WHEN a Derry Senior manager is expressing disappointment at a Christy Ring Cup victory over Kildare one realises something is changing within the Oak Leaf hurling set-up.
Michael Wilson was at Celtic Park
Photographs: Joe Boland
There has been no revolution, no coup d’état but the quiet evolution of a squad that lost to the same opposition last season by 14 points is gathering pace. Saturday’s single point victory which set up Derry’s fifth meeting with Wicklow in two seasons was probably as notable for the post-match reaction as for the result itself.
There as no big celebration, no undue back-slapping among the players. Many of the same faces remain from last season but there has been a noticeable alteration in attitudes though we shouldn’t have been surprised.
This was a team written off as cannon fodder in Division 2A - one above the opposition - but they more than held their own.
Saturday’s victory won’t quell all the critics - especially as Derry relaxed late on and almost allowed Kildare to force extra-time - but that’s exactly how manager Ger Rogan wants it. Neither he nor his players are looking for easy praise but there is a new sense of optimism around the small ball in the county exemplified by a group of players dedicated to the cause.
How else does one explain players like Kevin Hinphey being at training the night before his Friday wedding and Celtic Park the day after? Liam Hinphey left another family wedding to ensure he was at training the same night alongside Jarlath Mulholland who only three weeks ago had a compound break in his finger. That’s what playing hurling for Derry means to Rogan’s squad and that dedication appears to be paying dividends.
“If you count Sean McGuigan and Charles Gilmore, that’s two massive bonuses for us from last year,” explained Rogan.
“I thought those two lads were absolutely outstanding but all round the park we would have been disappointed with how we hurled against Kildare. We didn’t play the game, we played the occasion. It was Championship and it is a learning curve again but we have got that game out of the road now and we move on. The players that were present last year at Banagher are much more focused on what they are here for and why they are here. These are the best players in the county and they are totally focused on what they have to do.”
Rogan’s opposite number, Willie Sunderland, was understandably less than happy at the outcome and more specifically the performance of Antrim referee, Garrett Duffy.
“I’m not crying but how anyone could anyone could win a match in those circumstances, I don’t know,” claimed the Kildare manager. “To have the day that the referee had is unbelievable. That’s not excusing the fact that Kildare didn’t play as well as we can, not by a long shot, but any time got a bit of momentum, it’s a free. Twenty-two frees to nine just beggars belief. We had no chance.”
It was easy to understand his frustration. On another day Kildare could have gone away from Celtic Park with a victory but the truth was Derry did enough to carry them through. That free count which caused so much consternation was probably the difference between the teams, especially when the Oak Leafers possessed a player like Lavey’s Paddy Henry. Eleven frees struck, 11 points scored. That wins games and it did so on Saturday even if Sunderland was right to feel aggrieved by one or two soft awards.
Things had started well for the Lilywhites with a goal inside 60 seconds, Danny Butler doing well to pick out Martin Fitzgerald who touched it over Derry keeper Oisin Doherty for the dangerous Mark Moloney to find the net although Derry corner-back Ruairi McCloskey may have helped it home in an effort to clear off the line. It didn’t matter, the result was the same and Kildare were off to a flyer.
Alan Grant responded with a point for the home side but it was Kildare making all the early running and had they kept their goal in tact for any significant period of time the pattern of this game may have been set very differently but this is not the same Derry team brushed aside so easily 12 months ago and inside five minutes the game was level thanks to a Kevin Hinphey goal.
Derry’s most potent tactic - the long ball into full-forward Ruairi Convery - had already been flagged as dangerous, but the warnings weren’t heeded and when the big No. 14 broke the latest high ball down, the ensuing skirmish saw possession land perfectly at the feet of Hinphey who kicked under Irish shinty keeper Paul Dermody to make it 1-1 a-piece with only five minutes played.
The tempo was set and the teams continued to go tit-for-tat for the remainder of the half though Derry should have moved clear when they were awarded a penalty for Fiachra O Muineachain’s foul on Convery. Up stepped wing-back Paddy Kelly but, not for the last time in the game, Dermody was equal to the shot. Still, with Henry maintaining his free scoring, Derry led 1-11 to 1-09 at the interval.
The second half period saw Derry more dominant and inside 14 minutes of the restart three more Henry frees, a ‘65’ from Kelly and a point from Charles Gilmore had Derry six to the good at 1-16 to 1-10 and it looked like Kildare were running out of steam.
However, an injury to influential full-back Conor Quinn earlier in the half had left the home defence looking less secure and Kildare took full advantage with their second goal on the hour mark. Substitute David Harney started the move when he picked out Fitzgerald who showed superb awareness to find Paul Divilly who fired home a lifeline that brought Kildare back to 2-12 against 1-17 with 10 minutes to play.
Henry’s only point from play would be Derry’s final score of the game and Ger Rogan must have breathed a sigh of relief after it was initially signalled wide before the referee consulted his umpires and correctly decided it did dissect the posts after all.
That proved the crucial decision as scores from Kenny, Enright and Divilly ensured a grandstand finish which very nearly became a fairytale one but Fitzgerald’s injury-time shot from around the 40m drifted metres wide. With it went Kildare’s chance.
Very Little Credit
“I don’t think these boys have been given the credit for the work they have done. I go back to the League, this is a team which was supposed to be favourites to be relegated but they more than held their own. They have now come to Celtic Park and beat a team which defeated us by 14 or 15 points last season so we have moved on. We won’t make any predictions, we’ll not put any pressure on but the next time we’ll say: ‘Play the game not the occasion, open your shoulders and enjoy your hurling.’ If that brings us success, then fantastic.”
Derry - Oisin Doherty; Ruairi McCloskey, Conor Quinn, Leigh Hawkins; Paddy Kelly (0-3, 2f, 1 sixty-five), Liam Hinphey (0-1), Michael Warnock; Charles Gilmore (0-1), Sean McGuigan (0-2); Kevin Hinphey (1-1), Oisin McCloskey (0-1), Paddy McCloskey; Paddy Henry (0-12, 11f), Ruairi Convery, Alan Grant (0-1). (Subs) Sean McNicholl for C Quinn (inj), 43mins; Liam Craig for A Grant, 59mins;
Kildare - Paul Dermody; Paudie Reidy, Fiachra O Muineachain, John Doran; Patrick Curtin, Richie Hoban (0-1, 1 sixty-five), Niall O Muineachain; Danny Butler (0-1), Gavin Tynan; Conor Kenny (0-2), Mark Moloney (1-4), Tony Murphy (0-1); Gerry Keegan, Paul Divilly (1-5, 3f), Martin Fitzgerald. (Subs) Kieran Divilly for G Tynan, 30mins; David Harney (0-1) for K Divilly, 43mins; Johnny Enright (0-2) for D Butler, 52mins; Leo Quinn (0-1) for G Keegan;
Referee - Garrett Duffy (Antrim).