When all else fails, Derry simply stand up and fight off Mayo’s six-day old dream

22 June 2024; Conor Doherty of Derry celebrates after scoring the winning goal in the penalty shoot during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship preliminary quarter-final match between Mayo and Derry at Hastings Insurance MacHale Park in Castlebar, Mayo. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
22 June 2024; Conor Doherty of Derry celebrates after scoring the winning goal in the penalty shoot during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship preliminary quarter-final match between Mayo and Derry at Hastings Insurance MacHale Park in Castlebar, Mayo. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile (Seb Daly / SPORTSFILE/SPORTSFILE)
All-Ireland SFC preliminary quarter-final: Mayo 1-12 Derry 0-15 (AET, Derry win 4-3 on penalties)
From Cahair O’Kane in Castlebar

WHEN all else fails, you fight.

You just stand and you fight.

Derry were imperfectly human, blessed in a way to meet the very definition of imperfect and human themselves.

Mayo. The poor Mayo people like. How many different ways can they think of to hold the toes of their people just far enough inside the fire?

If Sam Callinan’s fisted effort in the fourth minute of stoppage time goes inside rather than outside the post, they get out of jail.

But that’s where they were at that point. Castlebar crackles like nowhere else but it also breathes flames of panic down on to the pitch that their players can feel. You could sense it inside 15 minutes, the idea that here, hold on, did we just not come within 17 seconds of beating Dublin to find ourselves behind to this ragged mess?

Derry weren’t that ragged mess this time.

It was evident from the very first turnover. Brendan Rogers, Ciaran McFaul, Diarmuid Baker, they converge on Tommy Conroy and they let him know they’re there. The whistle goes and Conor Glass fistpumps to the crowd. This is not the Derry that lay down in front of Donegal and Armagh.

It still took them two-and-a-half hours to find their way through the maze.

No place in Gaelic football is more confusing than this place. Mayo were all over the shop in the first half, second best in almost every department. Clearly the rocket went up them because within six minutes of the restart, they’d turned a three-point deficit into a lead.

Tommy Conroy decided he’d had enough of Baker’s close attention and just drove straight at him. Twice he pointed.

Yet in the real final throes of the game, when he opened his last gap of the night, he inexplicably drove the ball a mile into the sky, leaving it for the Gods to reach out and pull wide of the far post.

There can be no great pronouncements about Derry’s contendership off the back of it. It’s not a case that they’re suddenly back, especially given that they’re coming off sore, with ice packs strapped and bodies bruised and sleep in their eyes.

It’s Dublin, Kerry or Donegal next for them. You would imagine that, with the narrative turned a bit, they’d much prefer the Ulster champions of that trio.

But whatever about their performance needs worked on, it felt like by the end of the game it scarcely mattered whether they won the shootout or not.

Winning shootouts is what they do though. Whereas Armagh have a famously poor record, Derry’s is exemplary.

Conor Doherty’s winner, which he followed up with the Cole Palmer shiver celebration, was their 12th penalty across three shootouts. They’ve scored ten of them. Ethan Doherty rolled wide, Paul Cassidy had his saved against Armagh two years ago. Otherwise, they’ve been on the money.

Odhran Lynch made a big save from a strangely weak Ryan O’Donoghue penalty that had all the hallmarks of being psyched out by already having taken one in normal time. Which side will I go this time? And then you end up not hitting it at all.

It was Lynch’s seventh save in a penalty shootout out of 16 penalties faced. Another three have hit the woodwork, for which you might offer his huge imposing frame some credit.

Paul Towey had hit the base of the post, and that was enough in the end. Conor Doherty’s penalty just about evaded Colm Reape, leading to a delayed reaction in the crowd. For that split second, Mayo thought they’d survived again. But another dream is dead, six days after it began.

Lachlan Murray had kicked Derry through the first half. Three times Kevin McStay changed marked. Sam Callinan was only on him 20 seconds when the Desertmartin man kicked a sublime effort from out wide.

Then he decided he was up for beating Tommy Conroy in a sprint and he did that too, taking his tally to four in the first half, three from play and one mark.

Shane McGuigan hasn’t hit the heights of the league but when it was needed, he fetched an extra-time kickout, followed up behind it and scored a point that looked to have sealed it.

His Slaughtneil clubmate Brendan Rogers gave his best display of the season while Conor McCluskey kept Ryan O’Donoghue to a single rebound point from play. The penalty he did score was harsh on Gareth McKinless, whose biggest fault was not to put his hands into the block in some form, allowing a referee with whom he hasn’t had a great rapport to make a call.

McKinless had the last laugh. He was lambasted for his sending off in Galway but showed up on his return with a man of the match display.

Barring Padraig McGrogan and Niall Loughlin, it was the first time Derry had the puzzle pieces all back. That showed.

It showed in extra-time with the introduction of Niall Toner, whose best performances have been off the bench. He carried Derry out of trouble so often in those 20 minutes.

But mostly, they just looked like a team really fed up of being kicked about the place.

Chrissy McKaigue, of all men, palmed the equaliser of McKinless’ making in normal time, with Mickey Harte praising the ref for letting time run on. Five added minutes of the four were gone when he pointed. The game had stopped for 87 seconds in stoppage time for treatment to Diarmuid Baker and the withdrawal of Aidan O’Shea to a hero’s ovation.

It looked as he went off that Mayo had it.

Mayo never have it. That’s the third big game this year, Galway, Dublin and now Derry, that they’ve led in stoppage time and not won.

They will carve up the wrongs for another winter. You can’t question their heart but their execution at the buzzer just continually lets them down.

Derry? Maybe it only sustains them another week and maybe it brings them further.

They just fought. They just stood up and they fought.

Mayo: C Reape; R Brickenden, D McBrien, D McHugh; J Coyne, S Callinan (0-1), E McLaughlin; S Coen, M Ruane; T Conroy (0-2, 0-1 mark), J Carney, D McHale, J Flynn (0-2); A O’Shea (0-1), R O’Donoghue (1-4, 1-0 pen, 0-3 frees)
Subs: C Loftus (0-1) for McLaughlin (HT), D O’Connor for McHale (53), E Hession for Coyne (57), C O’Connor for Ruane (67), B Tuohy for O’Shea (70), P Towey (0-1) for Brickenden (80), M Plunkett for Callinan (86)
Derry: O Lynch; C McCluskey, C McKaigue (0-1); C McFaul, G McKinless (0-1); D Baker, E McEvoy, C Doherty; C Glass, B Rogers (0-2); E Doherty (0-2), E Bradley, P Cassidy; S McGuigan (0-4, 0-2 frees), L Murray (0-5, 0-1 mark)
Subs: E Mulholland for E Bradley (44), D Gilmore for C Doherty (67), C Murphy for Cassidy (67), N Toner for Murray (70), R Forbes for Baker (70), C Murphy for Cassidy (70), D Baker for Forbes (start of ET), P Cassidy for Murphy (start of ET), C Doherty for Baker (82)
Referee: B Cawley (Kildare)
Attendance: 13,955