Kevin Madden: From goalkeepers to goal-getters, Ulster final outcome will be determined by experience

Derry will look to glean scores from the restarts of goalkeeper Odhran Lynch while pressing up on his opposite number Ethan Rafferty
Derry will look to glean scores from the restarts of goalkeeper Odhran Lynch while pressing up on his opposite number Ethan Rafferty

Ulster final day of 2022 would have been my 17th consecutive year filing a column for the Irish News, but last year wasn’t typical of how I would normally spend it.

Instead of enjoying the day out in a sun-drenched Clones, lapping up the atmosphere,= or relaxing at home in front of the TV, I found myself that Sunday afternoon in the cardiac ward of the Royal Victoria Hospital awaiting open heart surgery number three.

They say aneurysms are a ticking time bombs and mine had reached a stage where it was either take the risks associated with repeat surgery or…well, there was no alternative really, if I’m honest about it.

Down I went to surgery at about 7.30am on Monday morning, not to awaken again until the wee hours of Tuesday. As it turned out, the operation ended up more complex than anticipated. But after 15-odd hours, the incredible surgeon and his team had the job done, and off I went to ICU to begin the first stage of recovery.

Probably not too dissimilar to a lot of celebrating Derry fans, I skipped that day completely in 2022. Understandably, I didn’t manage to file my usual post-game analysis, but I did watch the game in the hospital on an iPad that Sunday afternoon.

When I reflect back, what probably stands out the most, was the enthralling match-up between Brendan Rogers and Michael Murphy, and that free at the end when the Donegal talisman attempted to penetrate through a sea of red and white to break Derry hearts.

Who would have thought it would be the last time we would ever see Michael Murphy line out for Donegal in the Ulster Championship? As we look ahead to what should be another thrilling Ulster final, let’s consider some of the key tactical areas and unexpected twist and turns that could be on offer.

Derry captain Chrissy McKaigue with the Anglo-Celt Cup in 2022
Derry captain Chrissy McKaigue with the Anglo-Celt Cup in 2022

The keepers

Although you won’t see them in any direct physical confrontation, the performances of both goalkeepers is sure to have a big say on the destination of the Anglo-Celt trophy.

After a day to forget against Galway in last year’s All-Ireland Semi-final, Odhran Lynch has come back fitter and more mobile to play as a plus one for his team when they are probing in attack.

His range of kicking has also been first class, but I think Armagh will look back on that Galway game and see if they can find those chinks that saw the thing unravel for him last year.

To do so, Armagh will have to be show serious courage on the Derry kick-out by committing numbers to the press.

Let’s not forget, Galway pushed five into their full-forward line in the second half to deny those short restarts and then swarmed the long deliveries to mop up the breaks.

It’s risk v reward but I think if Armagh chose to concede too many Derry kick-outs, they will be playing on their terms and Derry won’t cough up too much possession, no matter how well Armagh are set-up.

So in my opinion, one of their best methods in getting scores will be off the Odhran Lynch's restarts. Derry will most certainly look to hem Armagh in by pressing the Ethan Rafferty kick-out.

At the end of the game, the stats around possession won and lost from this facet will have a big bearing on the outcome as will the contribution of both keepers from open play.

Conor Turbitt has been in fine form for Armagh during this year's Championship
Conor Turbitt has been in fine form for Armagh during this year's Championship

Attacking strategies

Although Shane McGuigan and Conor Turbitt have been the standout forwards, no-one can accuse either of these two sides of being over-reliant on any one player or any single line in the team. In their games to date Armagh have had eight, nine and 12 different scorers.

Derry, on the other hand, had 11 different scorers against Fermanagh and 10 in the Monaghan game. Scores have been coming from corner-backs, goalkeepers and the most unlikely of sources.

Particularly where Derry are concerned, every player from one to 15 is a threat to the Armagh goal. What will be interesting to see is how Derry set up their structure in attack when Armagh have their defensive shape in place.

The last day out, they substituted their usual width on both sides of the pitch in order to play narrower and have as many players as possible close to goal in 1v1 situations.

This pulled the Monaghan defensive structure into a different shape where they couldn’t claim the inside track and keep the Derry attacks from originating out wide. The cuts still came from the Oak Leafers but the moves started closer to the Monaghan goal.

You actually could have taken the sidelines in about 30 metres on each side and Derry would barely have ventured outside of this.

From an Armagh viewpoint, will they attack Derry’s perceived vulnerabilities under the high ball by pinning Andrew Murnin and Rian O’Neill to the square and launching a few in? I think they will, but they also need to carefully pick their moments to do so.

The two goals that came off the high balls against Down were actually from shots that had dropped short. I counted another eight high balls to the square that came straight back out. If that happened against Derry it would be curtains for them.


Of the Derry team that started last year’s Ulster final, 14 of them were on the team-sheet for throw-in the last day out against Monaghan. Shea Downey was the only one missing from last year’s starting 15.

The experience and belief of having come through to win it last year cannot be underestimated. Even the loss of Emmet Bradley as an impact sub has been alleviated by the return of Ciaran McFaul to the fold.

Armagh, on the other hand, are newbies to the scene. In his ninth season in charge, this is Kieran McGeeney’s first Ulster final as Armagh manager and the county’s first appearance in a decider since 2008. What they will lack in experience, they will certainly make up for in hunger, but having been there, done that, and tasted the success, this has to be a firm advantage to Rory Gallagher’s men.


I really rate the Armagh forward line as a unit and a part of me thinks if as many as four of them can click on the day, we will see a mini upset of sorts. Derry were so clinical against Monaghan it is unlikely they will be so flawless in front of goal for a second game in a row.

But they are such a well-oiled machine who turn up and play to a high standard every single day. There is sure to be a few heart stopping moments for both sets of fans along the way, but once again I think it will be the ‘Derry wans’ skipping a day come Monday morning.