“You want to put players in against the best’: Harte has no regrets as Dublin defeat much-changed Derry

Allianz Football League Division One, round 5: Derry 1-11 Dublin 1-16

Derry Shane McGuigan with Brian Howard of Dublin
Derry Shane McGuigan with Brian Howard of Dublin during the National Football League match played at Celtic Park in Derry on Saturday 2nd of March 2024. Picture Margaret McLaughlin (Margaret McLaughlin Photography )

Mickey Harte insisted he had no regrets about sending out an understrength team despite Dublin deservedly inflicting a first League defeat on his Derry side.

The Dubs led from the first minute and never looked in real danger of being caught, even after an excellent goal from Conor McCluskey, with substitute Cormac Costello sealing victory by netting with his first touch after 50 minutes.

Derry made seven changes from the side which had started their fourth consecutive win last weekend against Galway. The entirely new half-back line named comprised Shea Downey back in the side after a lengthy absence while Donncha Gilmore and Eunan Mulholland were making first League starts. Emmett Bradley came into midfield, and Niall Toner, Lachlan Murray, and Cormac Murphy started in attack.

Harte stood by his changes, saying: “You want to put players in against the best and see what that standard is like. Some of our newer and younger players will have seen that tonight and that’s good.

“The men we brought on at half-time added a bit of power to our game but we still didn’t get the scores we needed – we created plenty of chances even in the first half – but maybe we weren’t that good at taking them, but that’s to do with the pressure that Dublin put on you as well. It’s not just to do with our waywardness.”

With Conor Glass among those rested, the captain’s armband went back to Shane McGuigan, and he showed his class again with seven points, including four from play in the second period.

Dublin paid him the compliment of plenty of attention, and a variety of markers. Five different men picked him up inside the opening quarter, while the Small brothers got physical with the Slaughtneil man. First Paddy came back to clatter into him, earning a deserved yellow card, then later on John grabbed him to set off a scuffle, but Derry kept their tempers and discipline.

Derry forward Cormac Murphy takes on Cian Murphy of Dublin
Derry forward Cormac Murphy takes on Cian Murphy of Dublin during the National Football League match played at Celtic Park in Derry on Saturday 2nd of March 2024. Picture Margaret McLaughlin (Margaret McLaughlin Photography )

Dublin’s only alteration from the previous weekend’s big win over Kerry involved bringing in Brian Howard for Theo Clancy and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the visitors started more strongly, with Ciaran Kilkenny to the fore.

Yet they were also wasteful with some opportunities, and even when they did carve out a goal chance, with Niall Scully seizing on a Derry kick-out to give Con O’Callaghan a great opening, the Cuala man’s cross-shot was pushed behind by goalkeeper Ryan Scullion.

Somehow the first quarter ended with a just a point in it, Dublin only ahead by 0-4 to 0-3. They then seemed to take control with three scores in a row for a four-point lead, but Derry hit back and hit the net. Patient in possession, corner-forward Cormac Murphy sent a smart hand-pass through to the run of McCluskey, and he lashed low into the goal.

Only two behind at the break, 1-4 to 0-9, Harte sent on Eoin McEvoy, Padraig McGrogan, and Ethan Doherty, but despite McGuigan finding space to score from play it was Dublin who remained on top, with Brian Fenton particularly impressive.

Derry were still threatening on counter-attacks and Gilmore seized on a poor cross-field kick-pass by Dubs sub Tom Lahiff to instantly release McGuigan – but his attempted long distance lob could not quite elude David O’Hanlon, who leapt to turn it away with an outstretched glove.

Yet the very next minute it was Dublin who goaled, Costello firing in after a Niall Scully effort was batted off the line by a Derry defender.

Derry, led by McGuigan, stuck at it, but Dublin as so often controlled the game and eased to victory.

The Oak Leafers have more to offer, of course, but on this evidence Dublin remain the side to beat.

Derry: R Scullion; C McCluskey (1-0), C McKaigue, D Baker; S Downey, D Gilmore, E Mulholland; E Bradley (0-1), B Rogers; D Cassidy, C McFaul, N Toner; L Murray (0-1), S McGuigan (capt.) (0-7, 0-3 frees), C Murphy.

Substitutes: E McEvoy (0-1) for McKaigue (h-t); P McGrogan for Downey (h-t); E Doherty for Mulholland (h-t); P Cassidy (0-1) for Murphy (47); C McGuckian for Murray (59).

Dublin: D O’Hanlon; S McMahon, B Howard, E Murchan; C Murphy, J Small, L Gannon (0-1); B Fenton (0-3), P O Cofaigh Byrne; R McGarry (0-2), S Bugler (0-1), C Kilkenny (0-4); P Small (0-1), C O’Callaghan (0-3 frees), N Scully.

Substitutes: T Lahiff for O Cofaigh Byrne (hpt); C Costello (1-0) for P Small (50); L O’Dell (0-1) for McGarry (56); G McEneaney for Gannon (inj., 68); K McGinnis for Scully (72).

Referee: Martin McNally (Monaghan).

Attendance: 13,265.