Lynch fires warning as Derry find gritty edge
Derry 1-16 Dublin 0-13
"What did you make of Derry?" a reporter enquired of Dublin manager Jim Gavin, as the Oak Leafers' encouraging spring has moved the mood in the county from hope towards expectation.
Derry are in the shake-up for league honours now, but whether they are ready to deliver in Ulster is a different question. Too many good players and good teams have missed out on a provincial medal for anyone to get carried away – but they are certainly making all the right noises.
Admittedly, this was a depleted Dublin side, but after being on the back foot for much of the second half, Derry hung in to kick for home at the finish. Following a win in Killarney and this success over Dublin, they now appear to have a hard edge to match their undoubted talent.
"There's not much wrong with that. I would settle for guts along with everything else," Derry manager Brian McIver said afterwards, when it was put to him that his side looked out on their feet at the end. "They had to dig in, but sure they knew that was going to be the case.
"We had talked all week about Dublin being renowned this last couple of years for coming strong in the last 10 or 15 minutes and we were going to have to hang in there. That's as big a part of football as anything else."
Right throughout the field, Derry were superb. As they did in Kerry, midfield duo Patsy Bradley and Fergal Doherty provided the platform as they got the better of Cian O'Sullivan and Michael Darragh Macauley.
In front of them, Mark Lynch delivered a performance from centre-forward that was as near to perfection as could be asked. The Derry captain was the most lauded of underage talents. As a 16-year-old, he was a central cog on the side that captured the 2002 All-Ireland minor title and he was immense yesterday.
The Banagher man mixes power and finesse and he delivered the game's only goal, lashing to the net after 33 minutes after Kevin Johnston turned over the Dubs and fed the Derry captain.
His finish was superb and after a first half that was largely tit-for-tat, his strike put some daylight between the sides with the first half drawing to a close.
Derry might have gone further ahead when referee Fergal Kelly failed to award Cailean O'Boyle a penalty after Sean George tripped him up in the area. Derry took a point from the same passage of play for the last score of the half, giving them a 1-10 to 0-9 advantage at the break.
Gavin responded at half-time, making three changes and they had the desired effect. Derry would manage only two points in the opening 15 minutes of the second half as the Dubs took complete control, but they proved wasteful in front of goal.
Tomas Brady and Darren Daly spurned goal chances to go with the opportunity Davy Byrne missed in the first half, when Thomas Mallon made a tremendous save.
And when Lynch landed a monster score from 45 metres out to lift the siege with just over 10 minutes to go, you sensed it was going to be Derry's day.
Two dismissals came directly after that. Derry's Mark Craig walked after picking up a booking and a black card inside four minutes and in the same break in play, referee Kelly went to the other end of the field to send off Philly McMahon on a straight red after he clashed with Lynch.
Jason Whelan, back in the squad after his suspension, kicked the next score to cut the gap to three, but Dublin's six second-half wides had drained their legs and Derry struck for home.
Fittingly, Lynch hit the next two points before the industrious Benny Heron rounded off the scoring with his second score.
It was a big result for Derry, but not such a significant reversal for Dublin. A rare trip away from Croke Park mightn't have suited, but this was a shadow of the side we'll see in the summer.
They started just six of the team that began last year's All-Ireland final while Gavin was also without the U-21 contingent.
In the build-up to the game, the in-form Kevin McManamon was ruled out with an ankle problem, while James McCarthy missed out through illness, meaning even their in-depth playing resources were stretched.
The bright spot was the form of Alan Brogan, who despite looking like he was blowing hard early on, delivered a classy performance that yielded six points.
"It was a disappointing loss," Gavin reflected afterwards. "But I think we'll learn a good bit from today. It's a great experience for the players to come up to Derry this morning and to play against a very good team and to experience that sort of atmosphere. We're obviously disappointed with the loss, but it was a great game to be involved in."
For Derry, the building continues. Having guided Donegal to a league title, McIver is in familiar territory now as his side moved to second in the table with two rounds left to play.
And he wants Derry to have more faith in themselves as we edge towards summer football and the true test of his team.
"Well, listen, we gained nothing more in many ways today than two points. The other side of that is we now know (how good Derry are) and that this side know themselves, which is far more important. People were writing about how good Derry are, but all of that is totally irrelevant. The people that have to know how good Derry are, are the Derry players.
"We knew it was going to be a real physical battle. Dublin are a well-conditioned side, we just needed these couple of matches to see where we really did stand. Now we know we are able to play football with the best in the country. This is only the start for this side."
SCORERS – Derry: M Lynch 1-8 (0-4fs), B Heron, F Doherty, C McFaul 0-2 each, C O'Boyle, D Mullan 0-1 each. Dublin: A Brogan 0-6 (1f), P Hudson (2fs), P Andrews 0-2 each, P McMahon, J Whelan (1f), M D Macauley 0-1 each.
Derry – T Mallon 8; M Craig 6, C McKaigue 7, D McBride 6; K Johnston 7, G O'Kane 7, SL McGoldrick 6; F Doherty 8, P Bradley 8; C McFaul 7, M Lynch 9, E Lynn 7; B Heron 8, D Mullan 6, C O'Boyle 7 Subs: R Bell 6 for O'Boyle (40), A Devlin 6 for McFaul, C McGoldrick 6 for Bell (both 55), A McAlynn for Doherty (68)
Dublin – S Cluxton 6; S George 6, P McMahon 5, M Fitzsimons 6; D Nelson 6, J Cooper 6, D Daly 5; C O'Sullivan 6, M D Macauley 7; D Byrne 6, A Brogan 8, B Cullen 5; P Hudson 5, E O'Gara 7, P Andrews 7. Subs: K Nolan 6 for George, T Brady 6 for Cullen, J Whelan 6 for Hudson (all h-t), N Devereux 6 for Nelson (45), C Reddin 6 for Byrne (52), D O'Mahony for O'Sullivan (66).
Ref – F Kelly (Longford)