GAA Football

Rosommon controversy cost Oak Leafers, says Rory Gallagher as Derry miss out on promotion

Shane McGuigan scored six points as Derry battled from behind to beat Meath in Navan yesterday. Pic Philip Walsh.

Allianz National Football League Division Two: Meath 2-11 Derry 1-16

From Andy Watters at Pairc Tailteann

DERRY produced the battling qualities and cutting edge that have been their hallmarks this season to pip Meath at the post in a terrific tussle at Pairc Tailteann yesterday but, despite taking 11 points out of a possible 14, fell just short of promotion.

Roscommon’s victory over Galway means they joined the Tribesmen in the top flight and Derry, who battled back from five points down on the hour-mark to win in Navan yesterday, remain in Division Two.

Ultimately, drawing with the Rossies cost Derry promotion and manager Rory Gallagher singled out Shane McGuigan’s controversial sending-off in that game as the critical moment in the campaign. With free-taker McGuigan dismissed, the Oak Leafers missed a late chance to win at Dr Hyde Park. Had it been taken, they’d be celebrating promotion now.

“I feel we were very badly wronged,” said Gallagher.

“Shane McGuigan shouldn’t have been sent off, he should have been on the field to kick the winning score – eight times out of 10 he would have kicked it – but last week (against Galway) we made a lot of mistakes and we made some again today. If you give away the goals that we did it takes a bit out of you but we showed a lot of mental strength today.”

Disappointment, yes, but there are so many positives for Gallagher’s men to take from their campaign and their grandstand finish yesterday will leave them in good stead for the Ulster Championship clash with the winners of Fermanagh versus Tyrone on May 1.

“We have 11 points having come out of Division Three and we were in Division Four not that long ago, so it’s not the worst result,” said Gallagher.

“We knew coming into the last three games (Roscommon, Galway and Meath) that it was going to be a tough finish and it was. There are lessons to be learned from today and down in Roscommon – we were in control of that game with 12-13 minutes to go and we should have seen it out so Shane’s sending-off shouldn’t have counted. We are where we are, 11 points normally gets you up but this time it doesn’t and we have five weeks to prepare for the Championship. If you’d ask me at the start of the year would 11 points be good, I’d have said: ‘Yes’.”

Playing into the wind, Derry began brilliantly yesterday. McGuigan opened the scoring inside the first 30 seconds and after Joey Wallace and Jack O’Connor scores had sent Meath briefly ahead, the Ulstermen put their foot down with five points on-the-trot.

Dominated at midfield, Meath couldn’t win their kickouts and they couldn’t handle the movement and pace of the Derry forward unit either. McGuigan, Niall Loughlin and Benny Heron all registered scores and Derry would have been even further in front had McGuigan found the net from a penalty.

After a slick passing move with Ethan Doherty and Loughlin, the Slaughtneil forward was pulled down by Conor McGill. He took the penalty himself but Harry Hogan dived to his right to save his low drive and the Meath goalkeeper’s heroics inspired his team to a second quarter comeback.

Gallagher had employed Conor Glass in a sweeping role but when the Royals began to run the ball the game changed and their pace cut punched holes in the Derry defence.

Matthew Costello and Ronan Jones both landed points and the Royals’ press on Odhran Lynch’s kickouts forced their first goal. Wallace was alert to win the ball and Donal Keoghan played in O’Connor who picked his spot past Lynch and suddenly the game was level.

Points from James McEntee and Jones followed and, although Lynch saved well from Bryan Menton, the burly Meath midfielder fisted the rebound over the bar to leave the home side three points up (1-7 to 0-7) at the interval.

A brace from the hard-working Loughlin and a McGuigan free either side of Hogan’s brilliant placed-ball score meant there was just a point in it when Meath struck for their second goal. Again pace unlocked the Derry defence and Menton had the goal in his sights and was about to pull the trigger when Shea Downey bundled him over. Referee Maurice Deegan spread his arms for the second time in the game and Wallace blasted his penalty past Lynch to send the home side four ahead.

Derry rallied quickly but Meath goalkeeper Hogan denied McGuigan again when he tipped his piledriver over the bar and his 45 – after Ciaran McFaul had dived full-length to block Jason Scully’s goal-bound shot – and a point from Thomas O’Reilly increased the deficit to five points with 10 minutes remaining.

There were four in it when Lynch dived to his right to deny Keoghan a goal and keep Derry afloat and inspire his side to a thrilling comeback.

McGuigan scored, then Padraig McGrogan joined the attack and split the posts before the goal the Oak Leafers threatened all afternoon arrived. Loughlin nipped in to turn the ball over from a short kickout then swapped passes with McGuigan and thumped his shot home and it was all-square again.

But not for long. Loughlin’s industry paid off again when he was fouled by a combination of Bryan McMahon and Keoghan and he took the free himself to send Derry back in front (1-14 to 2-10) with three minutes left

“Come on lads, we can pull it outta the bag,” roared a Meath fan from the stand but Derry weren’t about to let the result slip.

Niall Toner chipped in with a point and was then back in his own square blocking Eoin Harkin’s shot. Hogan scored from the 45 but a touch of class from Glass ensured victory would be Derry’s with the last point of an engrossing battle.

Meath: H Hogan (0-3, 0-2 frees, 0-1 45); R Clarke, C McGill, James McEntee (0-1); E Harkin, G McGowan, D Keagan; B Menton, R Jones (0-2, 0-1 mark); J Scully, T O’Reilly (0-1), M Costello (0-1); J Wallace (0-1), S Walsh (1-0 pen), J O’Connor (1-1)

Subs: E Devine for Jones (41), B McMahon for Scully (58), J Conlan for O’Connor (72)

Yellow card: Jason Scully (6)

Derry: O Lynch; C McKaigue, B Rogers, C McCluskey; C Doherty, P McGrogan (0-1), Padraig Cassidy; C Glass (0-1), E Bradley; Paul Cassidy, E Doherty (0-1), C McFaul; B Heron (0-1 mark), S McGuigan (0-6, 0-2 frees), N Loughlin (1-4, 0-2 frees)

Subs: S Downey for Padraig Cassidy (32), N Toner (0-1) for Heron (50), L Murray for Paul Cassidy (58), S Heavron for E Doherty (63)

Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois)

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