A fortuitous goal three minutes into the second half proved the tipping point at Pearse Park, Galway on Sunday as it provided the home side with a six point cushion that stood to them when Derry finally threw off the shackles for the remaining 30 minutes and produced what had been badly missing in the opening half.
Seamus Mullan was in Pearse Park
Photographs: Mike Shaughnessy (Inpho)
After the game, a clearly disappointed Derry manager Brian McIver referred to that first half Derry performance, especially the opening quarter, as the period when the Derry lost the game.
“Probably the decisive period of the game was the first 15 minutes,” admitted McIver, “We had a lot of players very, very nervous and we gave away the ball a serious amount of times and got punished for it.
“In that first 15 minutes Galway looked that bit sharper on the ball. We were probably lucky that we were not further behind at half time.”
At that stage, with Derry having the advantage of a fresh breeze, they trailed by five points, 0-06 to 0-01, the Derry defence wilting under the pressure as Sean Armstrong, inside thirty seconds, Michael Martin (2) and the irrepressible Michael Meehan from a free posted four unanswered points by the 10th minute.
Two minutes later PJ McCloskey scored a terrific long range point but that failed to stir Derry into action as Martin and Danny Cummins stretched the advantage to 0-06 to 0-01.
Indeed, Derry’s second score did not arrive until the 21st minute.
However the introduction of Gerard O’Kane for Carlus McWilliams six minutes from half time would give Derry an impetus that was so much absent for much of the first half.
For all their woes in the first half though Derry were still well placed when Ryan Bell thumped over a point for 0-06 to 0-03 nine minutes from the break and James Kielt did likewise for 0-06 to 0-04 in the 33rd minute.
Yet only the timely intervention of Sean Leo McGoldrick in the 23rd minute prevented a testing Meehan cross reaching the lurking Armstrong, while disciplined tackling four minutes from half time dispossessed Meehan as he closed in on goal.
Meehan did, however, grab two points - the second from a free - to take Galway to an invaluable 0-08 to 0-04 interval lead.
When it was pointed out to the Derry manager that over the course of the game the Oak Leafers had dropped the ball seven times into the keeper’s arms, McIver interjected quickly to comment, “I’d safely say that six of those happened in the first half when we were playing with the breeze. We talked about that at half time. I don’t know why that was the case. Maybe the fellas were trying to be too precise in terms of getting the score. Given those chances there was only three points in it at the end.
“But fair play to the players they had a very good second half and we might have come out of the game with something. We had a couple wee breaks near the end. For a long spell in that second half we worked some great scores.
“But we needed a break. They got a big break when the fella was attempting to fist the ball over the bar and it rebounded off the woodwork and Meehan netted. I thought we should have had it cleared in the first place but at the end of the day that was the difference in the match.”
Derry had started the second half brightly with a morale boosting Patsy Bradley strike from long range for 0-08 to 0-05.
However Derry dropped another ball into the keeper’s arms and then conceded a careless free, one that lead to the only goal of the game. In truth Derry should have been able to end the move before Martin’s fisted cross came off the woodwork and the unmarked Meehan punched the ball to the net.
However Derry showed great resilience thereafter, Eoin Bradley giving the Galway defence a torrid time as Derry reeled off the points to whittle the lead to the minimum slowly but surely.
Yet after pointed frees from Bell and Bradley a loose ball from Mark Lynch gifted Meehan a point in the 40th minute for 1-09 to 0-07.
Within the next five minutes Bradley had pointed two more frees but Derry needed two fabulous saves from keeper Eoin McNicholl on Danny Cummins to keep them in the game. On the subject of his keeper, the Derry manager remarked, “He made a great double save, point blank saves but on the other hand he has a lot of work to do in terms of his kick out. But the same applies to all the players. They have a lot of work to do.”
Fifteen minutes into the second half James Kielt scored a terrific point to narrow the gap to the minimum, 0-11 to 1-09 but then Gerard O’Kane (2) and Barry McGoldrick shot wides when Derry needed a score to keep up the momentum.
“Yeah we know that we could have come out of that game with something,” added the Derry manager, “I accept that we started the game with a few players making their debut and nerves was probably a factor. When you get to this level you cannot give the ball away as often as we did and you cannot start a game away from home as poorly as we did!”
Enda Lynn pointed for 0-12 to 1-10 twenty minutes into the second half, Derry still very much in contention.
But Galway had the edge in the last five minutes, Paul Conroy, Sean Armstrong, Eoin Concannon and Meehan (from a free) all on target.
PJ McCloskey, who had a fine second half, kept Derry in with a shout, as did substitute Raymond Wilkinson for 1-14 to 0-14 five minutes from time.
Moments later Galway keeper Manus Breathnach fumbled the ball in the goalmouth from an Eoin Bradley cross but Wilkinson was unable to get enough ‘purchase’ on the loose ball to divert it to the net.
Mark Hehir then extended the lead to four points, Lynn grabbing the last score in added time but it was little more than a consolation.
When asked what positives he would make out of the game, McIver said, “The fact that we worked and took some very good scores in the second half. There were some good individual defensive performances but we gave the ball away too many times, and from kick outs we were fortunate not to concede another couple of goals. We’ll learn a lot from that game. We have a lot of work to do.”
Galway scorers - Michael Meehan 1-05 (3f), Michael Martin 0-03, Sean Armstrong 0-02, Danny Cummins, Paul Conroy, Gary O’Donnell, Mark Hehir and Eoin Concannon 0-01 each
Derry scorers - Eoin Bradley 0-03f, PJ McCLoskey 0-03, Enda Lynn 0-02, James Kielt 0-02, Ryan Bell 0-02, Patsy Bradley, Raymond Wilkinson, Barry McGoldrick - all 0-01 each
Galway - Manus Breathnach; Joss Moore, Finian Hanley, Johnny Duane; Cathal Sweeney, Gary Sice, Gary Sweeney; Niall Coleman, Fiontan O Curraoin; John O’Brien, Michael Martin, Sean Denver; Sean Armstrong, Michael Meehan, Danny Cummins. (Subs) Eoin Concannon for J O’Brien 46 mins; Paul Conroy for S Denver 52 mins; Gary O’Donnell for Gary Sweeney 54 mins; Mark Hehir for Michael Martin 65 mins
Derry - Eoin McNicholl; Ryan Ferris; Dermot McBride, Carlus McWilliams; Chrissy McKaigue, Mark Lynch, Sean Leo McGoldrick; Patsy Bradley, PJ McCloskey; Enda Lynn, Ryan Bell, Daniel Heavron; Collie Devlin, Eoin Bradley, James Kielt. (Subs) Gerard O’Kane for C McWilliams 29 mins; Raymond Wilkinson for C Devlin 55 mins; Emmett McGuckin for D Heavron 60 mins; John McCamley for J Kielt 69 mins
Referee - Michael Duffy (Sligo)