Sport

Rory Gallagher's Derry the blueprint for how Gaelic football has evolved, while Armagh find Down's weak spot to set up decider with Oak Leafers

 Derry manager Rory Gallagher bounces along the line as Chrissy McKaigue, Conor Doherty and Shane McGuigan swallow up Monaghan talisman Conor McManus during Saturday’s Ulster SFC semi-final O’Neills at Healy Park 									   Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Derry manager Rory Gallagher bounces along the line as Chrissy McKaigue, Conor Doherty and Shane McGuigan swallow up Monaghan talisman Conor McManus during Saturday’s Ulster SFC semi-final O’Neills at Healy Park Picture by Margaret McLaughlin Derry manager Rory Gallagher bounces along the line as Chrissy McKaigue, Conor Doherty and Shane McGuigan swallow up Monaghan talisman Conor McManus during Saturday’s Ulster SFC semi-final O’Neills at Healy Park Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

PLAYING against this Derry team would be an absolute nightmare for any inside forward. Michael Murphy made a very good point on commentary during the Oak Leafers’ win over Monaghan on Saturday when he intimated that the only way to compete with the Oak Leafers was to match and mirror what they do.


So comfortable in their own skin, Rory Gallagher’s side attack with all 15 players in the opposition half.


If you are looking for an example of where Gaelic football has evolved in recent times, this is your perfect model.


There’s no safety net waiting should the attack break down. To counter this, you must match their numbers, be difficult to break down and hope that a turnover or a wide is the result of some resolute defending.


Easier said than done.


On Saturday evening, Conor McManus and Jack McCarron spent much of the first half chasing the heels of a rampant Conor McCluskey (inset) and co. McCarron didn’t make it to half-time before he was hooked.


It would be fair to say McCluskey is very right-footed. So to see him rifle in a goal with his weaker left foot was another sign of personal development and the evolution of Derry as an attacking force.


When Monaghan had their defensive structure in place, I noticed that Derry’s approach in attack looked a little different than usual.


The emphasis on width and creating openings from working cuts and loops at the sidelines and corners wasn’t as prominent as usual.


Their shape in attack seemed to be somewhat narrower, less regimental, with more of a focus on getting as many men as possible in dangerous areas inside the ‘50’ close to goal – one-on-ones everywhere with their goalkeeper a real ‘Lynch-pin’ to that strategy.

A big platform for this Derry victory was the amount of primary possession they secured from kick-outs. 

Rory Beggan’s restarts are normally a source of dangerous attacks for Monaghan – but on Saturday evening this weapon was disarmed on more than a few occasions. 

A successful kick-out press is a bit like building a house. It starts with sound foundations and you add layers from there. 

To deny the easy short kick-out, your frontline often has to have at least four  men in there. 

Once you have the numbers right in the front and middle lines then it’s invariably going long and it is all about getting the big men across the back line and flooding the break faster than your opponent. With Odhran Lynch instrumental in this, Derry did a number on the Monaghan kick-out and, as a result, provided a great platform for their victory.

There were some great performances throughout the Derry team. 

Paudie McGrogan, Conor McCluskey, Conor Glass and the imperious Shane McGuigan all caught the eye.

 For Monaghan, it seemed like Karl O’Connell was single-handedly taking the fight to the Oak Leafers. Yet the scores on the doors gave us a great insight into just how clinical this Derry team actually are as an attacking unit. 

1-12 off 15 shots in the first half was frightening scoring efficiency. 1-21 in total was some return considering half the starting Derry forward line never scored a single point from play. The question must be asked: Is that cause for concern or is it actually a positive thing that they are getting scores from every line on the pitch? As the games get more difficult I think Derry will need a better combined contribution from their forward line as a unit. 

That’s why I can see Ciaran McFaul getting a starting berth for the Ulster final.

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ONa day where conditions were always going to dictate what type of game it was going to be, a goal was going to be a massive score for either team in yesterday’s derby clash at between Armagh and Down in Clones.

With Armagh managing to ruffle the net four times, well, that was always going to spell disaster for Down.

 It was clear from the word go that Armagh were intent on a route one game to test the mettle of their opponents under the high ball. Ironically the two high balls that the Orchardmen actually scored goals from were shots that had dropped short rather than orchestrated deliveries. 

You have to credit their fortitude at sticking to the plan as the first three missiles came to nothing and at least eight in total during the game came straight back out. 

Yet as the fourth long ball landed in and around Niall Kane’s net (above), the shot that dropped short was meat and drink to the incoming Andrew Murnin. 

In an even enough game to that point, the goal from Armagh was a massive momentum shifter that Down never really recovered from. 

When that score was followed up by a brilliant Shane McPartlan solo effort it was game over. 

Once Armagh smelt that weakness under the high ball it was a tactic they continued with in the second half and a third goal wasn’t long in coming to leave no shadow of doubt over the outcome. In stark contrast, Conor Laverty’s men were limited to running the ball, which really suited the physicality and aggression of a tough-tackling Armagh. 

Before that first goal, Down had dropped  two free-kicks short and tallied three wides. In an attritional first half, they needed to be much more efficient than that to stay on the tails of their rivals. 

Derry v Armagh in the Ulster decider has the makings of a real clinker and, while the Oak Leafers will start as firm favourites, it is far from a foregone conclusion.