Limerick no match for slick Derry who breeze to opening NFL win

Shane McGuigan fires over a free against Limerick during Saturday's NFL Division Two match at Owenbeg Picture Margaret McLaughlin.
Shane McGuigan fires over a free against Limerick during Saturday's NFL Division Two match at Owenbeg Picture Margaret McLaughlin. Shane McGuigan fires over a free against Limerick during Saturday's NFL Division Two match at Owenbeg Picture Margaret McLaughlin.

Allianz Football League Division Two: Derry 0-16 Limerick 0-4

DUNGIVEN, Saturday afternoon, the traffic is bumper to bumper and moving at a snail’s pace. It’s hard to know if this snarling congestion is because the new by-pass remains agonisingly unfinished and therefore closed, or if it’s more to do with Rory’s revolution.

Probably a combination of both.

What's true is that League Saturdays or League Sundays at Owenbeg are rarely like this. Usually, the traffic breezes by with every eighth or ninth car indicating left to enter the south Derry venue.

But no-one’s oblivious to the travails of the Derry senior football team any more. That’s largely down to Fermanagh man Rory Gallagher.

Last season’s Ulster champions and beaten All-Ireland semi-finalists couldn’t have anticipated an easier opening game in Division Two on Saturday afternoon than newly promoted Limerick.

Played in front of 3,847 supporters, the game turned out to be an open-to-the-public coaching session as Gallagher’s men banked the points with the minimum of fuss against an opposition that was out of its depth.

Maybe former Limerick boss Billy Lee knew what was coming down the tracks in Division Two.

The Shannonsiders left Owenbeg punch-drunk.

“Different level, different pace, different movement,” said their shell-shocked manager Ray Dempsey at pitchside afterwards.

“These lads have done brilliantly under Billy Lee coming from the fourth and third Division. Now we’re playing Dublin next.

“I think Dublin dominated the game in recent times, did they? Let’s be fair, you have to walk before you can really get into your stride. The lads applied themselves fiercely honestly but we were our own worst enemies.

“Derry made us be our worst enemies with the pressure they brought. But this is where players want to be because this is where the learnings are.”

From the first whistle to the last, Rory Gallagher micro-managed this encounter like he’d five pairs of eyes.

He moved his players around like pieces on a chessboard, demanding the highest standards for every second of the game, while still having time for the occasional jocular protest with the linesman over a couple of decisions that didn’t go Derry’s way.

It was no surprise either that Gallagher fielded his strongest available team for Saturday’s opener.

Glen duo Ethan Doherty and Conor Glass played 54 and 67 minutes, respectively. Seeing both men clock up the miles on Saturday felt like everyone had moved on from the controversial end to the All-Ireland Club final at Croke Park six days earlier.

Full-back Eoin McEvoy and corner-forward Lachlan Murray were the relative newcomers to the Oak Leaf starting line-up and both acquitted themselves really well and have the potential to improve Derry in 2023.

Elsewhere, it was business as usual. Conor McCluskey played the game the only way he knows, racing out of defence like a hare to initiate another Derry counter-attack.

Playing in the defensive corner, Chrissy McKaigue made sure no Limerick man got touch tight once when he was in possession.

Glass and Brendan Rodgers ruled midfield too. Paul Cassidy of Bellaghy was one of the most impressive players on show for the home side, hitting a point from play in each half and was always productive in possession.

Murray’s tracking back and ability to strip the ball from the opposition was exemplary.

Up front, Benny Heron played the Benny Heron role with typical due diligence and Shane McGuigan didn’t have much trouble in finding space in the scoring zone, bagging 0-4 from play and converting five placed balls.

Limerick’s victories were destined to small ones. Adrian Enright showed the Derry defence a clean pair of heels to open the visitors’ account on 14 minutes and James Naughton converted a free in first half stoppage-time.

That’s all Limerick could muster in the opening half as they trailed 0-7 to 0-2 – a score-line that didn’t convey Derry’s absolute dominance.

Limerick pounced on a couple of Derry’s kick-outs in the early throes of the second period to trail by 0-8 to 0-4, but that was the end of the visitors’ challenge as McGuigan, Niall Toner and Murray helped themselves to scores.

“It was a very comfortable win,” Gallagher said.

“There was a wee bit of over eagerness from ourselves and bad finishing – but look, we won the game by 12 points and I suppose I don’t think Limerick had any over ambition to win the game.”

While they missed a few chances, there were some glowing finishes from Derry on Saturday.

Glass and Murray combined beautifully to set up McGuigan for a brilliant 15th minute point and Toner’s 64th minute score came from a wonderfully slick counter-attack involving Glass, McGuigan and substitute Padraig Cassidy.

“We had wee bouts and even then it didn’t fully come off,” Gallagher added. “We set ourselves high standards and a lot of individuals did well but we’ve a lot of ground to make up but we’ll learn from week to week.”

Asked why he included Glass and Rafferty in his starting line-up so soon after their All-Ireland Club exploits, the Derry manager replied: “I don’t buy it. The boys have incredible mental strength. Maybe others don’t have that mental strength but those two boys have.

“A long time ago we’d a conversation with the Slaughtneil lads when they were going well. We’d defined breaks for those lads. We haven’t had a conversation about it over the last number of weeks. I just know their mentality and they love playing football.”

Up next is a trip to Ardee and sharing the sideline with Louth boss Mickey Harte where Derry can expect a tougher examination of their credentials.

Derry: O Lynch; C McKaigue, E McEvoy, C McCluskey; P McGrogan, G McKinless, C Doherty; C Glass, B Rodgers; N Toner (0-4, 0-2 frees), P Cassidy (0-2), E Doherty; B Heron, S McGuigan (0-9, 0-4 frees, 0-1 mark), L Murray (0-1) Subs: O McWilliams for E Doherty (54), P Cassidy for G McKinless (51), N Loughlin for B Heron (63), N O’Donnell for C Glass (67), B McCarron for L Murray (71)

Limerick: D O’Sullivan; D Connelly, S O’Dea, B Coleman; B Fanning, C Fahy, M O’Donovan; C Sheehan, I Corbett (0-1); P Maher, J Naughton (0-1 free), G Browne (0-1); A Enright (0-1), C Downes, D Lyons Subs: H Bourke for D Lyons (51), C McSweeney for B Coleman (56), P Nash for A Enright (65), K Ryan for C Downes (68)

Black card: I Corbett (61-71)

Yellow cards: G Browne (26)

Referee: N Mooney (Cavan)

Attendance: 3,847

Derry manager Rory Gallagher at Owenbeg Picture: Margaret McLaughlin.
Derry manager Rory Gallagher at Owenbeg Picture: Margaret McLaughlin. Derry manager Rory Gallagher at Owenbeg Picture: Margaret McLaughlin.