Kenny Archer: Derry very relaxed despite Dublin defeat

Kenny Archer

Kenny Archer

Kenny is the deputy sports editor and a Liverpool FC fan.

Derry and Dublin in action
Derry and Dublin in action during the National Football League match played at a packed Celtic Park in Derry on Saturday 2nd of March 2024. Picture Margaret McLaughlin Copyright / Strictly for one single reproduction by Irish News only / Strictly not for prints or re-sale / McLaughlin Copyright (Margaret McLaughlin Photography )

As the Allianz Football League moves towards its final two rounds, Mickey Harte has surely been the most relaxed GAA man in Ireland.

Last weekend, managers of every other county were desperately trying to secure league points, for a variety of reasons.

Many were trying to add to their tally in a push for promotion, but that wasn’t a concern for the former Tyrone boss, with Derry back in the top flight after a remarkable ascent in recent seasons. Certain counties have to worry about their league placing ahead of the Championship, but Derry know they’ll be competing in – and for – the Sam Maguire Cup.

Others were desperately aiming to stave off relegation, or simply save some face by getting points on the board - but the Oak Leafers’ top flight status had already been assured.

Derry manager Mickey Harte
Derry manager Mickey Harte makes his way off the pitch at half time against 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 )

Indeed Harte said at the weekend that staying up had been Derry’s aim for this campaign, and that there hadn’t been a temptation to go toe to toe with Dublin:

“No, there wasn’t. Our ambition was to try and secure Division One status and while it’s not mathematically one thousand per cent, we did feel it was in a right good place, so we felt it was time to maybe make a few changes and give a few other lads a chance.”

The highly intelligent Harte was, of course, correct regarding that figure he quoted – but Derry were definitely 100 per cent certain to stay up after winning their first four matches.

That absolutely earned them the right to send out a much-changed team against the Dubs, showing seven different starters from the win against Galway.

Harte has always taken the League seriously. Heck, this is the man who won 12 McKenna Cups in 18 seasons with Tyrone, also reaching four finals – and who made sure that Derry retained that trophy earlier this season. So the League is not a competition he ever takes lightly either.

However, Derry had already ticked many boxes for their new manager: away wins over Kerry and Galway book-ending comfortable successes over Ulster rivals Tyrone and Monaghan.

This was a game that Derry did not need to win, and definitely didn’t need to try their hardest to win, even though they could have gone for it with a fortnight’s gap between games.

Yet had the strongest available Oak Leaf outfit taken on and lost to Dublin then that could have adversely affected confidence.

Or if Derry had defeated Dublin in Celtic Park again, repeating the feat from Division Two last year, the hype and pressure swirling around Harte’s charges would have ratcheted up another level.

Derry didn’t ‘throw’ the game; in fact Harte sent on Eoin McEvoy, Padraig McGrogan, and Ethan Doherty at half-time, then later introduced Paul Cassidy. Captain Conor Glass did remain off the pitch, as did the injured Conor Doherty, and the versatile Allstar Gareth McKinless.

After a game that did Derry no harm to lose, another twist – the brilliance of their full-forward Shane McGuigan apparently highlighting a weakness in their team.

They have great defenders and midfielders, but, the question was again posed, do they have enough top class forwards?

Derry still don’t carry the quality among their other attackers that Dublin have to offer, nor even Kerry.

Yet arguably the Oak Leafers have a greater spread of scoring threats, with goal-scorers all the way back into their full-back line, as demonstrated yet again by Conor McCluskey against Dublin.

Derry's Conor McCluskey celebrates his goal against Dublin
Derry's Conor McCluskey roars away from the net after scoring a goal against 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 )

Midfielders Conor Glass and Brendan Rogers can both create and score, while the danger Derry pose with their runners from deep is demonstrated every time they take the field.

Harte has always been a pragmatist, happy to take scores from any and every source. He’ll also be delighted to have seen McGuigan winning frees, kicking four points from play, and generally troubling a series of Dublin defenders who didn’t hold back in giving him a physical buffeting.

A capacity crowd of more than 13,000 would undoubtedly have preferred a full tilt, blood and thunder clash all over the pitch between two of the very best teams in the country.

It would have been especially brilliant to see Derry’s inspirational skipper Glass engage in centre-field combat against the best midfielder of this century, Brian Fenton. Indeed the Raheny man has built a strong case to be regarded as the best ever in that role – but Glass has been putting quite a body of work together too since his return from Australia.

Even had Derry sent out an entire second string supporters would still have turned out to see the All-Ireland Champions in action – and their own heroes.

There’s a huge buzz around Derry in recent times.

Saturday evening was a setback on the scoreboard, but it wasn’t a result that wiped the smiles off the faces of their supporters.

Come round six and Derry will be able to test themselves against another All-Ireland contender in Mayo, before hosting Roscommon in round seven.

If they want to, if they need to, they’ll win that to secure a place in the final.

Knowing Mickey Harte, they will want to, unlike certain counties who may want to avoid and extra game before the Championship begins.

Told that Dublin boss Dessie Farrell had said Derry were effectively in the final, he replied with a laugh: “We’ll have to hold him to that!”