Bloodied & Beaten!

GAA Football All Ireland Senior Championship Qualifier Round 1, Pearse Park, Co. Longford 30/6/2012'Longford vs Derry'Derry's Barry McGolderick reacts after being sent off 'Mandatory Credit �INPHO/Ryan Byrne

GAA Football All Ireland Senior Championship Qualifier Round 1, Pearse Park, Co. Longford 30/6/2012'Longford vs Derry'Derry's Barry McGolderick reacts after being sent off 'Mandatory Credit �INPHO/Ryan Byrne

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“It’s a game that could hang on a referee’s decision!”

No, not the post-match rantings of a defeated manager, rather John Brennan speaking to the ‘Journal’ last Thursday ahead of Saturday’s trip to Pearse Park. The Derry manager could not have imagined just how prophetic those words would turn out to be.

Michael Wilson was in Glennon Brothers Pearse Park

Photographs: Ryan Byrne (Presseye)

Derry’s 2012 Championship exit arrived amid chaotic scenes before over 5,000 partisan spectators in Longford as two-goal Barry McGoldrick’s second yellow card and a controversial disallowed goal from Joe Diver on the final whistle summed up a season of frustration. But this was not Donegal in Ballybofey ‘Take Two’.

In the aftermath of this three-point defeat there were no questions over fitness or desire. Both were on display in abundance, especially in the second half between two evenly matched teams.

Victories like this are won in the detail but that detail can come from any one of the three main protagonists and on this occasion too often it came from the third, Sligo referee Michael Duffy.

Even before Diver’s ‘goal’, Derry were feeling hard done by and with some justification. The key decisions went against the visitors. That is not to say Longford didn’t deserve the win, Glenn Ryan’s side were energetic, lively and in Sean McCormack had the most potent player on display but a look at the corresponding free counts tells a tale.

Of McCormack’s 11 points, nine were from placed balls while Michael Quinn also helped himself to a ‘45. Derry, courtesy of Paddy Bradley, scored one free.

In a tight game, those decisions are what plots a team’s course through the 70 minutes and the ones continually going against the Oak Leafers kept steering them back into choppy waters. Five in particular cost Derry.

Case 1 (49 minutes) - after starting the second half in bright fashion with Paddy Bradley causing all sorts of problems and the score standing at 0-09 to 0-07, Derry are probing when Claudy’s Marty Donaghy is hauled to the floor by two Longford players. It is an obvious foul but the referee waves play on and Longford go straight up the pitch to score through McCormack. What looked like potentially 0-08 to 0-09 was suddenly 0-07 to 0-10.

Case 2 (59 minutes) - McGoldrick’s first goal has Derry level at 1-7 to 0-10. Longford are in possession on the Derry 45m but kick possession straight back to the visitors, yet the referee penalises Ryan Dillon for a tug on McCormack’s shirt 30m away. McCormack scores the free and Longford lead again.

Case 3 (76 minutes) - Derry are behind by one as the game enters 11 minutes of injury time following sustained treatment to Longford midfielder John Keegan. Dungiven’s Mark Craig is clearly hauled back by Longford captain Paul Barden yet the free is awarded to the home side. McCormack stretches the gap to two from the resultant free.

Case 4 (79 minutes) - Derry now trail by three after Longford dominate the closing minutes of a thrilling second half but the visitors are bombarding the home square. A Longford official appears behind the goal and a melee involving upward of 15 players ensues. When things settle a bloodied McGoldrick is distraught at receiving a second yellow card while Longford’s Dermot Brady is also booked.

Case 5 (81 minutes) - The main talking point. With time almost up Derry launch one more high ball to the edge of the Longford square. Joe Diver clearly catches the ball before being bundled - ball and all - into the back of the net. Amid the confusion a free out is awarded but at no point does the referee signal a square ball or explain his decision despite the Derry protestations.

Time was up, not just on the game but on Derry’s Championship season and it was not the end the Oak Leaf manager had in mind.

“The players all asked what the decision was for but it’s a bit late in the day to ask after the referee has already ruled it out,” lamented Brennan afterwards.

“The players are satisfied Joe Diver caught the ball clean and was dragged to the ground. Both he and the ball ended up in the net but I’ve seen goals like that awarded before. How could the referee then award a free out? It looked like a complete U-turn but we are not surprised at Mr. Duffy doing that. He was castigated last week for his horrible performance and today he was doing reasonably well until the second half when I thought again he had another horrible performance.

“Our centre-half back (Mark Craig) was penalised running back toward his own goal when their forward pulled him back and Mr. Duffy gave a free in at a very, crucial time. It was a crucial point. I am disappointed in him and hope he is happy that he can do that to a team.”

It was undoubtedly the referee who took centre stage for the finale but in truth Derry lost control of the game in a 15 minute spell at the end of the opening half. Behind at 0-4 to 0-5 on 20 minutes after an encouraging start, Derry had only John McCamley’s monster 23rd minute point to show for the remainder of first half despite numerous opportunities. The visitors bossed the midfield in the opening exchanges with McCamley sweeping up any breaking ball that Patsy Bradley and Michael Friel missed. That control did fade but Longford will have been delighted to lead 0-08 to 0-5 at the break.

At 0-5 a-piece Paddy Bradley was unlucky to see his slightly scuffed shot roll against the post and wide but Danny Devlin had already saved expertly from McCormack when Longford should have hit the net on 12 minutes.

That all set up a roller coaster of a second half with both teams going at it, Derry’s more direct approach in contrast to Longford’s defensive system from which runners sprang if possession was won. Barry McGoldrick had looked decidedly uneasy against McCormack in the game’s early stages but when he was switched to sweep in front of Ryan Dillon and Chrissy McKaigue it paid unexpected dividends.

His first goal arrived on 53 minutes courtesy of a sublime Paddy Bradley pass which dissected the home defence and picked out the unmarked Eoghan Rua man. In acres of space in front of goal, McGoldrick turned and rolled it under Damien Sheridan for 1-07 to 0-10. His second was an almost carbon copy as McGoldrick once again ghosted into space to get on the end of Eoin Bradley’s high ball in from a sideline ball, turn and score. Again it was an excellent finish.

From there it was anyone’s game and had Derry managed to hold on to the lead for slightly longer than they did it may have been a different scenario. The quick response meant Longford had not need to change their tactic of packing the defence and breaking. Derry looked the team under pressure and pressed forward almost carelessly at times which played into Longford’s trap.

McGoldrick’s second yellow card was as mystifying as the appearance of the Longford official behind the goal. McGoldrick appeared to have been more sinned against than sinner yet was the only man to leave the field much to the annoyance of Brennan.

“We had a boy come off the pitch with blood pouring from his nose having scored two goals. That didn’t happen by accident, he was hit on the nose. There was a very unsatisfactory element as well in that an official from Longford - whether he was a team official or a ground official, I’m not sure - that was getting involved with those players. That is wrong and I would like to see why he was there and what he was involved in. When there was a bit of a scrummage there at the end he was very much involved and he shouldn’t have been.

“Listen, we came down here today optimistic that we would come out of Pearse Park with a result. We had the opportunities in the first half to have built up a lead by half-time but that didn’t happen and that is basically where the game was lost.”

The record books will not make note of the details, only that Longford won by three points and as such the critic’s microscope will remained focused on Derry football. What is now crucial is that the season’s post-mortem does not look in isolation at the senior team and it’s manager who, but for a referee’s interpretation could be preparing for a second round Qualifier this week. Any review must take look at the wider picture of a problem that does not begin or end with 15-30 players who performed in Ballybofey and Longford.

Longford: Damien Sheridan; Dermot Brady, Barry Gilleran, Declan Reilly; Colm P. Smyth (0-1), Michael Quinn (0-1, 1 forty-five), Shane Mulligan; Bernard McElvaney (0-1), John Keegan; Donal McEligott, Paul Barden, Niall Mulligan; Francis McGee (0-1), Brian Kavanagh (0-1), Sean McCormack (0-11, 9f). (Subs) David Barden for J Keegan 36mins; Padraig McCormack (0-1) for N Mulligan 57mins; Peter Foy for F McGee, 72mins; Barry McKeon for D McElligott.

Derry: Danny Devlin; Ryan Dillon, Chrissy McKaigue, Barry McGoldrick (2-0), Ryan Scott, Mark Craig, Sean Leo McGoldrick; Michael Friel, Patsy Bradley; Marty Donaghy, Mark Lynch (0-1), John McCamley (0-2); Eoin Bradley (0-1), Paddy Bradley (0-3, 1f), Emmett McGuckin (0-1). (Subs) Conleith Gilligan for M Donaghey, 56mins; Neil Forester for E Bradley, 73mins; Joe Diver for P Bradley, 75 mins.

Referee: Michael Duffy (Sligo).