Sport

Galway defeat was turning point in our season says Derry boss Rory Gallagher

Rory Gallagher said that Derry players "were very hurt and very sore about not being competitive" following their defeat to Galway in the Allianz Football League in March, which ultimately scuppered their promotion hopes

Picture Margaret McLaughlin.
Liam Maguire

THE calm nature of how Derry dealt with their home Allianz League defeat to Galway helped turn their season insists manager Rory Gallagher.

Three first half goals shot Galway towards an 11-point win and on their way to promotion at Derry’s expense back in March.

Within six weeks Derry bounced back to beat All-Ireland champions Tyrone as they began and ascent to a first Ulster title since 1998, a year they lost the first of three Championship games to Saturday’s opponents Galway.

“The important thing was the way we all reacted to it,” Gallagher said of Galway’s victory at Owenbeg.

“We were very hurt and very sore about not being competitive. We stuck together and remained very, very calm in how to deal with it and understand what went wrong and why it went wrong.”

But the upward spiral was well underway. Since the panel returned after the 2020 club championships, there were “small improvements” with a clear vision of where Derry needed to go.

After promotion and pushing Donegal all the way in the Championship in 2021, this season was about ramping their efforts up even more. The fractured pre-season without the Glen and Slaughtneil players on club duty led into a League promotion race that shed its wheels as the first incline.

A Championship draw against the preliminary round winners pushed their day of reckoning back to Sunday, May 1.

“It is a short enough time compared to years before when you could’ve had six or eight weeks,” Gallagher said.

“We had a five-week block and we wanted to use every day of it. We feel we have used every day pretty well over the course of the season.”

Derry’s win over Tyrone dished up a clash Monaghan which Gareth McKinless dictated with his runs through the centre and the Ulster final was a battle of wills with a Donegal side who mirrored them.

There was a mixing up of the plans for Clare with an all-out attack that packed three goals by half time.

“You also look at the opposition and what they do and the best way to play them,” Gallagher said of their preparations.

Damien Comer of Galway celebrates his goal against Derry during the National Football League match played at Owenbeg on Sunday 20th March 2022. Picture Margaret McLaughlin.

There was a glance at how Kerry would finish the Banner off early, with a reference to the 0-32 the Kingdom kicked in their 22-point win over Clare in 2018.

“We don’t feel we have the amount of player that can kick the ball over the bar from 25, 30, 35 yards the way they have, but we felt we have players with other skills to get big score like that. Every game is different,” Gallagher said

He accepts the defensive stance when managing his native Fermanagh that was built around a vice-like grip to a one-point advantage.

“If you gave the ball away, the other team could score very often and that was a different way of playing,” he said.

“Where we are now with Derry, we know we have to build scores regularly. We are not going to be able to win a game 0-10 to 0-8 or 0-9 to 0-7.”

Gallagher accepts Ulster has a different style of play with “whoever’s fault it is” dating back 20 years – before his Donegal tenure.

He references the early noughties, Tyrone’s “swashbuckling” team and an equally dominant Armagh playing with a sweeper.

“Ulster takes on a life of its own”, he said, adding in the “very, very cautious” early stages of Derry’s extra-time win over Donegal.

“I don’t think that’s the way it is when two Ulster teams don’t meet each other, it’s just different.”

He accepts that there will “probably” never be as defensive as stance as the Donegal 2011 model against Dublin.

“Nowadays teams can break that down,” he said, while terming Mayo naive for kicking the ball down sweeper Mark McHugh’s throat.

“Teams have just improved massively. It might not be to everybody’s flavour, but scoring ratios have gone up massively.”

Gallagher used the example of basketball and isolating players in the high percentage zone, comparing it to David Clifford, Con O’Callaghan and Ciaran Kilkenny’s impact.

“With us in Derry, we have Shane [McGuigan] and he is a big part of it. When we were making him everything about our game in 2020, we were very impotent in attack. When we evolved it and created more attacking threats, it was better for Shane and for everybody.”

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