Derry 5-13, Clare 2-08
Well, that was refreshing!
It's difficult to remember the last time Derry fans were able to sit quite so securely in their Croke Park when All Ireland progress has been on the line. Simply put, Derry were a class above Clare in Saturday's five goal mauling but one of the game's most telling incidents may have escaped many eyes.
There are four minutes left on the clock, the game has long since ceased being a contest and Derry are 15 points to the good. Derry have won back possession inside their '45' and are beginning their umpteenth counter attack against the demoralised Munster side. Christopher McKaigue has the ball and looks left for options. There he sees Lachlan Murray and Niall Toner breaking, but probably not at full speed. Understandable maybe given the score but unacceptable nonetheless.
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A few stern words from their captain and Murray and Toner were off again at top speed. You see for Rory Gallagher, McKaigue and Derry, this game wasn't just about winning. It was about standards and those shouldn't change regardless of the scoreboard.
To that end this victory was just the latest evidence of a Derry team whose mentality is unrecognisable from five years ago. Of course the semi-final will be a different challenge all together but Clare are a seasoned Division Two outfit and Derry brushed them aside with only minimum fuss. There's never a guarantee of victory in sport but this Derry panel has found a belief in itself, a belief that meant few expected anything other than an Oak Leaf victory from the moment Benny Heron took Ethan Doherty eighth minute pass and blasted past Tristan O'Callaghan for the first of five Derry goals.
It could have been 10 in all honesty and there will be only limited learnings for Rory Gallagher from this one such was Derry's dominance from start to finish.
So what could we say about a first half in which Derry were just far superior to the Munster men. Three goals of the highest order, a Shane McGuigan master class of point taking on his way to a personal tally of 1-08 (1-07 from play) and red and white flags flying highest in GAA headquarters.
Tactically Gallagher made subtle yet clever tweak. Gareth McKinless, the man whose introduction to the February league game in Ennis signalled a Derry takeover and the beginning of a nine point win, has been the Oak Leafers' go-to player for line breaks and an injection of pace this season in the championship this season.
Conor Glass, on the other hand, has been Derry's invisible wall, the player who appears as if by magic each and every time the opposition threatened a score. Both have been sublime this season and were so yet again but, initially at least, it was role reversal time as McKinless mopped up Clare attacks and Glass broke down Banner defensive barricades.
Of course after half an hour (some might say even after 15 minutes) the tactics became largely redundant as it became evident Derry were on a different level to Clare but it shows the options now available to Gallagher in a squad capable of rotating positions very easily.
In terms of the game, Heron's goal was probably the critical score. Clare's approach was based on Derry containment but the Oak Leaf joker was out of the box inside eight minutes and Clare never looked like putting it back in.
And if Heron's good was good, better was to follow as just four minutes later, Glass made a superb over-lapping run, accepted another pass from assist king Ethan Doherty and flashed a breath-taking finish for 2-01 to 0-1. Two goal became three on the stroke of half-time, an emphatic Derry response when Clare had the audacity to score a goal of their own through Pearse Lillis on 32 minutes.
For a change Derry's right was the production line as Brendan Rogers and Shane McGuigan linked up to play in Paul Cassidy but such was the angle, little looked on, right?
Wrong. Cassidy looked up and flashed a fierce angled shot that found it's way into the far top corner to ensure Derry led 3-06 to 1-03 at the break.
The second half was game management territory. The fourth goal arrived courtesy of a trademark McKinless surge from deep, the Ballinderry man taking Conor Doherty's pass to break through and slip a lovely low finish under O'Callaghan.
Odhran Lynch was caught off his line by a quick Eoin Cleary break that brought Clare a second major on 40 minutes but as with their opener, it only served to anger Derry who had a fifth inside 60 seconds, Conor McCluskey this time the creator and McGuigan the executioner.
All the while, points were being tagged on the and Derry bench was being run. The game was won and Derry had another Croke Park date. The Derry bus companies could be in for a bumper summer!
Derry scorers: Shane McGuigan (1-8, 1f), Benny Heron (1-1), Conor Glass (1-1), Paul Cassidy (1-1), Gareth McKinless (1-0), Niall Loughlin (0-1, 1f), Conor McCluskey (0-1)
Clare scorers: Eoin Cleary (1-5, 1f), Pearse Lillis (1-0), Jamie Malone (0-1), David Turbidy (0-2, 2f),
Derry: Odhran Lynch, Chrissy McKaigue, Brendan Rogers, Conor McCluskey, Conor Doherty, Gareth McKinless, Padraig McGrogan, Conor Glass, Paul Cassidy, Shea Downey, Ethan Doherty, Benny Heron, Niall Toner, Shane McGuigan, Niall Loughlin. (Subs) Emmet Bradley for B Heron, 47mins; Lachlan Muray for N Loughlin, 52mins; Ben McCarron for C Glass, 60mins; Paul McNeill for Shea Downey, 65mins; Declan Cassidy for S McGuigan, 67mins;
Yellow cards: C McCluskey, 14mins;
Clare: Tristan O'Callaghan, Manus Doherty, Cillian Brennan, Cillian Rouine, Cian O'Dea, Ciaran Russell, Jamie Malone, Darren O'Neil, Cathal O'Connor, Pearse Lillis, Eoin Cleary, Emmet McMahon, Padraic Collins, Keelan Sexton, Aaron Griffin. (Subs) Alan Sweeney for C Rouine, HT; Brendan Ruoine for E McMahon, 42mins; David Turbidy for A Griffin, 41mins; Gavin Cooney for P Collins, 52mins; Joe McGann for K Sexton, 52mins
Yellow Cards: C Russell, 41mins;
Referee: Martin McNally (Monaghan)