Derry not yet ready for step up admits McKinley after Christy Ring Cup final defeat

Joint manager Dominic McKinley admitted Sunday's Christy Ring Cup final defeat may have been a blessing in disguise for Derry with the Oak Leafers currently ill prepared to make the step up to Joe McDonagh Cup level.

Sunday, 1st August 2021, 4:55 pm
Updated Monday, 2nd August 2021, 2:54 pm
Dominic McKinley. (Photo: George Sweeney)

Offaly cantered to their inaugural Christy Ring title by 21 points in a match that became little more than shooting practise for Michael Fennelly side who also secured promotion to Division One of the league in 2021. Derry s cause wasn't helped by a notable lost of absentees that stretched an already small squad to breaking point with McKinley admitting it had been a difficult 70 odd minutes to sit through.

"We set up to try and cancel them out getting goals and winning breaks, that was also one of our targets, but we couldn't," explained McKinley, "I think we fumbled one or two at crucial times in the first half.

"We created a good goal by going to the back of the square where we had two players waiting for the pass, something we had worked on, but overall Offaly with the efficiency in their shooting were way, way ahead. You could see they have been doing a lot of work and they are way ahead of Derry at the moment.

"Sometimes a year down does help," he added of Offaly's drop to Christy Ring level, "But even though the week, you are thinking, if we do win this and get into the McDonagh Cup, for Derry we would have found it very, very hard to cope in there because I know what it is like there. I've been there.

"Offaly seem to be ready for that. It's never as straightforward as that but the way they played today would indicate they are ready for that step up. They've learned from last year and if we can learn as much as they did and go forward then we will hopefully be okay."

McKinley said it had been a chastening experience for the Oak Leafers who trailed by 0-19 to 1-07 at half-time and never seriously threatened an Offaly team who seemed hell bent on ensuring there was no repeat of last season's shock defeat to Down which condemned the Faithful County to a second season in the third tier championship.

"Maybe they are (in the wrong division) but you are where you are for a reason and you have to work your way out again. You can't make excuses," explained the former Antrim boss, "This is a learning curve for us and you could see the pace, the over loading of space and the creating of pockets of space. Offaly created pockets of space all over the field and they made us look seriously ordinary at times.

"It is a long 70 minutes for the players and for us managers standing watching. We can't do a lot of the game now but what we can do is take on board what you are seeing and try to address that and work that but there is a lot of hard work to be done."

Losing both Conor McAllister and Conor Kelly meant a reshuffle that forced McKinley and Cormac Donnelly in a number of reshuffles including dropping captain Cormac O'Doherty into a deep lying sweeper role.

"It didn't start off too well losing Conor (McAllister) and then Conor Kelly as well just before the match but that's not an excuse for what happened. Basically we set to try and stain the game as best we could, not concede goals early on, and maybe that was to our detriment because we coughed up seven or eight points for that with Cormac going that slightly bit deeper.

"We were off the pace. It is self explanatory, the whole thing. Offaly's touch and skill, they controlled the airwaves as well, the puck outs and so on. At the start we were going long because we were conscious of being turned over in dangerous areas. We had looked at videos of their games and we went long because we were conscious of getting turned over early on. It didn't work because they cleaned up.

"We struggled in a lot of the departments. Maybe Meehaul McGrath, I thought Meehaul worked hard of the whole game, but Offaly's shooting efficiency was very good. You could look at that both ways because maybe they had too much time in some areas to take those shots but their efficiency was very very good."

McKinley and Donnelly's first year in charge has been far from easy with no pre-season and a Covid impacted fixture list but McKinley is optimistic Oak Leaf supporters will see real progress next season.

"At the end of the day, the elite player in Derry will always go to the football so you want all the best hurlers from what is left. You want to make contact with them and try to get them to buy into it. We felt today might help in raising the profile of the hurling and maybe it didn't work out like that but Croke Park is a great incentive for anybody.

"Even on a bad day, Croke Park is a learning day for anybody. It is not easy sitting though a game like that, for a player of manager. You are waiting for the ground to open up and swallow you in but you have to accept what's there and move on.

"It is tough coming in on a very short period and trying to transform everything around. Take even Michael (Fennelly) last year at Offaly as a prime example. Change doesn't happen overnight. It takes three or four years to put things in place and hopefully next year people will see better things in terms of what we are setting out to do.

"We need a better pre-season for a start, a proper pre-season where we get players in and so on. Hopefully we can bulk the panel up, whether it is with young players from the 18s and 20s and bring them in, let them buy into it and create something special for them to move forward with."