Derry crowned Division three champions after comfortable Offaly win in Croke Park
Allianz Division Three Final
Derry 0-21, Offaly 1-06
Derry were crowned Division Three champions with a routine victory over Offaly that probably raised more questions than answers for Oak Leaf boss, Rory Gallagher.
Five matches played, five matches won: It's not a bad record for any side to have and when the only questions being asked concern why Derry are not winning more convincingly, it shows the progress that has been made this season.
Work remains to be done and if nothing else this league campaign has confirmed what most already knew - these Oak Leaf players should be playing at a higher level. To that end it was job done last week and while a trophy is always nice, this was little more than a warm up for the Ulster Championship against either Down or Donegal.
Gallagher named two changes from then side that secured promotion in Division Two last week with Oisin McWilliams and Conor McCluskey coming in for first starts of the year with Paul Cassidy and Paul McNeill dropping to the bench.
It was a move designed as much to look at the incoming duo as much as any tactical reshuffle meant to deal with Offaly and the Oak Leafers deployed a similar shape as previous games despite the two personnel changes.
Frustratingly, they also maintained the tendency to pass up chances which had reared its head against Limerick and just like seven days previous in Carrick-on-Shannon, that wastefulness kept the opposition in a game Derry should have won much more convincingly.
All afternoon Offaly struggled with the pace of Ethan Doherty and Gareth McKinless, that duo opening countless opportunities with direct running at the heart of the Offaly defence but time and again Derry passed up the chance and every miss provided the oxygen of hope to a spirited Faithful County outfit.
But while McKinless and Doherty eye catching bursts caught the eye, it was the off the ball work of Conor Glass which quietly controlled proceedings and ensured that the Oak Leafers were never made to pay for their wastefulness.
McKinless signalled his threat as early as the second minutes with a blistering burst through the middle that should have brought the opening goal. Instead he looked for Shane McGuigan and was eventually penalised for over carrying.
Eventually points from Niall Loughlin (2) and McGuigan put Derry three up and it was the 15th minute before Offaly, who had already shot three wides by that point, opened their account through full forward Cian Farrell.
Goal chance number two arrived for Derry on 16 minutes and again, it was McKinless' pace through the middle that totally opened Offaly up before he was unceremoniously dumped to the floor as he threatened to shoot for goal.
The dye was cast as far as the pattern of the game and were already 0-7 to 0-1 up when Offaly introduced veteran forward Niall McNamee to upset the Derry comfort zone. It worked as well, McNamee winning ball and suddenly occupying more than one Derry defender which opened up spaces for team-mates. Indeed it was his lovely reverse pass which sent Ruairi McNamee away to tee up Eoin Carroll for the game's only goal which ensured Offaly were in touch at half-time at 0-10 to 1-03.
A superb McKinless tackle stopped Shane Horan for almost certainly scoring a second Offaly goal seconds after the restart but the second period son settled into a familiar pattern of Derry dominance. There were numerous opportunities to score the elusive goal, most notably Shane McGuigan's poorly hit penalty with the last kick of the match. The Slaughtneil man already had 0-7 by that stage but with Offaly keeper Paddy Dunican off the pitch on a black card for fouling McGuigan, Derry still couldn't find the net.
It didn't really matter. Derry were always in control and perhaps it was that inevitability about the result that accounted for the odd lapse in front of the posts. It will be a concern for Rory Gallagher. Neither Down nor Donegal will be as generous with their defending but the number of chance s being created remains a huge positive.
As far as the league is concern, Derry have done all that could be asked of them and played some thrilling stuff to do it. However, the hard work is only just beginning.
DERRY: Odhran Lynch; Conor McCluskey, Chrissy McKaigue (0-1), Paudi McGrogan; Padraig Cassidy, Gareth McKinless, Conor Doherty; Conor Glass (0-1), Emmett Bradley (0-1); Ethan Doherty (0-2), Shane McGuigan (0-7, 5f, 1 sideline), Ciaran McFaul (0-1); Benny Heron (0-1), Niall Loughlin (0-4 3f), Oisin McWilliams (0-1)
SUBS: Paul Cassidy for O McWilliams (41), Niall Toner (0-1) for B Heron (56), Jack Doherty (0-1) for C Doherty (68), Karl McKaigue for E Doherty (72) , Ben McCarron for E Bradley (72)
YELLOW CARD: E Bradley (12), B Heron (37),
OFFALY: Paddy Dunican; David Dempsey, Eoin Rigney, Niall Darby; Colm Doyle, Carl Stewart, Jordan Hayes (0-1); James Lalor, Eoin Carroll (1-0); Shane Horan, Peter Cunningham, Anton Sullivan; Bernard Allen, Ciaran Farrell (0-3, 2f, 1m), Ruairí McNamee (0-1)
SUBS: Niall McNamee (0-1m) for B Allen (26), Cathal Mangan for J Lalor (HT), Bill Caroll for S Horan (48), Aaron Leavey for E Carroll (48), Cian Donohoe for J Hayes (54), Joe Maher for R McNamee (54), Johnny Maloney for A Sullivan (61)
SIN-BIN: P Dunican (74)
REFEREE: Sean Lonergan (Tipperary)