Fully-functioning Derry keep juggernaut on track against Fermanagh in Allianz Football League win
Allianz Football League Division Three: Derry 5-13 Fermanagh 0-9
FROM dysfunctional to fully-functioning, Derry have the cut of a team moving back towards the radar of Ulster football.
There are caveats to any performance, and no different on Saturday when Fermanagh brought no spark, lost Eoin Donnelly early on and conceded 2-3 during a black card spell.
But Derry sit top of Division Three North after two games with a scoring difference of +35. They’ve won by 16 points in Longford and now 19 points against a Fermanagh side that had just beaten Cavan.
They’ve done it conceding just 14 points across the two games, and there’s nothing about that statistic that could lead you to believe that it’s in any way attributable to the Rory Gallagher stereotypes.
Fermanagh operated with James McMahon as their sweeper and while Derry didn’t go mad, they pushed right up every chance they had and gave the green shirts no way out.
Eoin Donnelly’s twinged hamstring saw him make way after 20 minutes but the home side was already dominating the Fermanagh kickout. Once they got their own sorted too, it became one-way traffic.
Derry led by 1-7 to 0-6 at half-time but their control of the game was far greater than a four-point lead.
It wasn’t a particularly healthy scoring return from 17 attacks, but an unmistakable pattern had quickly emerged. Fermanagh were living off scraps around the middle and relying heavily on trying to get into the game a very isolated Sean Quigley, who had Chrissy McKaigue at very close quarters.
It was 1-1 to 0-4 after 11 minutes in which Fermanagh displayed a shade of their displeasure at being made warm-up on a back pitch while Derry used the main field.
But pretty much from the moment that Ethan Doherty shot off the shoulder and buried into the roof of Chris Snow’s net, the game had very little in the way of contest about it.
Ciaran McFaul’s huge 55-yard score in the opening moments of the second half ensured that all six of Derry’s starting forwards had scored against a Fermanagh team that came to counter-punch.
Derry played with a most unusual attacking shape. They would hug the touchlines from deep but at times they played with four inside forwards, all pretty much on the penalty spot. If anything it was clogged, and it was an area they didn’t congest as heavily after half-time.
The game’s outstanding player was Gareth McKinless. A phenomenal talent that Derry fans have been frustrated to see so little of in county colours, he ran their attack from number six. Fermanagh didn’t mark him and they paid when he broke free to coolly make use of the 2v1 and fire past Snow.
Josh Largo-Ellis was then black-carded for ripping down Ciaran McFaul just inside the 21’. A penalty was awarded under the new rule and Shane McGuigan slid it home.
McFaul then played a sumptuous pass in behind for McGuigan to ruthlessly bury Derry into a 4-9 to 0-7 lead. And they weren’t content at that, showing a killer instinct when Conor Glass cut in behind and squared for sub Niall Toner to blast home a fifth goal.
There could have been more, while Fermanagh’s only half-chance was an effort Kevin McDonnell punched on to the crossbar very late in the game.
Whether it’s what they were doing in lockdown that has them physically ahead of their peers at the minute, it’s hard to tell. Derry look sharper and fitter than anything around them at present.
“Derry are a very, very fit team. Very, very fit. A very, very fit team,” smiled Ryan McMenamin ruefully afterwards.
He just wanted the ground to swallow him whole after a sobering day that quickly flatlined the feelgood of beating the Ulster champions a week earlier.
Of Derry’s 5-13, 4-12 of it was from play. Fermanagh loaded the defence but couldn’t cope with the angles of running. Two of their own three points from play were scored inside the first three minutes.
“Last week was very good and it’s the problem maybe when you’re going with youth and boys that haven’t had a lot of football, you’re gonna get highs and you’re gonna get lows,” said McMenamin.
“There’s five, six boys that haven’t even played ten games. You’re throwing boys in at the deep end. You look at that Derry team and they have one or two 19-year-olds, the rest are mid-to-late 20s.
“Do you give youth a lash? You have to. Hopefully we’ll learn from it.
“We’re gonna get a lot of criticism this week and rightly so, but you have to roll with it.”
For his former boss and the weekend victor Gallagher, their relentlessness was an embodiment of his own sideline demeanour. Never happy, always wanting another and another.
For him, the sorting out of the problems goes back far beyond the quiet early months of 2021.
"It is a long time since March 2020. We set about changing a lot because I thought we were very dysfunctional for the first period that I was involved. There was a lot of ironing out to be done. I don't think lads realised what it takes.
"It is not as if they weren't putting in the time but let's put it in smarter with more togetherness and I think you are starting to see early signs of it.
“We are closer but we are still a long way away from where we want to be. We are definitely closer but it is a long way to go.”
Derry: O Lynch; C McKaigue, B Rogers, P McGrogan; Padraig Cassidy, G McKinless (0-1), C Doherty; C Glass (0-1), E Bradley; E Doherty (1-1), N Loughlin (0-1 free), C McFaul (0-1); B Heron (0-1), S McGuigan (2-5, 1-0pen), Paul Cassidy (0-1)
Subs: P McNeill for Doherty (50), N Toner (1-0) for Paul Cassidy (53), O McWilliams for Bradley (58), S Downey for Heron (60), B McCarron for Loughlin (64), J Doherty for Padraig Cassidy (64), D Cassidy for McGrogan (64)
Yellow card: C Doherty (10)
Fermanagh: C Snow; T Daly, J Cassidy, L Flanagan; J McMahon; J Largo-Ellis, K Connor, K McDonnell; E Donnelly, Stephen McGullion; C Corrigan (0-1), T Bogue (0-1), S Cassidy; D McGurn, S Quigley (0-7, 0-5 frees, 0-1 45’)
Subs: D McCusker for Donnelly (20), A Breen for McGurn (45), C Love for Cassidy (45), R O’Callaghan for Bogue (53), D Leonard for Daly (57), M McCauley for McMahon (57), P McCusker for Corrigan (62)
Blood replacement: C McManus for Daly (41-45)
Black card: J Largo-Ellis (45-55)
Referee: P Faloon (Down)