Misfiring Derry make life hard for themselves as Gareth McKinless sees red in loss to Galway

Mickey Harte’s Derry lose All-Ireland Championship group opener to Galway

Gareth McKinless of Derry is shown a red card by referee Brendan Cawley. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Gareth McKinless of Derry is shown a red card by referee Brendan Cawley. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile (Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE/SPORTSFILE)

All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Group One, Round One: Galway 2-14 Derry 0-15

THE engine purred like a well-oiled machine does on the way to a League title but Derry have been stalling and stuttering since the Championship began.

The four weeks since their Ulster exit didn’t go particularly well. The Oak Leafers were missing Eoin McEvoy, Conor Doherty and Padraig McGrogan for this trip to Salthill and never found their groove against a businesslike Galway side.

The Tribesmen deserved their win but Mickey Harte’s men made life very hard for themselves on Saturday evening. Six scoring chances were taken out of 16 in the first half with five shots dropped short in the blustery wind but the big moment was Gareth McKinless’s needless red card for what the officials viewed as a stamp on Damien Comer.

Playing with 14 men is so difficult when a side is chasing a game but even then there were only two in it (0-8 to 0-6) at half-time and Derry got back on terms early in the second. Then a misdirected kickout handed Galway a goal via Sean Kelly but it could have been level again towards the end when Shane McGuigan jumped, caught, swivelled and blasted in a shot. Connor Gleeson fisted it away and Galway went up the other end and Cein Darcy slapped the ball into the Derry net.

That was that.

“I thought we played reasonably well,” said Galway manager Padraic Joyce afterwards.

“We took our chances when they came up and left a few behind us probably. It was a tactical kind of game, we kind of had a feeling it would go back to 15 behind the ball when the couple of injuries came in, so it took the lads a while to kind of come to terms with that after we lost the first two scores of the game.

“But overall I’d be very happy, in the second quarter we got 8-6 up just before half time and I think we controlled the game really well.”

Derry full-forward and now Allstar, Shane McGuigan.
Shane McGuigan almost bailed Derry out in Salthill but his shot was saved

Derry’s first two points – from Paul Cassidy and Emmet Bradley - came from swift turnovers but Galway levelled when Comer, who had four different companions in the first couple of minutes, grabbed Gleeson’s kickout ahead of Chrissy McKaigue and played in Matthew Tierney who split the posts as Odhran Lynch scrambled back onto his line.

McGuigan and Paul Conroy (still going strong 17 years after winning a minor All-Ireland) swapped scores and Ciaran McFaul and Rob Finnerty did the same before McKinless brought Comer down and then appeared to step on the Galway forward. After consulting with linesman Niall Cullen, referee Brendan Cawley flashed a red card.

Finnerty scored the free and Galway led for the first time but, with Derry stunned, the Tribesmen didn’t take advantage and points from the industrious Ethan Doherty and McGuigan meant there were only two in it at the break.

Derry needed a big second half from McGuigan and he was first Derry player to touch the ball after the break. It was near his own posts - blocking a Johnny McGrath shot – but it inspired his teammates and Derry were soon level. Conor Glass, who was ill during the week and not quite at his best, and Lachlan Murray got the scores.

Murray, who had an excellent second half, blotted his copybook as Galway countered by conceding a free. Finnerty chipped it over to edge the home side ahead again and then Tierney was alert as Lynch tried an eye-of-the-needle short kickout. He grabbed it and played the ball to Walsh who sent Kelly through and his shot beat Lynch. Diarmuid Baker blocked the ball on the line but Kelly bundled the rebound into the net.

Walsh added two points as Galway opened up a six-point lead and threatened to put the game to bed. But 14-man Derry chased and harried as the home side played keep-ball and points from McFaul, Rogers (both of whom got through a ton of work) and two from Murray left three in it (1-13 to 0-13) with 10 minutes left.

Then McFaul pumped the ball long and high into the square from the right. McGuigan out-jumped Johnny McGrath and blasted in a shot. A foot either side of Gleeson and the net would have bulged but the Galway goalie fisted the ball away, Dylan McHugh grabbed it and the Tribesmen raced to the other end of the field where Darcy swapped passes with Daniel O’Flaherty and palmed the ball to the net to seal the points.

Derry kept fighting, McFaul was in the thick of it and McGuigan and Donncha Gilmore (his first in Championship football) scored points. Shea Downey had a late shot blocked but it wasn’t Derry’s day.

There’s more in them and they need to produce it when Armagh arrive at Celtic Park in a fortnight.

Derry: O Lynch; C McCluskey, C McKaigue, D Baker; E Bradley (0-1), D Cassidy, G McKinless; C Glass (0-1), B Rogers (0-1); E Doherty (0-1), C McFaul (0-2), P Cassidy (0-1); N Toner, S McGuigan (0-4, 0-2 frees), L Murray (0-3)

Subs: D Gilmore (0-1) for Cassidy (HT), E Mulholland for Toner (47), C McMonagle for Murray (67), S Downey for McFaul (69)

Yellow cards: McFaul (15), Bradley (69)

Red card: McKinless (21)

Galway: C Gleeson; J McGrath, S Fitzgerald, J Glynn; D McHugh, J Daly (0-2), L Silke; P Conroy (0-3), S Kelly (1-0); J Heaney (0-1), J Maher, M Tierney (0-1); R Finnerty (0-4, 0-2 frees), D Comer, S Walsh (0-2)

Subs: C Darcy (1-0) for Comer (46), C McDaid for Maher (58), O’Flaherty for Kelly (61), C O Curraoin for Finnerty (13), L O Conghaile (0-1) for Heaney (65)

Yellow cards: O’Flaherty (65), Tierney (65)

Referee: B Cawley (Kildare)