‘It’s very disappointing because it’s a long time to the beginning of the new season’: Mickey Harte downbeat as Derry bow out to Kerry

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

Sean O'Sheaand Adrian Spillane celebrate a late point as Kerry closed in on victory over Derry on Sunday. Picture by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Sean O'Shea and Adrian Spillane celebrate a late point as Kerry closed in on victory over Derry on Sunday. Picture by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile (Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE/SPORTSFILE)

IN the end, Derry just didn’t have enough – their stay of execution in this year’s All-Ireland Championship ended as Kerry plodded rather than purred into a semi-final showdown with Armagh.

This was nothing like the electrifying drama of last year’s meeting between the pair, the collateral damage accrued in Championship defeats to Donegal, Galway and Armagh driving Mickey Harte’s men into defensive mode in a bid to save a season that promised so much when claiming the Division One crown three months ago.

David and Paudie Clifford were relatively quiet by their own high standards, so too Sean O’Shea, while Tom O’Sullivan didn’t trouble the scoreboard. Yet, despite the Trojan first half efforts of Shane McGuigan, Derry’s otherwise toothless attack never threatened to turn the screw as stalemate toed and froed.

Despite the momentum gathered from that penalty shoot-out win over Mayo in Castlebar eight days earlier, they lacked the confidence – and the composure – to go for the kill. And in a Championship blown open by Dublin’s Saturday night exit, those are the regrets Derry must live with when winter comes.

“It’s a very sombre dressing room that we’re in now,” said Harte.

“It’s been a challenge to get back to the level we had in the National League, and we took a few games in the last few weeks to get a bit of confidence back again… I thought that confidence was very much back on the back of the result against Mayo.

“But look, we were meeting an established team who are no strangers to All-Ireland quarter-finals, semi-finals and winning them. So we had a tough battle out there today.

“I felt that we did well up to the 60th minute or so, keeping in touch and when you consider that we held David Clifford and Sean O’Shea to a pretty meagre return for their standards [six points, three from play], you would have thought we had a reasonable chance of finishing the game out.

“But I suppose we weren’t efficient enough and clinical enough ourselves and it’s not hard to guess that 10 points won’t win many Championship matches in Croke Park.”

The game was all square at 0-8 apiece on 52 minutes, but the introduction of substitutes Cillian Burke, Killian Spillane and Dylan Geaney helped push the Kingdom over the line as Derry’s challenge fell flat.

“When you lose in this situation, it’s easy to make those things a reality, or a narrative that fits well. I can’t say for certain because I felt that we were okay going into the game… because Kerry pulled away, it seemed to be that you could suggest that, but I’m not sure.

“I think if we’d been more clinical with our own possession, then the gap wouldn’t have widened and it could have been a nip and tuck game to the very end… if we’d kept it as a point game, or no more than that at any stage, we’d have felt pretty good going into the last two or three minutes.

“Once it started to open out into three points against a team like Kerry and the way the modern game is played, people can keep ball and you’ve got to go after it.

“If you allow yourself to be in a place where you need scores in a short space of time at the end of a game now, then you’re going to have a lot of trouble a lot of the time.”

Reflecting on the campaign immediately after an All-Ireland exit is never easy – especially one that started so well before collapsing in spectacular fashion, leading to speculation over Harte’s future before those victories over Westmeath and Mayo got them temporarily back on track.

“I’d say it [Derry’s season] was reasonable,” he said.

“Obviously, if you win Division One of the League, that’s something to be happy about. Disappointing in Ulster in the Championship, disappointing in the round games. The fact that we survived to reach a quarter-final here today, I suppose, makes it reasonable as well.

“But obviously, highly disappointing. We did intend to be back for a few more games here, at least one, maybe two, and that’s not happening.

“And that’s very disappointing because it’s a long time to the beginning of the new season and it looks so far away now for everybody involved. But that’s life and sport now.”