DERRY Senior Hurling manager Ger Rogan has admitted his players face a serious test of character following Saturday’s shock Christy Ring Cup exit at the hands of London in Celtic Park.
Michael Wilson reports
A lacklustre first half display saw the Exiles go in 3-09 to 0-06 ahead at the break and paved the way for an eventual 3-11 to 1-15 victory which manager Eamonn Phelan described as “the biggest day in London’s hurling history”. In the second half Derry finally produced something like the form they have shown for the majority of what has been a promising campaign to date but they had left themselves with a mountain to climb.
They almost scaled it though. The impeccable Paddy McCloskey almost capped a fairytale comeback and superb personal second half display by fashioning what would have been a 67th minute winner but his shot fizzed past the far post with London keeper Tommy Williams merely a spectator. That would have been harsh on London who, as Rogan conceded, did enough in the opening 35 minutes to register a second victory over Derry in three seasons.
“We lost the game in the first half,” agreed the Antrim native, “We took the wrong decisions at the wrong times, even in the second half. Paddy should have probably put that ball over the bar and we would have been down to just a point but, no, I think we can be very, very proud. The London lads, in fairness, probably just deserved it on their performance in the first half. We didn’t play well enough in that first half.”
In John Egan at centre-forward and goal heroes Luke Hand (2) and Martin Finn, London had a real cutting edge with the wind in the first half as they built that 12-point lead to complement their physically strong approach. Derry badly missed the influence of Kevin Hinphey and Rogan said some tough questions had to be asked during the interval.
“We questioned at half-time whether the players wanted it bad enough and how much they wanted it,” he explained, “I think they answered that in the second half. I’m just very disappointed with the first half. We didn’t hurl at all in the opening half. We left ourselves too much of a gap to close, but in the end up we still could have won the game. We went for a goal a couple of times when we maybe could have popped the ball over the bar. That’s all part of the learning curve.
“There’s a lot of young lads out there who can be proud of their performance in the second half as long as we learn from it. We never said we were going to win this or win that, we were just going to give it our best shot. Today we didn’t give it our best shot. We gave it 35 minutes of our best shot and it just wasn’t enough.”
The Derry manager said some of his players appeared to get caught up in the occasion first half with possibly one eye on a potential trip to Croke Park.
“I think sometimes you’re dealing with young lads who are trying to play the occasion rather than the game. It just looked like we had frozen in the first half. That happens. Our lads will be bitterly disappointed but we have to learn from it. If we learn, we’re on the right curve.
“The season’s not over yet. We have a good bunch of lads here who are prepared to work, and work hard, and this is a serious test of their character, whether they can come back from this bad defeat and raise their game at training and take a step on for the Ulster championship.
“We’re quite pleased with the second half but disappointed overall though I think London deserved it on their first half performance.”
At the other end of the emotional spectrum was Eamonn Phelan who said the Exiles’ game plan was to try and dominate Derry physically.
“It’s probably our best day ever,” claimed the Kilkenny man, “It’s probably our greatest victory, to come here and win, it’s a massive thing. In the first half, we hurled out of our skins but we’ve been doing that all year, hurling for 35 minutes. Today, in the second half we had to knuckle down and battle hard and we did that.”
So was he worried by the Oak Leaf onslaught after the break?
“I wasn’t worried because we had the cushion of five points. If it had been a bit closer, the heart might have stopped, but the fact that we had five points and we didn’t look like conceding goals made the difference.
“We came here expecting that Derry would provide a big physical battle. We had drilled into the lads all week that we had to win the physical battle. I’ve been involved with London for 10 years and that’s what Derry have been all about. The hurling is there but we had to match them for physicality,” he added.
Derry: Oisin O’Doherty; John McCloskey, Liam Hinphey, Leigh Hawkins; Ruairi McCloskey, Paddy Kelly (0-01f), Jarlath Mulholland; Charles Gilmore, Oisin McCloskey (0-01); Sean McGuigan (0-01), Patrick McCloskey (0-02), Paddy Henry (1-06, 0-04f, 0-01 65’); Brendan Quigley, Ruairi Convery, Alan Grant (0-02. Subs: Shane Farren (0-02) for Convery (31), Michael Warnock for J McCloskey (HT), Sean McCullagh for Hawkins (HT), Conor McSorley for Mulholland (45), Chris Convery for McGuigan (65)
London: Tommy Williams: Eddie Walsh, Brian Costello, Ger Fennelly; Matt Ryan, Dave Maher, Lee Mackey; Colm Quinn, PJ Rowe; Pat Sloane (0-01 line ball), James Egan (0-04), Shane Egan (0-01); Jonathan Maher (0-01), Martin Finn (1-04, 0-02f, 0-01 65’), Luke Hand (2-00) Subs: Michael Walsh for E Walsh (52), Henry Vaughan for S Egan (59), Kevin Walsh for P Sloane (64)
Referee: Garrett Duffy (Antrim)