Derry will have to step it up again for All Ireland semi-final warns Rory Gallagher
Rory Gallagher had to smile when asked if Saturday's five goal mauling of Clare - which secured the Oak Leafers a first All Ireland semi-final since 2004 - put to bed to the notion that 'Derry can't do it in Croke Park'.
Goals from Benny Heron, Conor Glass, Paul Cassidy, Gareth McKinless and Shane McGuigan topped a swaggering display that Clare simply had no answer to and means Derry will now meet the winners of Sunday's quarter-final between Galway and Armagh. It was about an emphatic as Championship football gets and Gallagher allowed himself a wry smile when quizzed about the Oak Leaf county's championship record over the past 18 years.
“I don’t know who said that. I don’t know how they could say that when we haven’t been in Croke Park," he smiled, "I don’t know. People are entitled to their opinion and its natural with ourselves. We’re not a Dublin or a Kerry who have been in Croke Park consistently. We’re not a Mayo, we’re not a Tyrone who have been here and put up scores, so I can understand the cautiousness and the questioning from people. Every day you’re questioning.
"You have to go out and prove it. Dublin are being questioned at the minute despite some of them having seven or eight All-Irelands. Today we proved we can score, but the next day we have to prove the same.”
Gallagher admitted the recent league game between the counties as well as Clare's impressive victory over Roscommon in the qualifiers had given Derry plenty of information on how best to handle the Banner County.
“It’s a long way from the early season and you’re into the really enjoyable part for players and supporters, but the ground work has to be done and thankfully we scored early on and we opened up the game," explained the Oak Leaf boss, "To be honest, we had a good idea of Clare’s game-plan to keep the thing very tight and conservative and they set their stall out conceding the kick-outs so we wanted to open the game out as early as possible.
"We missed a number of point chances but we took the goals early on very well and it left Clare having to change tact which didn’t suit the way they wanted to go about it.”
Part of Derry game-plan against an initially defensive Clare was to bring Brendan Rogers out the field and push Conor Glass further forward, a tactic that worked well with both players excelling.
“Clare don’t play with orthodox inside players," he added, "They play with Keelan Sexton up and even early on he was defending, so there’s no point having Brendan marking somebody when there’s nobody to mark. We put him out on the big man on the kick-outs in midfield and to push on, and I thought he equipped himself quite well.”
“Conor was really, really good. He’s evolving his game massively. You have to remember he’s only home 19 or 20 months from being away from the game for five years. Everyday he’s getting better. His qualities as a team mate with and without the ball are second to none.”
The improvement in Derry since their February victory in Ennis was evident but Gallagher warned they will need to step it up another level again for the semi-finals which take place on the weekend of July 9th/10th.
“The League meeting was, I think, five weeks after Slaughtneil had been playing in an All-Ireland semi-final. The Glen players all had wee niggles when they returned and with the step up in training from club to county our preparation wasn’t good but at the same time we showed enough quality down there to win the game.
"Look we’ve enjoyed our period since we’ve had everybody available from the break in the league really. We felt we’ve built. We’ve been far from perfect but we’ve done an awful lot right. The thing is now we have to improve massively going into the next game because, hand on heart, with all due respect to Clare, they haven’t been in the latter stages. Galway and Armagh, while they haven’t been maybe the heavyweight teams in the sense, Armagh have been in Division One the last number of years, they’ve beaten Donegal and Tyrone. Galway have been in Division One, apart from this year, for the last four or five years and have been in All-Ireland semi-finals and National League finals, so whoever comes down it’ll be a big step up.”