If - as conventional football wisdom claims - decisions even themselves out over a season, Derry must be certainties for an Ulster Championship at least.
For the second week running Oak Leaf boss Brian McIver was left visibly frustrated by the performance of an official.
Last week it was Meath’s David Coldrick in Healy Park; On Sunday, Down’s Ciaran Branagan in Celtic Park and for the second week running the Derry manager had a point.
In the modern world of ultra defensive football, the transition between defence and attack is key. Any turnover of possession becomes a foot-race between attack and defence toward the opposite 45. Stop the attack with a less than aggressive foul and all of a sudden the attacking team is faced with 13-15 men behind the ball.
The systematic fouling of the attacking team in this instance should have been dealt with by the black card. It hasn’t been.
As early as the third minute on Sunday, Mayo’s Tom Cunniffe blocked Derry captain Mark Lynch off the ball as the Banagher man attempted to make a third man run which may have brought a goal-scoring chance. The result? A free but no talking to let alone a card.
We’ll go to Monaghan next week and hope we get the same level of performance and get a few breaks over the next two or three matches.Derry manager Brian McIver
Fifteen minutes in and Enda Lynn is dragged to the floor by Lee Keegan as he tried to break clear. Nothing happening there either.
On 58 minutes, Lynch again looked to be through on goal when he burst onto a return pass from impressive substitute, Michael McIver, but is hauled to the floor by a tackle that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Aviva Stadium. Again, Derry score the free but there’s no card and by this stage the frustrations of the Derry players are evident.
With five minutes left Mayo corner-forward Mark Ronaldson eventually became the first recipient of a black card when he tried to hitch a lift on Kevin Johnston’s back as the Dungiven man looked to start an attack inside his own half but it felt like scant consolation.
Last week Brian McIver talked about any consistency of decision-making being absent and, after Sunday, he will be talking about it again.
The modern football ‘scrum’ which sees three or four defenders surround the man in possession is a major source of concern. It seems a toss of a coin as to whether the attacker is penalised for over-carrying or the defenders for, well, surrounding him apparently.
That was the scenario which saw James Kielt black carded in the last minute for dissent and Mayo win a free from which substitute Mickey Sweeney eventually scored their insurance goal. Yet minutes later, in a very similar scenario after Brian Og McGilligan’s late goal had left only two between the teams again, saw Mayo awarded the free out.
It was “disgusting” according to the Oak Leaf manager.
“I’m disgusted,” explained McIver, “Not taking anything away from Mayo but they got a jammy goal and every decision going.
“The James Kielt one at the end, we get men around and they get a free and we get a black card. They do the same with us and it’s a free out for over-carrying. How do you work that one out? Time and time again, all day.”
“You mightn’t even talk to them (the referees). You’re looking at the inner sanctuary.”
Last year the black card seemed to fade from view when Championship season came round with only the most obvious offence punished and don’t be surprised by a similar turn of events again this year.
Sunday’s result leaves Derry is a precarious position but they’re not quite adrift given that teams have been taking points off each other in a very open division. Next up is Monaghan which is now a mammoth game. Lose that and it is ‘game over’ as far as Division One is concerned. Yet win it and the scenario changes drastically.
Second from bottom Dublin, two points ahead of the Oak Leafers, have a tricky game in Mayo while a win in Clones would take Derry to within one point of Monaghan with two games to go. Monaghan finish with Kerry and Dublin; Derry with Dublin and Cork so it’s still very much to play for, especially as every team from third placed Donegal down is only three points ahead of Derry with six still to play for.
The league may not be the priority this year and Derry’s approach has been tailored accordingly from last year but McIver is adamant they will be doing everything in their power to retain their top flight status.
“We don’t want to be going down, put it like that. We worked hard to get up and these lads enjoy playing against the best teams and the best players in the country week in and week out. Believe me, we don’t want to be going down.
“In the position we’re in at the minute, we have one point out of eight. That tells its own story. We needed points out of this match but listen, we’ll go to Monaghan next week and hope we get the same level of performance and get a few breaks over the next two or three matches.
“I can’t complain about the performance, no way. Outside of being turned over a few times and a couple of wrong decisions, generally, we played very well again but we’re not getting the points.”
With the controversy over certain decisions it was almost easy to forget there was a very positive Derry performance amid the frustration and disappointment.
Derry’s day could have been summed up by two first half incidents. On 28 minutes, Cillian O’Connor’s free struck the Derry post but couldn’t have fallen any better for the fortunate Mark Ronaldson who managed to improvise and knee the ball over the line as it dropped. Fast forward five minutes and Derry produced the best move of the match which sees Sean Leo McGoldrick get clear down the left and float a lovely pass across goal to be met by the fists of Michael McIver but his effort only finds the cross-bar.
Not to worry though, these things even themselves out, remember!
Derry: Eoin McNicholl; Oisin Duffy, Niall Holly, Dermot McBride; Brian Og McAlary (0-1), Kevin Johnston, Sean Leo McGoldrick; Mark Craig (0-1), Brian Og McGilligan (1-0); Carlus McWilliams, Mark Lynch (0-2, 2f), Enda Lynn, Daniel McKinless, Benny Heron (0-4, 1f, 2 forty-five), Aidan McAlynn. (Subs) Michael McIver for A McAlynn, 31mins; James Kielt (0-4, 3f) for D McKinless, H/T; Emmett McGuckin for McAlary, 48mins; Terence O’Brien (0-1) for C McWilliams, 56mins; Sean Brady for J Kielt (Black Card), 67mins;
Mayo: Kenneth O’Malley; Tom Cunniffe, Kevin Keane, Keith Higgins; Lee Keegan, Ger Cafferkey, Colm Boyle; Seamus O’Shea (0-1), Danny Kirby; Kevin McLoughlin (0-2, 1f)), Aidan O’Shea (0-2), Micheal Forde; Marc Ronaldson (1-2), Cillian O’Connor (0-4, 3), Jason Doherty (0-1). (Subs) Alan Dillon for M Forde, 48mins; Barry Moran for D Kirby, 55mins; Alan Freeman for C O’Connor, 62mins; David Drake for G Cafferkey, 62mins; Mickey Sweeney (1-0) for M Ronaldson (Black Card) 65 mins;
Referee: Ciaran Branagan (Down)