Familiar foe awaits Derry in delayed All-Ireland minor final
2020 Electric Ireland All-Ireland Minor Football Championship final: Derry v Kerry (tomorrow, Bord na Mona O'Connor Park, 1pm, live on TG4)
DERRY minors will return to the All-Ireland football final stage on Sunday, facing a familiar opponent.
It has been a long and winding journey to this delayed 2020 showpiece for Derry manager Martin Boyle and his young charges, and now it is Kerry who stand in the way of a perfect ending to the story.
When the Oak Leafers last appeared in the final in 2017, it was the Kingdom who convincingly dismantled them, with a certain David Clifford bagging 4-4 – part of a five-in-a-row run for the Munster men that was ended in 2019.
That is all in the past now as a new crop of players vie for a place in the history books.
Kerry’s 3-21 to 2-13 victory against Roscommon in last weekend’s semi-final was the first competitive outing for James Costello’s side since their Munster final win against Clare before Christmas.
In contrast, Derry have come through three big battles in as many weeks – a one-point semi-final win over Tyrone, holding on against Monaghan for a deserved Ulster title success and a blistering final quarter last weekend to blow a fancied Meath team away in the All-Ireland semi-final.
Boyle was doing his homework at the Gaelic Grounds on Sunday and will have returned to Owenbeg with plenty of notes.
Dr Crokes forward Cian McMahon was awarded the 2020 Munster Minor Footballer of the Year, and with 1-5 against Roscommon he has picked up where he left off in the provincial campaign. Eoin McEvoy excelled against Meath’s star forward Eoghan Frayne in the semi-final, and he may find himself in the thick of another battle here.
McMahon is far from the only danger, however. Kerry’s slick, energetic and rapid forward unit – with scoring threats all over - is also driven by Keith Evans and Darragh O’Sullivan, both of whom have already proven their eye for goal. Evans in particular came in for high praise against Roscommon.
Kian McGonigle kept a clean sheet against Armagh and Monaghan and was unlucky to concede a goal from an initially saved penalty against Meath, but the goalkeeper will still need protection from his defence, including Connor Shiels, Patrick McGurk and cousin Adam. Donncha Gilmore and Patrick O’Kane will drop back to provide some physicality and try to frustrate the rhythm and speed of the Kingdom attack, allowing Lee Brady and Mark Doherty more freedom to break down the wings.
The battle in the midfield will be a decisive factor. Dan Higgins got Derry’s semi-final goal and has caught the attention of many, and Caolan O’Conaill and Kerry skipper Oisin Maunsell will look to stifle the Magherafelt man.
The pace of wing-backs Paudie O’Leary and Killian O’Sullivan will be a concern for Derry, and with the likes of Cian O’Donoghue also breaking from corner-back, Jody McDermott, Niall O’Donnell and Charlie Diamond will face a balancing act in preventing their counters while trying to influence the Oak Leafers' own attacking game.
Derry captain Matthew Downey hasn’t shirked responsibility and he will command close attention to prevent him from being the playmaker. The son of Henry will face his biggest test yet and may find his space and time on the ball limited by Armin Heinrich.
Lachlann Murray will be a handful for Joey Nagle and given Derry have scored six goals in their four championship games, Murray and co will look to test Sean Broderick.
Watching Cork lift the cup in 2019 will have hurt, but if Kerry think it’ll be an easy road to reclaiming the title they may find themselves caught cold. Derry are battle hardened, but stifling their opponent’s impressive attacking unit will be key.