GAA Football

Danny Hughes: McCluskey and McGuigan moving Derry to another level - and yellow was plenty for Rian O'Neill

Conor McCluskey has had an outstanding campaign so far for Derry. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

ONE of the most effective Derry players against Donegal was Conor McCluskey.

He appears to have taken his game to another level.

As a forward, there is nothing you dread as much as a defender who loves to attack.

I came up against some of the best in that regard - Andy Mallon, Killian Young, Davy Harte, Karl Lacey.

You had to be so wary of the damage they could do on the offensive.

They say the best form of defence is attack.

Shane McGuigan remains a key cog in the Derry wheel.

There was a point in the first half when both Donegal and Derry were level.

McGuigan had yet to score but you could see the temper was beginning to rise in him.

He found himself at full-back marking Caolan McGonagle.

The Derry man intercepted Daire Ó Baoill’s pass inside and after moving the ball on, made his way up the field again to support the attack.

By the time Benny Heron was kicking the score at the other end of the move, McGuigan was right there beside him on the Donegal 20-metre line, demanding the ball.

Sometimes leadership is not so much about the shouting, nor is it even about the brilliance in scoring.

At times, it is the dirty work, like a block, a defensive tackle or in McGuigan’s case, intercepting a dangerous Donegal pass close to your own goal.

McGuigan isn’t afraid to do that dirty work and this has made Derry a serious contender for the All-Ireland.

They are a team whose parts are all prepared to work themselves to the bone in order to win a game.

In this regard they remind me of Donegal in 2012.

While Kerry and Dublin struggle to find form, it feels to me that Derry are building nicely.

Then again, it is so very hard to judge at the moment given that we have yet to reach the quarter-finals.

The longer Kerry stay in the championship, the stronger a contender David Clifford is always going to be for Footballer of the Year.

However where they to exit prematurely, if McGuigan retains his form, he won’t be far away.

Galway and Mayo should be thereabouts also in the shake-up.

Louth reminded Kevin McStay’s side to guard against ‘in-game’ complacency.

The Wee County have been extraordinary under Mickey Harte’s management and had they been better in possession and shot selection, that one-point gap between the sides could have been easily reversed.

While they may miss out on qualification from their group, there is lots for them to be proud of.

The Ulster derby between Armagh and Tyrone was always going to be a tight affair.

The Red Hands will have taken a heavy sigh of relief to get over the line.

A win is a win, regardless of the aesthetics.

Rian O’Neill’s sending off was crucial.

Dropping a knee on someone was never considered a sending off when I played (mind you, Gregory McCartan was sent off for throwing a ball at Brian McGuigan in the 2003 Ulster final).

A yellow card and stern warning was probably sufficient punishment.

I think the general standard of officialdom in both the football and hurling championships this year has been, at best, average and this includes linesmen and umpires.
Ignoring this issue post-season and hoping it works out better next year is not a recommended policy.

Tyrone head into their fixture with Westmeath needing a result of sorts and will take a point if need be.

In Galway, Kieran McGeeney will want and need a win in order to build some confidence in the team.

The next few weeks will be the most important championship games of his nine years in charge.

Monaghan keep doing what they do. I the results business no team epitomises character quite like the Farney men.

Let’s not forget about the Tailteann Cup.

Cavan, Antrim, Fermanagh and Down all have aspirations of picking up silverware.

A few teams in there will consider themselves better than the second tier.

Promoted back up to Division Two in the spring, Cavan should be favourites and the defeat to Westmeath last year perhaps doesn’t sting as much now.

Westmeath were underdogs leading into the Tailteann Cup final last year. Given how they have performed in this season’s group stages of the Sam Maguire, I have had to revisit my preconceived notions.

While Dessie Dolan’s side remain in Division Three next season and are unlikely to qualify from their group, you could say that they have shown real progress in many ways and have been ‘successful’ using a different definition.

Down and Fermanagh have a big weekend ahead of them.

Down played Longford in the league in Pairc Esler in a game they never really looked in danger of losing.

The championship has a strange way of affecting players and teams. It is not a foregone conclusion.

My fellow clubmate Pat Havern is playing very well and another strong performance here from him should be enough to secure Down another game.

Antrim topping their group is one of the stories of the competition.

I felt an indifferent league campaign could perhaps be explained by the change in management last season and Andy McEntee getting to know his squad.

Things now appear more settled.

The Saffrons have never lacked for quality footballers.

Many of their county players make up the backbone of successful Sigerson Cup teams and are accomplished top quality club players.

In many ways the championship in both competitions only really starts this weekend. Over the next month, we will see the extraordinary as well as the ordinary.

With the conversations growing louder each weekend on how the game is now being played we can all agree that some things don’t change.

There can only be one winner.

At a fundamental level, the sole purpose of Gaelic football and hurling as sports is to entertain.

Somewhere along the line though, winning became the fundamental.

Winning with style became optional.

Winning ugly became necessary.

Winning at all costs.

GAA Football