Derry manager John Brennan said his players fully deserved their emphatic semi-final victory over Armagh and paid tribute to the contribution of midfielders Michael Friel and Joe Diver.
Michael Wilson reports
Sunday’s victory means Derry will meet either Donegal or Tyrone in their first final since 2000 and ended a sequence of seven successive semi-finals defeats, not that the Lavey man was surprised by how well his team performed.
“It was a very good performance but I was expecting the players to up their performance,” explained the Derry manager.
“People must remember back to the early part of the league. We beat Tyrone, Kildare and all these big teams who have been there or thereabouts in the latter stages of All Ireland Championships.
“We just had to get a bit fitter. Okay, Fermanagh may have been a bit of a non-event but that wasn’t our problem. We knew that if we upped our game Armagh would have to sustain the effort they put in against Down. They didn’t do that. We upped it and the result speaks for itself.
“No disrespect to Armagh but we deserved that more than Armagh.”
With most praise focused on the free-scoring Eoin Bradley, Mark Lynch and Conleith Gilligan, the Derry manager said everyone in an Oak Leaf shirt had played their part with Friel and Diver superb in the middle third.
“Michael Friel has come through the development squad. Joe Diver has maybe been living in the shadow of Fergal Doherty for a while but he’s not available and I prefer to talk about the two fellas out there who played their hearts out.
“They played a very controlled game. Did you ever see a better exhibition of midfield play? I can talk and anyone can talk but you have to demonstrate and to me that performance was a demonstration, both in supporting the defenders and supporting the forwards. What other superlatives are there to describe the way they played.”
Brennan said he always believed his team could win despite their poor recent record in semi-finals.
“People thought Derry can’t win semi-finals but I had thoughts of my own and maybe I think deeper than they do. I know the players. People on the outside can think a lot of things but they don’t know exactly how people operate inside a changing room. Those fellas have responded to me. The physical condition the backroom staff have got them into is superb and the players were prepared to put in the effort to get themselves into that condition. Armagh are a physical team but l would to like to ask, ‘who was lying prostrate on the ground more, orange jerseys or red and white?’ I think that answers it.”
Brennan was delighted with the response his side gave to Micheal O’Rourke’s goal within 30 seconds of the restart.
“We conceded a goal right after half-time but we have to go through bad patches. We mentioned at half-time we were going to go through a bad patch. Don’t think for one minute we weren’t going to. We didn’t expect it to come as early as it did in the second half but we responded.
“I have no magic. It is hard work. That’s all. Hard work and good camaraderie between the players. You must have talent to start with and this is a talented bunch of players, very talented.
“We have got over this line. We’ve won nothing yet but I said before the game if we could get that semi-final ‘monkey’ off our back we could be about for a while.
“I hope the Derry fans come out in the same numbers as Armagh did today. I think this Derry team deserves the uptmost credit from every GAA supporter in Derry. If they don’t support that Derry team well, they may get out into the transfer market,” he added.