DERRY City keeper, Gerard Doherty, who found himself heavily involved in the action during Saturday’s Setanta Sports Cup final defeat against Crusaders, couldn’t believe the poor quality of the playing surface at The Oval.
Having warmed up on the pitch he noticed how bumpy it had become and began to worry about the dangers of back-passes and, indeed, kick-outs, on what was, he claimed, a very uneven surface.
“I must admit I was surprised that the pitch had obviously not been prepared for the final given that the Irish League season has ended.
“Obviously, it was the same for both sides, but we would be widely recognised for playing a passing game while Crusaders would be more direct, more route one,” claimed Doherty.
While he took nothing away from the winners on the day he was very disappointed that Derry couldn’t finish the job having moved into the driving seat in the 80th minute, albeit against the run of play.
“Naturally I was very disappointed to lose the game as we had taken the lead and failed to see the match out,” added Doherty. “But he also had a major issue with the referee who got it totally wrong for their equaliser.
“He was well enough placed to see me clearly impeded by one of their players. The ball was there to be won and the only thing I can remember was going for it before I was clattered and had to be picked up off the ground with a sore head just after the incident,” claimed Gerard.
“I’ve been told that television pictures show the incident clearly and how the referee or his assistants didn’t see it, simply amazed me.
“In fact, I also had a issue with the challenge which presented them with a free-kick. I remember saying to myself at the time that it was a very soft decision, but when they were given a goal that shouldn’t have been, I’m obviously not going to be happy.”
Describing the match officials as “not up to scratch,” Doherty felt they let the competition down and certainly didn’t help the final.
“I actually heard the referee shouting at players during the game and he certainly wasn’t very complimentary,” claimed Doherty. “We expected a physical game and that what developed but why the referee didn’t start to use yellow cards for challenges during the early stages of the match surprised me.
“Some of the tackles that went in were amazing and when Colin Coates literally ploughed through Simon Madden in one such tackle, he walked away without even a word from the referee,” noted Doherty.
“The referee gave us one out of three claims for penalties and while I’m certainly not blaming the referee for our defeat, I did expect him to be more on top of things and better on the day given the high profile nature of the Setanta Cup Final.”
Doherty was also disappointed at not winning the title after securing top results at both Windsor Park and Tallaght Stadium against the Irish League and League of Ireland champions.
“To have knocked out Linfield and Shamrock Rovers in the Setanta Cup was, in my opinion, two superb results for us - particularly in our games away from home.
“So to lose out in the final against Crusaders was a major blow. I was disappointed that we couldn’t finish the job off and win the final and while we did have a hard game, we came up short in the end,” admitted Doherty.
“It would have been fabulous to get a victory but now we must immediately turn our thoughts to a more important match and that’s our league game on Tuesday night against Monaghan United.
“It would have been great to win in Belfast and travel to Gortakeegan on a confident note, but now we have to display great character and bounce back immediately.
“We can be proud at reaching the final of the Setanta Cup, but it’s just one competition which is now done and dusted. We must now prepare to continue our involvement in the remaining three - the league, FAI Cup and League Cup.
When asked if the absence of key players had a major affect on the overall quality of the team in the final, Doherty rejected such claims.
“We have players in the squad who are able and capable players. Stewart Greacen has been out injured and we all know the quality he brings to the table, but his absence due to injury presents a window of opportunity to other young players in the squad to step up to the plate.
“And to be totally fair, those players did just that in both the Linfield and Rovers matches. So I think it’s down to what happens on the day. We have a squad at the Brandywell with those competing for places expected to play similar roles to those who are selected on a regular basis.
“It’s up to the squad players to give the manager a selection headache and while the squad is small, I think the young players will continue to grow in confidence and make their presence felt as the season progresses,” continued Gerard.
Describing the trip home by coach as “very subdued” on Saturday night, Doherty said it was important that the players get their “heads around the defeat and move on” as quickly as possible.
“In football there will always be highs and lows. We’ve just experienced a low and it’s important that we get our heads around the defeat and move on. It was a very subdued coach trip home after the game and it will take a day or two to get a final defeat out of the system.
“But it will also be an experience for our young players. I’m glad our game against Monaghan is coming up almost immediately because that will help and as one of the senior players in the squad, it’s also up to us to make sure the younger lads continue to focus, train hard and move on.
“We don’t wish to sit about and stew on it. Our attention must now be centred on Tuesday’s game in Gortakeegan and while we have enjoyed good memories there on our last visit, we must also remember that it was a very difficult game and a hard place to play football.
“This will be another very tough match in which we must be prepared to battle,” he concluded.