Monday 21 August 2017

Ulster quickly losing lustre as Derry fail to fire a shot

Tyrone 0-22 Derry 0-11

Derry’s Niall Keenan can’t get close enough to prevent Conall McCann from scoring a point for Tyrone. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Derry’s Niall Keenan can’t get close enough to prevent Conall McCann from scoring a point for Tyrone. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Twelve months on, the same 11-point divide between them. This time, though, the shock and awe of those early Tyrone goals were replaced by a slower, more methodical approach.

For Derry, it was death by a thousand cuts. They closed briefly to three points five minutes after half-time but, for the most part, Tyrone always looked like they were better by double scores, and that's how it transpired.

Derry's Emmett McGuckin is shut down by, from left, Rory Brennan, Peter Harte and Conall McCann of Tyrone. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Derry's Emmett McGuckin is shut down by, from left, Rory Brennan, Peter Harte and Conall McCann of Tyrone. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

After three games of the Ulster Championship, the cumulative winning margin is 42 points and the common consensus that this is the most competitive football province continues to erode. The strong are getting much stronger, it seems.

You'd have struggled to convince anyone in Celtic Park yesterday that this was the most ferocious rivalry in any province 20 years ago. There wasn't a trace of it on this evidence, scarcely a moment of real aggravation in it.

At one stage Chrissy McKaigue was left holding his face and looking to the officials to communicate if they had seen an incident with Mattie Donnelly, but that was about it. Even the card count was low for a match of this nature: one black, four yellow.

The whiff of sulphur that so long wafted around these sides was curiously absent.

Tyrone's Matthew Donnelly is challenged by Derry's Christopher McKaigue. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Tyrone's Matthew Donnelly is challenged by Derry's Christopher McKaigue. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

Vitriolic

That's an indictment of Derry, who should have had the hurt of last year's beating etched in their hearts and minds.

This match didn't just creep up on them overnight, yet they played for too long without the urgency of a team representing a county that has a long history of sharp and, at times, vitriolic rivalry with these opponents.

But then manager Damian Barton's hands have been largely tied by the exodus since last year, leaving him with a young and inexperienced team that Tyrone had simply too much power for.

Derry rallied to win three games in last year's qualifiers but it would take a leap of faith to suggest that they would replicate that again.

Tyrone? When the memory of a turgid and repetitive opening half faded, they showed glimpses of impressive football, defending and counter-attacking with impact.

The impetus they got from their bench is what they might well reflect on with most satisfaction.

Seven of their 22 scores came from substitutes, with Darren McCurry landing three as gaps opened and Lee Brennan giving a brief preview of what he might have to offer as the season develops. Declan McClure and David Mulgrew also picked off scores as Tyrone kept up a steady pace.

But the nature of this game is probably best reflected in the fact that just one clear-cut goal chance was created, when Aidan McRory forced a great save from Derry goalkeeper Ben McKinless before Niall Keenan cleared off the line from the follow-up, avoiding what looked like a penalty with his pick-up in the process.

Derry might look to the passage of play just after half-time and feel there were opportunities for Keenan and Enda Lynn, who both pointed instead, to bring the deficit to 0-11 to 0-8. But, generally, a lack of ambition to really go for it prevailed.

Tyrone were happy to sit back in big numbers and invite Derry to try to pick holes in them. Inevitably the home side failed and, on the counter, Tyrone thrived.

Mark Bradley caused trouble early on before Keenan switched on to him, while Sean Cavanagh, in his last Ulster campaign, was always an outlet and engineered two of the five frees he converted in the opening half before landing a sublime second-half point. He was always looking for an opening.

Mattie Donnelly and Niall Sludden did much of the haulage from defence to attack, while Conall McCann really made his presence felt in his first Championship start.

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte felt his team will get more this game that they did 12 months ago when everything was all too "academic".

Comfortable

"We had the goals at half-time to give us a very comfortable position so it was a case of damage limitation in the second half. But this time we had to play from start to finish," he said.

Barton sees positives in not conceding a goal but just felt his team played into Tyrone's hands.

"You could argue - 'have we moved?' It has been a difficult two seasons," he said, noting the same margin of defeat as last year. "Look at the personnel we had today: four debutants, the age-profile is much younger and with that there is a lack of experience.​

"We did not intend to go up against a blanket defence and start going lateral. It is something that is even endemic in club football in Derry - this business of 'keep the ball', 'keep the ball' and manufacture an opening. We didn't get ahead of the ball and were very static going forward. We didn't get inside that often."

Barton had harsh words for referees and their officials and criticised their attitude generally.

"There is a bit of a laissez-faire attitude with a lot of officials. Sometimes the game can be seen as something of a pantomime," he figured.

"You cannot even ask an official a question. I mean what kind of sport are we playing that we cannot even query an official about a decision in a mannerly way, not in an ignorant way? Because, as a coach, I want to be able to tell the players how to fix it. But these people just dismiss you and that appears to be the norm among officials now.

"Managers don't badger them. When was the last time you saw a manager badger a referee? You saw what happened poor old Kieran (McGeeney). You can't ask questions.

"I find it bizarre that you can't ask an official a question, it is just incredible."

Substitute Shane McGuigan became the 71st player used in a competitive game by Barton in the last 17 months, and the drain has taken its toll.

"For whatever reason, people walk away and I don't want to dwell on them - they're no good to Derry and they're no good to me," he said.

"People do things by choice; playing for your county is a very honourable thing and whether it's New York or Sydney, even Perth - I was talking to my son this morning - people are going to games and putting jerseys on, of all ages."

Scorers - Tyrone: S Cavanagh 0-7 (6fs), D McCurry 0-3, C McCann, P Harte (1f, 1 '45'), L Brennan (1f) 0-2 each, M Bradley, T McCann, R Brennan, D McClure, C Cavanagh, D Mulgrew 0-1 each. Derry: N Loughlin 0-4 (3fs), C McFaul, N Keenan, C McWilliams, E Lynn, D Heavron (f), B Heron (f), S McGuigan (f) 0-1 each.
Tyrone - N Morgan 7; A McRory 7, R McNamee 7, R Brennan 7; T McCann 7, P Hampsey 7, P Harte 6; C Cavanagh 7, C McCann 8; M Donnelly 7, N Sludden 7, C Meyler 5; M Bradley 6, S Cavanagh 8, K McGeary 5. Subs: F Burns 6 for McGeary (29), R McNabb 6 for Meyler (h-t), D McCurry 8 for Bradley (51), D Mulgrew 7 for Burns BC) (56), D McClure for Sludden (61), L Brennan for S Cavanagh (63).
Derry - B McKinless 8; N Keenan 8, B Rogers 7, K McKaigue 6; C McFaul 7, C McKaigue 6, C McWilliams 6; C McAtamney 6, D Heavron 6; E Lynn 7, R Bell 5, N Loughlin 7; D Tallon 5, E McGuckin 5, B Heron 6. Subs: M Lynch 5 for Bell (47), S McGuigan 6 for Tallon (57), M McEvoy for McGuckian (63), G O'Neill for Heron (63), C Nevin for McAtamney (67).
Ref - M Deegan (Laois)

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