Talk of calculators, score difference and possible league finals proved premature as Derry forgot the most important aspect of all; Performance.
Tom McLean had warned all week of the dangers posed by under-estimating Wicklow and those warnings proved prophetic as the relegated visitors, without a win before Sunday, fully deserved their single point victory. They were composed, energetic and driven. By contrast, Derry looked lethargic, disjointed and distracted.
Yet Derry still had the chances to win the game, especially in the second half but they snatched at opportunities and tried to force the issue. Given their previous excellent form, it was a frustrating afternoon for McLean and his players.
“If anyone had read anything I’d said all week about Wicklow, I said the last three or four times Derry had played Wicklow, it had been a really tough fixture,” explained the Derry manager.
“I don’t know if it got to the players or they were thinking about how much they were going to win by. We were telling them all week the game had to be won first and foremost. We had chances and missed them.
“When you’re in a position like we were in, on your own home ground, you should be going out and taking it. We have to sit down, look at the video and see what went wrong.”
Maybe it (the defeat) will help us refocus too, to know that you can be taken down very quickly..Derry manager Tom McLean
Despite the disappointment, the league has never been a priority and the more pressing question for McLean and his management team is whether this was simply a bad day at the office or something more systemic?
“You can put it whatever way you want to put it, a bad day or a reality check,” he added, “We told the boys before they came out that we needed to get our feet back on the ground. They were maybe looking at the league table and thinking we’d beat a couple of teams, that we were in business. On any given day, any team can beat each other.
“You could say we missed chances but in any hurling match there are going to be things that go over and things that don’t. That’s just one of those things. The disappointing thing for me was that Wicklow looked to be the hungrier team. They were going into the tackles and coming out with the ball. That would disappoint me, that they looked like they wanted it more, when we had more reason to want it than they had.”
The danger signs were there from early. Ironically, Aaron Kelly provided the perfect start with a point after 21 seconds but that may have played into the ‘show up and win’ mind-set because thereafter Wicklow seized the initiative and in corner-forward, Andy O’Brien, they had the game’s best player.
The visitors bossed the opening 35 minutes and should have went in with a handsome lead. They were four points ahead in the final minute of the half when a goal crafted by Na Magha breathed life back into the Derry challenge. Alan Grant won primary possession before picking out the well-timed run of Breandan Quigley who broke two tackles and spotted club-mate Brendan Douban in space on the right. Quigley’s hand pass was perfect for Douban to collect and fire a brilliant low finish across Wicklow keeper Wayne O’Gorman and into the net to leave it 1-3 to 0-7 at the break.
But that was a isolated highlight as Derry huffed and puffed throughout the second period without ever rediscovering the form of previous weeks. The frustrations finally boiled over in jury time when Liam Og Hinphey picked up a straight red card in a fracas that also saw Wicklow keeper O’Gorman receive a second yellow. With Kerry defeating London by 10, it meant Derry would have needed a 13-point win to qualify, not that that was any consolation.
“It was going to take a serious turn around. To be honest, my first priority, I would just have liked to have won that match and got another two points. It probably will hit us a bit but now the league’s over, we’ll give the players a week off and refocus for the Christy Ring.
“At the start of the year, everyone thought this would be a relegation play-off. We were lucky enough we were in a position that it wasn’t. We’re disappointed, there’s no point saying we’re not. If we could have got through this it would have been another good game for us in the build-up to the Christy Ring but maybe it will help us refocus too, to know that you can be taken down very quickly,” added the Derry manager.