Football

New-look Donegal reviving but Derry can win in Ballybofey

Donegal captain Michael Murphy on the final whistle after being beaten by Derry in the 2022 Ulster SFC Final at Clones. Picture Margaret McLaughlin
Donegal captain Michael Murphy on the final whistle after being beaten by Derry in the 2022 Ulster SFC Final at Clones. Picture Margaret McLaughlin

All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Group 4, round two

Donegal v Derry (Páirc Seán MacCumhaill, Sunday, 4pm)

ARMAGH against Tyrone. Derry against Derry. Both in Ballybofey. A weird 2023 continues for Donegal and the Oak Leafers on Sunday afternoon.

The last time Derry won in Ballybofey in the senior football championship was a 2008 Ulster quarter-final, when the visitors' top scorer, with 0-10, was Paddy Bradley.

Now he's coaching Donegal against his own county, alongside Armagh's Aidan O'Rourke. In the dug-out for Derry is Tyrone man Ciaran Meenagh.

Two teams seeking to find their identity again.

Donegal always knew 2023 would be a difficult year, the first of the post-Michael Murphy era.

The Glenswilly giant bestrode the Tir Chonaill landscape like a colossus. For a decade not only his county's consistently best player but its ultimate leader.

Donegal knew the day of his retirement was coming but they still weren't ready to deal with his absence.

At least they've had time to deal with their massive change. Paddy Carr is a very decent man but he was the wrong appointment as manager.

His replacement, O'Rourke, has gone for revolution, not evolution.

Donegal have just six starters from last year's Ulster Final named to line out on Sunday: Shaun Patton, Caolan Ward, Brendan McCole, Eoghan 'Ban' Gallagher, Caolan McGonagle, Jason McGee, and Jamie Brennan.

Being able to include Ciaran Thompson, Hugh McFadden, and Oisin Gallen is obviously good, as is the presence of Paddy McBrearty on the bench; but Stephen McMenamin apart, Donegal don't have a lot of experience in reserve.

Donegal's players, new and established, need to show that they are about more than one man, mighty as he was.

Derry have stated changes from Clones last summer: Shea Downey has not been starting, with Eoin McEvoy into the defence, and Ciaran McFaul again comes in ahead of Benny Heron.

Their change on the line has been much more recent than Donegal's.

The challenge for Derry's players now is to demonstrate that they weren't merely the construct of one manager.

It was absolutely right that Rory Gallagher departed as Derry boss.

It's also obvious that the change of management has had an adverse effect on the team.

Ciaran Meenagh is a highly-respected coach and man, but he clearly wants to be the former, not a boss.

Derry have seemed sluggish in both their recent matches – the Ulster Final and last Saturday's home match against Monaghan.

Just as for Donegal, who better, where better, than facing Derry in Ballybofey, so too for the visitors.

MacCumhaill Park has been a fortress for Donegal, and even this year they defeated Kerry and drew with Galway - but Derry must believe they can inflict another defeat on their neighbours.

The importance of Derry's win in last year's Ulster SFC Final cannot be over-stated.

Chief of all, the Oak Leafers hadn't lifted the Anglo-Celt Cup for 24 years; quite incredible, given the regular flow of footballing talent they produce.

Similarly, they hadn't defeated their neighbours in senior championship combat for 14 years and seven meetings.

A devastated Shane McGuigan (right) of Derry after Patrick McBrearty (left) of Donegal kicked a late winner in 2021. Picture Margaret McLaughlin
A devastated Shane McGuigan (right) of Derry after Patrick McBrearty (left) of Donegal kicked a late winner in 2021. Picture Margaret McLaughlin

Donegal held the whip hand over that period because they were a much better team.

The boot is on the other foot now – except Derry aren't quite the force they were last year and earlier this one.

Still, they're definitely a step up in class compared to Clare. Derry tore the Banner to shreds in Croke Park last summer in the All-Ireland SFC quarter-finals, then this year earned promotion to the top flight while Colm Collins's men suffered demotion down to Division Three. Derry won their Division Two meeting pulling up, 0-14 to 0-4, at Owenbeg.

Donegal and Derry have exchanged places in the League for next year, the Tir Chonaill men leaving Division One with barely a whimper. They lost to Tyrone, Monaghan, Armagh, and Roscommon by a cumulative 42 points.

They didn't make much more of a noise in the Ulster Championship, with a no more than decent display against Down in Newry before being outdone over the last 10 minutes of action. The Mournemen were then absolutely exposed by Armagh.

Derry's Conor Glass sends Oak Leaf supporters wild as he scores a very late point in extra time against Donegal during last year's Ulster SFChampionship Final at Clones. Picture Margaret McLaughlin
Derry's Conor Glass sends Oak Leaf supporters wild as he scores a very late point in extra time against Donegal during last year's Ulster SFChampionship Final at Clones. Picture Margaret McLaughlin

Derry, despite under-performing against both Armagh and Monaghan, did not lose either of those matches, against teams who are superior to Donegal at present. Earlier they'd disposed of Fermanagh and Monaghan by 12 and eight points respectively.

Of course, the Donegal management will have watched as Monaghan matched Derry in Celtic Park. The most impressive aspect from Vinny Corey's men was that the home attack barely functioned – apart from the seemingly ever-excellent Shane McGuigan.

Donegal will feel that if they can curtail the Slaughtneil man then they'll have high hopes of a second consecutive victory; easier said than done though.

Derry will aim to get much more out of Ethan Doherty and Paul Cassidy in particular, both of them top young talents, who can create and take scores.

Monaghan's industrious forwards also restricted the counter-attacking speed of the Conors, McCluskey and Doherty, and Padraig McGrogan too. Can Donegal do likewise? Hugh McFadden will instinctively track back, Daire O Baoill too, but more is needed all round from the other Donegal attackers.

The win in Ennis was a building block for Donegal. Four points down after 20 minutes, they outscored Clare by 13 points to four after that, and 11 to three in the second half.

That first win in four months – since their League opener against All-Ireland champions Kerry, which seems a lifetime ago - will give them some much-needed belief.

Rather than merely suffering out three games in this group, they can go on to the preliminary quarter-finals at least.

If Derry lose this they too should still see their way into the last 12 by beating Clare in a fortnight's time.

However, the Oak Leafers have enough quality to win in Ballybofey for the first time in 15 years.

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Dún na nGall

1 Shaun Patton

2 Mark Curran

3 Brendan McCole

4 Caolan McColgan

5 Caolan Ward

6 Eoghan Gallagher

7 Odhran Doherty

8 Caolan McGonagle

9 Jason McGee

10 Daire Ó Baoill

11 Jamie Brennan

12 Ciaran Thompson

13 Hugh McFadden

14 Oisin Gallen

15 Conor O Donnell

16 Gavin Mulreaney

17 Patrick McBrearty

18 Jeaic McKelvey

19 Brian O Donnell

20 John Ross Molloy

21 Luke McGlynn

22 Johnny McGroddy

23 Stephen McMenamin

24 Kieran Tobin

25 Rory O Donnell

26 Dylan Dorrian

Doire

1 Odhran Lynch

2 Chrissy McKaigue

3 Eoin McEvoy

4 Conor McCluskey

5 Conor Doherty

6 Gareth McKinless

7 Padraig McGrogan

8 Conor Glass

9 Brendan Rogers

10 Niall Toner

11 Paul Cassidy

12 Ethan Doherty

13 Ciaran McFaul

14 Shane McGuigan

15 Niall Loughlin

16 Ryan Scullion

17 Declan Cassidy

18 Benny Heron

19 Shea Downey

20 Lachlan Murray

21 Ben McCarron

22 Paul McNeil

23 Padraig Cassidy

24 Conleth McGuckian

25 Mark Doherty

26 Diarmuid Baker

CHAMPIONSHIP 2023

DONEGAL

Down 2-13 Donegal 1-11 (Ulster quarter-final)

Clare 0-9 Donegal 0-14 (All-Ireland Group 4, round 1)

DERRY

Derry 3-17 Fermanagh 2-8 (Ulster quarter-final)

Derry 1-21 Monaghan 2-10 (Ulster semi-final)

Derry 1-15 Armagh 0-18 (AET, Derry won 3-1 on penalties) (Ulster final)

Derry 0-14 Monaghan 0-14 (All-Ireland Group 4, round 1)

2022 Ulster SFC Final teams:

Derry: O Lynch; C McKaigue, B Rogers (0-3), C McCluskey; C Doherty (0-1), G McKinless, P McGrogan; C Glass (0-1), N Toner; P Cassidy (0-1), S Downey (0-1), E Doherty; B Heron, S McGuigan (0-6, 0-5 frees), N Loughlin (1-2, 0-1 free).

Subs: E Bradley (0-1) for Loughlin (47), L Murray for Heron (63), B McCarron for Toner (67), P McNeill for Downey (71), Heron for Murray (81), Toner for McCarron (81), O McWilliams for Doherty (87).

Donegal: S Patton; C Ward, B McCole, S McMenamin; R McHugh (0-1), E Ban Gallagher, O McFadden-Ferry (1-0); C McGonagle, J McGee (0-2); P Mogan (0-3), S O'Donnell (0-2), M Langan; P McBrearty (0-2 frees), M Murphy (0-2), J Brennan.

Subs: C O'Donnell for Brennan (57), A Doherty (0-1, mark) for McFadden-Ferry (63), N O'Donnell for S O'Donnell (71), H McFadden for McGee (71), C Thompson (0-1) for McGonagle (80), P Brennan for Gallagher (81).

RECENT CHAMPIONSHIP MEETINGS:

2022: Ulster SFC Final: Derry 1-16 Donegal 1-14 (AET)

2021: Ulster SFC quarter-final: Donegal 0-16 Derry 0-15

2018: Ulster SFC quarter-final: Donegal 2-16 Derry 0-16

2015: Ulster SFC quarter-final: Donegal 1-9 Derry 0-10

2014 Ulster SFC quarter-final: Derry 0-11 Donegal 1-11

2012 Ulster SFC quarter-final: Donegal 2-13 Derry 0-9

2011 Ulster SFC Final: Donegal 1-11 Derry 0-8

2009 All-Ireland SFC qualifiers round three: Donegal 2-13 Derry 0-18 (AET)

2008 Ulster SFC quarter-final: Donegal 1-12 Derry 1-14

2006 Ulster SFC semi-final: Donegal 1-13 Derry 0-11

2002 Ulster SFC semi-final: Donegal 1-9 Derry 0-10

1998 Ulster SFC Final: Derry 1-7 Donegal 0-8

1993 Ulster SFC Final: Derry 0-8 Donegal 0-6

1992 Ulster SFC Final: Donegal 0-14 Derry 1-9

1990 Ulster SFC semi-final: Donegal 1-15 Derry 0-8.