GAA Football

Revolutionary Rory Gallagher paving a new path for Derry

Derry's Rory Gallagher during yesterday's Ulster semi-final against Monaghan
From Brendan Crossan at The Athletic Grounds

Ulster Senior Football Championship semi-final: Derry 3-12 Monaghan 0-17

NOBODY lived this day more than Rory Gallagher. Before the final whistle sounded he turned to the Derry supporters behind him in the main stand of the Athletic Grounds and beseeched them to live it too.

With Monaghan fighting a losing battle deep into stoppage-time and an Ulster final place already assured, they proved an easy audience, rising to every clenched fist and guttural roar from their revolutionary leader.

After cutting down All-Ireland champions Tyrone a fortnight ago and now a fancied Monaghan side, the Fermanagh native is proving to be the Che Guevara of the Sperrins.

All that was missing in those tumultuous moments towards the end yesterday was the slanted beret and bottle-green fatigues.

This was another tactical masterpiece from Gallagher laced with insatiable desire and work-rate from those wearing red and white – a brilliant performance that Seamus McEnaney’s Monaghan had no answer to.

First-half goals from Gareth McKinless and Benny Heron set the rampant Derry men on their way with Heron slaying their opponents with another three-pointer in the 61st minute.

The wait for an Ulster title goes on for ‘Banty’, while Derry make their first provincial final appearance since 2011 when John Brennan’s side fell to Donegal.

Derry will face the same opponent in this year's decider on May 29 while still carrying the bitter memories of last season’s last-gasp exit to Declan Bonner’s men in Ballybofey.

The uplifting manner of back-to-back Championship victories over the past couple of weeks have certainly raised the esteem of Derry football.

Clutching one of his sons at pitch-side afterwards, Gallagher was your typical reluctant hero.

“That’s what you want to do when you’re involved in sport,” he said, hoarse from shouting and roaring for 70-odd minutes on the sideline.

“It was a great battle, but it was never going to be smooth sailing. It was a brilliant first half performance from us and we kept her lit in the second half.”

Derry left Monaghan reeling at the break, establishing a 2-7 to 0-6 lead. A tactical re-boot improved Monaghan in the second half but they’d left themselves with too much of a mountain to climb.

“I thought in the second half we weren’t as comfortable as I thought we should have been,” Gallagher said.

“Monaghan were always going to throw the kitchen sink at us; it would have been nice to go nine or 10 up… we conceded 17 points but we were comfortable.”

Asked if he was surprised by Monaghan’s choice of match-ups, he replied: “I was a wee bit surprised, but they’re probably short a couple. We knew there were going to be certain match-ups and it was up to us to punish them.

“For us, no matter who you’re going to put on Jack McCarron, Gary Mohan or Conor McManus, it’s not going to be easy but I was confident of the character of the boys that were marking them, but they’re still brilliant players and are still going to get moments in the game.”

Gallagher added: “Derry is football-mad and I’m just delighted to be part of it and days like this. The county board give everything to the players, so they know what it means to Derry more than me.”

Amid the hundreds of well-wishers that colonised the pitch at the end, Derry’s rookie goalkeeper Odhran Lynch said he felt much more nervous ahead of the Tyrone game than yesterday, but did feel on edge during the half-time interval.

“I was nervous more then, because you can’t mess it up at that stage and the good advantage that we had,” said the Magherafelt man.

“These two games are both definitely up there with anything I’ve done. It was nice to get over Tyrone the last day but I’m looking forward to the final and hopefully we can come out on top again. We’ll enjoy it this evening but it’s heads down after that.”

Derry hearts are racing still this morning from an unforgettable day in the Cathedral City.

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