Heron swoops to net Derry goal in nine-point victory over Cork
Allianz Football League Division Two: Derry 1-13 Cork 0-7
THE fact that the winning manager was probably more critical of his players than his defeated counterpart was about his perhaps explains to some extent why Derry are flying and Cork are in a relegation battle.
While Cork's Keith Ricken is beginning a re-building exercise, and trying to boost fragile confidence, Rory Gallagher has Derry looking like a top 10 team and they were full value for a 10th consecutive league victory in a run stretching over three seasons.
Having said that, the key passage of play in this nine-point victory was a 'six-point swing' in the 23 seconds leading up to the game's only goal 10 minutes into the second half, netted by Benny Heron.
Cork's Stephen Sherlock was denied at one end by Derry goalkeeper Odhran Lynch and, following a lightning counter-attack involving Chrissy McKaigue and Oisin McWilliams, started by a precise clearing kick-pass by Conor Doherty, Heron swooped to calmly net the loose ball after Cork custodian Chris Kelly had parried out the effort from McWilliams.
What could have been a one-point game turned into a seven-point gap, 1-7 to 0-3 and the hosts eased away to victory after that.
Gallagher was, obviously, pleased to record a third victory of this term, to go clear at the top of the division, but, he still wanted more from his team - specifically more goals:
"I thought even in the first half we missed a couple of goal chances, probably overplayed it. We should have been more than two up [0-5 to 0-3] against a fairly strong breeze in difficult conditions."
The former Fermanagh star smiled wryly while agreeing about the influence of that half-minute on the game, noting how it saved midfielder Emmett Bradley from his anger:
"Emmett's very lucky it was a turning point because he kicked the ball away… Ultimately I think we would have won the game no matter what, we were the better team. It was a good save, although I wouldn't be happy we gave away the goal-scoring opportunity, we pride ourselves on not giving away too many of them.
"It was a great move to the far end, good to finish that, because Benny hit the crossbar in the first half - that wasn't unlucky, he should have hit the net, and then Paudie [McGrogan] overplayed one as well, a couple more were overturned. It was just disappointing we had only one goal."
There was real sadness with a pre-match minute's silence for Hugh Niblock, of Magherafelt and Derry, whose brother Mickey played for Cork seniors for a time.
The only real negative on the day for the current Derry team was the revelation that defender Karl McKaigue will be out for another while, requiring a scan on a hip problem.
However, his older brother Chrissy came back in and excelled, holding Brian Hurley scoreless, although Cork boss Ricken said that the Castlehaven man was troubled by a shoulder injury.
Derry also brought McWilliams into the team that had started in Offaly, in place of Ciaran McFaul, but the Oak Leafers made light of the Glen man's absence, and that of Gareth McKinless; both will be contention for next weekend's trip to Ennis.
Cork were able to call on their St Finbarr's contingent, centre half-back Billy Hennessy and midfielder Ian Maguire joining Sherlock in the starting 15, and the forward opened the scoring from a free.
Yet although the strong wind was blowing flags in all directions, depending on their height, making free-taking and shooting problematic, Derry soon settled and by the 15th minute Shane McGuigan had put them into a lead they would never lose, with the first and second scores of his eventual 0-8 tally.
McGuigan was sensibly dropping deeper, away from Sean Meehan's marking, but that allowed the Cork joint-captain to get forward and he almost forced an opening goal.
Close to the half hour mark, the Rebels' full-back embarked on a storming run, then cleverly foot-flicked the ball left to the unmarked Colm O'Callaghan, but he chose to try to gather possession rather than shooting first-time and was penalised for picking off the ground.
Derry then had a great goal chance in injury time, when they once more seized on a Cork kick-out and McWilliams supplied Heron but the Ballinascreen man's shot cannoned back out off the crossbar.
Ahead by two at half-time, Derry swiftly increased the gap to nine with a blast of 1-4, including a lovely score from Bradley.
It was fairly even after that, as heavy rain swept down, although Derry had a second 'goal' ruled out for a square ball infringement by substitute Matthew Downey, and nine points was the difference in the end.
Ricken admitted he was "disappointed not to get the performance, it doesn't reflect the work they're putting in, which is hard to see. They're playing with a small bit of apprehension, worrying about making mistakes - first half particularly we weren't taking shots, only six shot selections.
"But I'm not disappointed with them, if that makes sense; I'm very happy with the lads, their effort. They're very committed to the whole thing, they know they've a job of work to do. The big thing for us is to get over that fear factor."
Derry are much more positive, with even the demanding Gallagher acknowledging: "Look, happy with the start now and looking forward to going to Clare - it'd be nice to come back up that road with eight points, guarantee your safety, and then really seriously focus on going up to Division One."
Derry: O Lynch; C McKaigue (capt.), B Rogers, C McCluskey; E Doherty, P McGrogan (0-1), C Doherty; C Glass, E Bradley (0-1); Paul Cassidy, N Loughlin (0-1), O McWilliams (0-1); B Heron (1-0), S McGuigan (0-8, 0-5 frees), L Murray (0-1).
Substitutes: N Toner for Murray (42); Padraig Cassidy for McWilliams (53); M Downey for Loughlin (57); B McCarron for Heron (60); S Downey for C Doherty (64).
Cork: C Kelly; K O'Donovan (0-1), S Meehan (joint-capt.), T Corkery; R Maguire, B Hennessy, M Taylor; I Maguire, S Merritt; C O'Callaghan, F Herlihy, D Dineen (0-1); S Sherlock (0-5, 0-4 frees), D Buckley, B Hurley (joint-capt.).
Substitutes: J O'Rourke for Buckley (42); K Flahive for Hennessy (50); D O'Connell for Merritt (53); C Kiely for R Maguire (60); B Murphy for Herlihy (60)
Referee: James Molloy (Galway).