Derry’s regression visible as they fail to capitalise on Kerry’s coldness

Chances like that don’t fall to the Derrys of the world very often. And that will hurt. It will hurt like hell.

Kerry’s Cillian Burke and Paudie Clifford celebrate after the game. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Kerry’s Cillian Burke and Paudie Clifford celebrate after the game. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne (©INPHO/Ryan Byrne ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne/©INPHO/Ryan Byrne)

All-Ireland SFC quarter-final: Kerry 0-15 Derry 0-10

A KISS from the post, a Paul Cassidy equaliser and 50 minutes after the alarm went off, sleepy Croke Park rubs its eyes and peers through the blinds.

It’s 0-8 apiece. There are 20 minutes to go.

It was at that exact moment, the 50th minute of last year’s epic semi-final, that Shane Ryan spread himself to deny Gareth McKinless with a brilliant save. The score then was 1-12 apiece.

Two teams that thrilled the nation last year shot a tranquiliser dart at football on Sunday afternoon.

What this game proved definitively was the rate of Derry’s decline over the last twelve months.

The Derry of 2023 would have eaten this Kerry performance alive. Perhaps, and there is some merit in it, Jack O’Connor’s side knew they weren’t facing the same level of challenge this time around. Maybe that excuses their flatness to a degree.

Whatever it was, they were sitting there to be beaten.

Derry had frustrated them, slowed them up, turned them backwards. That was enough not to lose heavily.

But nobody in the stadium really ever believed that it would be enough to win.

You sensed the Derry players were no different.

It was all about safety and containment and staying alive but at some point when the shark is chasing you through the water, you have to try and find dry land or you end up dead anyway.

Beyond Gareth McKinless’ early burst through, similar to his chance last year only finishing this one with his shot going wide, they never trespassed on the Kerry square again.

Shane McGuigan slipped into his best very quickly, taking Jason Foley for two from play inside 11 minutes and then producing a brilliant goal-saving block to deny Gavin White.

David Clifford looked threatening early on too, running straight at Chrissy McKaigue the first chance he got, skipping past challenges, pointing. Then a long ball and a mark taken over two men, McKaigue and Diarmuid Baker, but thereafter he was quiet. Glass protected the space in front, McKaigue passed him on to Brendan Rogers when he roamed, and his 30mph summer continued.

Conor Doherty locked Paudie Clifford down fairly well. Conor McCluskey lost one point to Paul Geaney. Eoin McEvoy did ok for a long time on Sean O’Shea. Gavin White never really hurt them, Tom O’Sullivan wasn’t hugely involved.

All of that had to happen for Derry to win, but Mickey Harte’s side had to go and take advantage of it at the other end too. That never looked likely.

The pedestrian nature of their attacking play just felt like such a regressive step, much closer to the 2022 defeat by Galway, if not further behind it again.

But they weren’t in the headspace to go the other way either. The wounds of the defeats by Donegal, Galway and Armagh haven’t healed. They may not now, because it has made them question everything about themselves, what they’re doing and where they’re heading.

The sorest part of it on Monday morning will be their exclusion from the last four. Had they continued on the trajectory they were on for the past few seasons, Derry could have been heading into a last four with Donegal, Galway and Armagh looking at a really brilliant chance of winning a second All-Ireland in the county’s history.

And the window is short for counties like Derry.

Last year they had four Allstars. They will do well to get a single nomination in 2024.

It’s probable that this was Chrissy McKaigue’s last game of a career that stretches back to 2008. He regained some small credit after last year’s battle with Clifford.

Brendan Rogers, Gareth McKinless and Ciaran McFaul have moved into their 30s. This was such an opportunity lost.

There will be questions over the future of Mickey Harte, understandably, though he didn’t sound like a man going anywhere in his post-match press conference.

A team that looked to be moving towards an All-Ireland looked so far away from it here and the worry for Oak Leaf fans is whether the ship can turned by the same captain that has steered it off course.

Four championship defeats, a win over Westmeath and the creditable penalty shootout success in Castlebar is not the profit and loss sheet you would have anticipated them lodging at the start of the footballing year.

Kerry were given their bit of punch by man of the match Brian Ó Beaglaoich and Paul Murphy. There were big defensive moments from Diarmuid O’Connor. Cillian Burke’s exuberance, Killian Spillane’s usual cameo, they did enough.

But mostly it was another layer on top of the evidence that Armagh will have noted: if you slow them down and turn them backwards, you can frustrate the hell out of them.

The coldness of their first big game of the year is nothing new to a Kerry team. Perhaps they find a more energetic version of themselves in two weeks’ time. But there are very much 2021 vibes about the summer now.

An All-Ireland is sitting there to be won by somebody.

Chances like that don’t fall to the Derrys of the world very often.

And that will hurt. It will hurt like hell.


Kerry: S Ryan; P Murphy, J Foley, T O’Sullivan; B Ó Beaglaoich (0-1), T Morley, G White (0-1); D O’Connor (0-1), J O’Connor (0-1); T Brosnan (0-2), P Clifford, S O’Shea (0-3, 0-2 frees), D Moynihan; D Clifford (0-3, 0-1 mark), P Geaney (0-1)

Subs: C Burke for Moynihan (52), K Spillane (0-1) for P Geaney (57), D Geaney (0-1) for Brosnan (62), A Spillane for J O’Connor (68), M Breen for Ó Beaglaoich (72) Derry: O Lynch (0-1); C McCluskey, C McKaigue, D Baker; C Doherty, G McKinless, E McEvoy; C Glass (0-1), B Rogers (0-2); E Doherty, C McFaul, E Mulholland, P Cassidy (0-1); S McGuigan (0-5, 0-2 frees), L Murray

Subs: N Toner for Mulholland (38), N Loughlin for Murray (59), E Bradley for McFaul (65), C Murphy for Cassidy (65) Referee: D Coldrick (Meath)

Attendance: 47,406