore for Cassidy (70), E Bradley for Murray (78), D Cassidy for McKaigue (81), E Mulholland for C Doherty (88)
Referee: C Lane (Cork)
Attendance: 33,121