HE CHOSE his words carefully in his post-match analysis but unlike Jim McEnaney’s crucial 67th minute ‘score’, John Brennan’s point did not miss its target.
Michael Wilson was at Celtic Park
Photographs: Lorcan Doherty (Presseye)
The Derry manager’s frustration was understandable. McEnaney’s point, which looked a couple of yards wide of the posts, could yet see his team relegated to Division Three. As it was, the score from wide out under the Celtic Park stand compounded a final 10 minute spell in which Derry shot themselves in the foot. Leading by four, the game should have been put to bed but the home side gifted Louth a route back into the game.
When the ‘Wee County’ brought the deficit back to a single point courtesy of the aforementioned score, Paddy Bradley was able to ease nerves with a wonderful point on the end of a Joe Diver drive as the game ticked into added time and Celtic Park breathed a sigh of relief. It was premature.
Twice the Oak Leafers conceded unnecessary frees, one moved forward for Diver’s dissent, which Louth punished to force Derry into a tricky final day trip to Westmeath which they cannot afford to lose.
“I am annoyed because when points are awarded they normally go over the bar,” explained the Derry manager.
“To use the words of another manager, we are looking for a bit of continuity. There were a few things that were concerning. Granted we should have been cute enough to hold on to the ball and play the game out. We didn’t do that unfortunately but there were a couple of decisions there that proved turning points.
“To award THAT point was not right. To award something that was wide as a point is not right. Is that not self-explanatory?”
Brennan was only too aware the debate over whether McEnaney’s point should have stood was masking the fact that Derry had, not for the first time in the league this season, contrived to throw away a match-winning position. Sunday’s draw meant Derry had won only one of their three league games at home. Injuries and injustice have hindered the campaign but the Lavey man was keen not to use either as an excuse.
Having lost to influential Mark Craig following a midweek collision in training, the departure of Michael Friel to injury on 61 minutes coincided with Derry’s loss of the crucial midfield sector. Louth took over and Derry struggled to win any primary possession.
“Michael Friel going off was a big turning point. He is a wonderful player, it was the turning point for us in the second half. He was winning a lot of ball, he shouldn’t have been winning but Paddy (Bradley) also gave a massive display during the second half.”
While the post-mortem is likely to focus on Derry’s final 10 minutes, it was probably the opening 10 that cost them the two points. Without a goal in their previous five league encounters, the impressive Darren Clarke - who finished with 1-07 - rectified that statistic for Louth after only five minutes at Celtic Park with Derry’s defence all at sea.
It was the Wee County’s third clear goal chance in the first five minutes and while Derry escaped relatively unscathed to level before 10 minutes had elapsed, that opening salvo had convinced Peter Fitzpatrick’s team they could win.
The easy option would be to blame Derry’s full-back line who were finding Louth’s two man forward line of Clarke and Derek Maguire difficult to handle. Chrissy McKaigue was being dragged out to pick up the deep lying McEnaney which didn’t help but the truth is the ball into the dangerous Louth front line was far too easy.
Lying deep with numbers in defence, most Louth attacks were started at half-back or corner back. Jamie Carr and Liam Shevlin were key players for Fitzpatrick’s team but Derry gave them too much space in which to roam up from the back. Corner-back Ray Finnegan was another who seemed to have the freedom of Celtic Park from which to go forward and find his forwards.
Clarke’s goal was case in point. After Brian Donnelly and Mark Brennan had both missed when put clean through, Finnegan set off on another unchecked run which took him deep into Derry territory. From there it was much too simple to pick out Ronan Carroll who in turn fed Clarke and the finish was emphatic.
Derry eventually settled with Conleith Gilligan doing everything in his power to bring them back into the game, whether through his superb free-taking or his excellent play-making from deep. It was largely due to the Ballinderry man that Derry went into the break level at 0-11 to 1-08, but only after Gillis had denied Louth once more when Clarke looked set to goal.
“At half-time, we would have been happy with the draw,” admitted Brennan, “We knew we had not played up to standard in the first half but losing another centre-half back, Mark Craig, during the week was a blow but you have to get over these things.
“Our defence was loose in the respect that Louth attacked from their half-back line. It is very easy to blame a defence when they are being attacked by a number of the opposition. It started in Louth’s half-back line right through our midfield. They had very good forwards and they were running off the ball. We found it difficult to keep with them.
“Look, we got a draw and have five points so we are still in a battle but we are well used to that this year.”
Derry eventually began to look more like themselves after half-time with Paddy Bradley in particular finding his range. An uncharacteristic miss from a easy free in the half’s opening seconds seemed to spur the Glenullin man on and his haul of 0-7 owed everything to a fantastic second 35 minutes.
Bradley’s first score of the half was followed immediately by three Louth points which took the visitors into a 1-11 to 0-12 lead on 41 minutes but from there until Friel hobbled off, Derry took control.
Two scores from Bradley had Derry level before Friel popped up in the nick of time to superbly block Maguire’s goal bound shot. When Bradley put Derry ahead on 49 minutes, it appeared Louth had run their course, Derry eventually manufacturing what appeared a match-winning four point lead courtesy of Bradley, Gilligan and Eoghan Brown.
Blain Gormley could have made the game safe after Bradley touched a high centre on but the Craigbane man’s poked effort on the stretch trickled just wide of the far post.
Then the game entered its final 10 minutes and the Derry manager was at a loss to explain why his team had not been able to see the game through to the final whistle.
“We had enough possession and to move four points up with 10 minutes left, we should have been able to play that out. There were a couple of rash decisions by one or two Derry players who gave away silly frees, I’m not going to mention players.
“That said, the fellas gave their all. I thought there was a remarkable period there in the second half up until we lost Michael Friel. You couldn’t have asked any more of a team against the sun, against the wind and I’m proud of them. I am sorry the mistakes were made in the last few minutes, it cost us dearly.”
Sitting fourth on five points, Derry’s fate remains in their own hands ahead of the trip to Mullingar on April 8th but with every team below them on four points, the Lavey man knows there is no room for error.
“I am optimistic about going to Westmeath. We have to at least draw but we are capable of that. Maybe one or two of these niggly injuries will have cleared up in two weeks time and we will get going again but I’m happy enough.
“I am not even thinking about preparing for any Championship, only about preparing for the last league game. There will be a lot of sunshine and rain before we play the Championship but we don’t win matches by not holding out. We should have played better in the last five minutes because it did away with all the good work the players had done in the 30 minutes up to that,” he added.
Derry: Barry Gillis; Brian McCallion, Chrissy McKaigue, Aidan McAlynn; Charlie Kielt (0-1), Michael Drumm, Sean Leo McGoldrick (0-1); Michael Friel, PJ McCloskey; Patsy Bradley, Conleith Gilligan (0-6, 5f), Blain Gormley (0-1); Eoghan Brown (0-2), Paddy Bradley (0-7, 2f), Enda Lynn (0-1). (Subs) Patsy Bradley for N Forrester, 26mins; Eugene Scullion for A McAlynn, H/T; Cailean O’Boyle for PJ McCloskey, 49mins; Joe Diver for M Friel (inj), 61mins; Ryan Scott for M Drumm, 66mins;
Louth: Neill Gallagher; Padraig Rath, Dessie Finnegan, Ray Finnegan (0-1); Declan Byrne, Jamie Carr (0-1), Liam Shevlin; Brian Donnelly, Ronan Carroll (0-1); Derek Crilly, Mark Brennan, Adrian Reid (0-1); Derek Maguire (0-1), Jim McEnaney (0-3), Darren Clarke (1-7, 4f, ‘45). (Subs) James Califf for B Donnelly, 23mins; Andy McDonnell for Derek Crilly, 53mins; Stephen Fitzpatrick for P Rath, 58mins; Brian White (0-1) for A Reid, 58mins; Aaron Hoey for J Califf, 64mins;
Referee: Michael Duffy (Sligo)