Demolition Derry destroy poor Clare with record-breaking five-goal salvo
All-Ireland SFC quarter-final: Derry 5-13 Clare 2-8
WHEN you go low, we go high. While poor Clare may wonder how they sank to such depths on the biggest stage, Derry will quite rightly be delighted that they cruised to victory without actually slipping into top gear very often.
There were quite a few moments of magnificence from the men in red and white, of course. Even if the Oak Leafers did not quite hit the heights, they did hit the nets five times, raising the roof of the Canal End goals on three occasions, then adding two more facing into the Hill.
All were fine finishes, in their different ways. In the process, Derry recorded a record-breaking tally for themselves at headquarters, matching the combined total from their last two Championship appearances here, in 2011 and 2007.
It was clear that this was a non-contest as early as the end of the first quarter, when Derry led by 2-2 to 0-1. Clare had only opened their account a minute earlier, from an Eoin Cleary free, and didn't score from play - or again - until Jamie Malone registered on the half hour.
The scariest aspect for the Banner men was that Derry were missing chances, and weren't performing all that well overall.
The most pleasing part for Oak Leaf boss Rory Gallagher is that his team will still have plenty to work on ahead of their semi-final.
Somewhat bizarrely, Derry conceded more goals against Clare than they had done in their last five Ulster SFC matches - which were against Donegal (twice), Monaghan, Tyrone, and Armagh. Goalkeeper Odhran Lynch had a very mixed day.
However, even when Clare did grab goals, Derry hit back and hit their net again almost immediately.
Their goal-grabbing could be described as clinical, but they still weren't totally ruthless. This double scores defeat probably flattered Clare, as Derry could have plundered a few more goals - and might have shipped more too.
Those moans about majors are minor quibbles, though.
This was a wonderful occasion for Derry, one on which they set a new standard.
On a windy day, the Oak Leafers not only blew away Clare but also the idea that they play 'defensive football'.
By half-time, with 3-6 on the scoreboard, Derry had already equalled or exceeded all but two of their previous Championship tallies at Croke Park. With the first score of the second half, their fourth goal, they broke all previous records.
Even on the county's most famous footballing day, the 1993 All-Ireland Final, their total was only 1-14, matching the 3-8 they had registered in semi-final defeat by Dublin in 1975.
Indeed Derry went on to score more goals than they'd managed in their six previous senior Championship outings at Croke Park in this century, having failed to find the net at all on their last three visits.
Despite a slow start, it took them less than nine minutes to do so, and they netted again four minutes later - first through Benny Heron, then with a beauty from the outstanding Conor Glass.
Paul Cassidy blasted in a third in first half added time, Gareth McKinless sauntered through for a clever finish, and Shane McGuigan capped his terrific display with the fifth, with a third of the match still to be played.
This was perhaps the first ever seven-goal non-thriller.
Both managers' approaches contributed somewhat to the glut of goals. Clare's Colm Collins brought Cillian Brennan into his defence instead of Alan Sweeney and went man-to-man rather than deploying a sweeper - to Derry's delight.
Gallagher had Gareth McKinless in that protective role in his rearguard, but partly as a consequence of sending Brendan Rogers to midfield, where he revelled - although he was outshone by the imperious Glass.
Derry's attacking intent was also clear in the way they pushed up against Clare's short kick-outs.
Sure, it took more than five minutes for their first score to come, and that was from a Niall Loughlin free, but that certainly did not set the tone for the match.
Derry converted only one more free (and only missed one, late on), and their next score was a goal. Tristan O'Callaghan's kick-out towards the retreating Cathal O'Connor went over the midfielder and Niall Toner seized the ball.
In a flash, possession went to Ethan Doherty and onto Heron, whose shot flew high past the Clare 'keeper.
Young Doherty was again involved in the second goal four minutes later, taking the ball on from the excellent Conor McCluskey and supplying Glass who fairly roofed it.
Clare finally got going through that Cleary free and then Padraic Collins found freedom on the left, but saw his snap-shot turned around by Odhran Lynch - and Keelan Sexton sent the '45' wide.
The Banner's full-forward wasn't getting a sniff out of Derry captain Chrissy McKaigue. Worse, his opposite number McGuigan then found his form after some earlier wides, scoring three quick points.
10 behind, Clare hopes lifted when Collins and Ciaran Russell set up Pearse Lillis for a close range goal in the 33rd minute - but in added time the Slaughtneil duo of Rogers and McGuigan combined to feed Cassidy for a fierce finish, and Derry led by 3-6 to 1-3 at the break.
Clare sent on Sweeney for corner-back Cillian Rouine but any thoughts that the second half might go better for them were quickly dispelled.
Loughlin cut in for a low shot which Manus Doherty kept out of the goals, but inside five minutes McKinless cantered through to loft a lovely shot which the keeper could only help into his own net.
Cleary capitalised on a needless rush out by Lynch, nipping in to slide the ball to the unguarded net, but the very next minute McGuigan replied with a goal of his own.
At 5-8 to 2-3 in the 48th minute the jig was obviously up. It may have five scores each after that, with Cleary and McGuigan displaying their scoring prowess, but the difference between the two teams was stark.
Derry will obviously face a much tougher test in the semi-final, their first appearance in the last four for 18 years, but on this showing they can be confident about their chances of ending their 29-year wait for an All-Ireland Final appearance.
The Oak Leaf followers on the Hill may have sung repeatedly about wishing to be 'back home in Derry', but they'll be back in Croke at least once more this year.
Derry: O Lynch; C McKaigue (capt.), C McCluskey (0-1); C Doherty, S Downey, G McKinless, P McGrogan; B Rogers, C Glass (1-1); P Cassidy (1-1), S McGuigan (1-8, 0-1 free), E Doherty; B Heron (1-1), N Loughlin (0-1 free) , N Toner.
Substitutes: E Bradley for Heron (48); L Murray for Loughlin (53); B McCarron for Glass (61); P McNeill for Downey (66); D Cassidy for McGuigan (68).
Yellow cards: McCluskey (14); Glass (15).
Clare: T O'Callaghan; M Doherty, C Russell, C Rouine; C O'Dea, C Brennan, J Malone (0-1); D O'Neill, C O'Connor; P Lillis (1-0), E Cleary (1-5, 0-2 frees), E McMahon; P Collins, K Sexton, A Griffin.
Substitutes: A Sweeney for C Rouine (h-t); B Rouine for McMahon (43); D Tubridy (0-2 frees) for Griffin (43); J McGann for Sexton (53); G Cooney for Collins (53).
Yellow cards: O'Neill (40); Russell (41).
Referee: Martin McNally (Monaghan).
Rory Gallagher sprang something of a surprise by moving Brendan Rogers to midfield, with Gareth McKinless dropping back into defence, but that merely allowed the former's footballing ability to flourish - and the Ballinderry man got forward for a goal too.
Derry squeezed the life out of Clare's kick-outs, on occasions having all 15 players in the opposition half.
The Oak Leafers rotated their full-forward between Benny Heron and Niall Loughlin, with Shane McGuigan out deeper, and once he set his sights the Slaughtneil star scored superbly from range.
Derry had also obviously been told to go for goal and they delivered in style with five fabulous finishes.
Their short kick-out policy looked a recipe for disaster against Derry's high press and so it proved. They'd already had one let-off before the Ulster champs seized on a wayward kick to net their opening goal.
The absence of a sweeper cost them dearly too. Colm Collins brought defender Alan Sweeney on for the second period but he did little to stem the flood of Derry attacks.
Clare never managed to involve Keelan Sexton in the game. They got a little joy from sending a midfielder up to full-forward in the second half, first Cathal O'Connor then Darren O'Neill, but the latter's bulk made him cumbersome, and Derry cleared up any broken ball.