McGuigan lands knockout blows as Oak Leafs floor wasteful Leitrim
Derry 0-20 Leitrim 0-16
Leitrim came, saw, but failed to conquer favourites Derry in an entertaining Division 4 final at Croke Park on Saturday.
In only their fifth appearance at Croke Park, Leitrim ended the contest camped in the Derry half, but a ruinous streak of profligacy - which saw them kick nine first-half wides when aided by the breeze - ended their chance of winning a first ever game at headquarters.
"I do think the wides ultimately killed us," acknowledged Leitrim boss Terry Hyland. "We have statisticians and statistics, but the biggest statistic is the scoreboard and if you don't keep that right you can forget about the rest of them."
After a pedestrian start which saw them twice fall three points behind, Derry had Leitrim's number by half-time after holding them scoreless for 15 minutes, during which they scored six points to lead 0-10 to 0-7 at the break.
Man of the Match Shane McGuigan - who was the game's top scorer with a 0-6 tally - revealed that Derry had targeted turnovers as a means of punishing Leitrim, who committed a lot of defenders to their attack once they had possession.
"We knew if we could get them turned we would make hay, because there was a lot of space in the forward line and that worked well for boys like me," said McGuigan.
Two of Derry's second quarter points came directly from turnovers achieved deep inside their own half. This strategy, allied to exerting more pressure on Cathal McCrann's previously pinpoint accurate kick-outs, yielded a rich dividend.
"We lost four or five of our kick-outs just before half-time which handed them possession. We probably got a bit, shall we say, lazy on the field. We didn't make the runs to create the openings. Cathal (McCrann) can only hit something that's moving and we stopped moving," said Hyland.
"Those things happen in games and that probably came down to a lack of experience and we corrected it in the second-half."
Derry boss Damian McErlean suggested this spell before half-time was when the game was decided.
"I suppose the most pleasing aspect of the performance was the fact that we settled our heads, started to control the game and hit seven points in a row to go in three points up," he said.
"That was the key part of the game for us. The clean sheet was huge, as well as scoring 20 points."
Seven different Derry players hit 16 points from play between them; while Leitrim had 10 different scorers, only Ryan O'Rourke and Evan Sweeney managed to score more than once.
A brilliant save from Cathal McCrann denied Emmet Bradley a Derry goal early in the second-half, but their ability to judge the breeze and fire over long-range points stretched the Leitrim defence. By the 50th minute they were six points in front and cruising.
Leitrim hung in and had one goal chance which Derry full-back Brendan Rogers dealt with, but the fighting qualities they exhibited pleased Terry Hyland.
"It showed the character of the lads to keep at it. Previously they may not have done that, but this group have been pushing right to the end.
"We have turned over games at the end before. We had a couple of half-chances and might have got a goal which could have swung it back in our favour and we have to credit them for that."
Regardless of the result, the two teams had already achieved their spring target of securing promotion. However, with provincial championship games coming up against Tyrone and Roscommon respectively, there may not be too many more highlights in 2019.
"If we give ball away like that against Tyrone they will just score at the other end. We have loads to take out of the game, but we are by no means the finished article. Facing Tyrone will absolutely sharpen the focus," suggested McErlean.
For Hyland the challenge of taking on a so-called weaker county was one he could not pass up.
"I once asked the question: 'What is anybody doing to help the so-called weaker counties?' So when someone asked me to help then I would be the coward had I backed down.
"Facing Roscommon doesn't intimidate us to be honest. We have to prepare properly and go out with the right frame of mind. So it doesn't matter who the opposition are. They are only wearing jerseys the same as everybody else," he declared.
Scorers - Derry: S McGuigan 0-6 (1f, 1m), R Bell 0-4 (1f), E Lynn 0-3; C McKaigue, E Bradley 0-2 each, P Cassidy, C Bradley (f), N Toner 0-1 each. Leitrim: R O'Rourke 0-6 (4f), E Sweeney 0-2 (1f), M McWeeney, P Maguire, R Mulvey, M Plunkett, S Moran, D McGovern, D Flynn (f), E Mulligan 0-1 each.
Derry - T Mallon 8; K McKaigue 7, B Rogers 8, P McNeill 7; M McEvoy 7, C McKaigue 8; N Keenan 7; E Bradley 7, C McAtamney 7; P Cassidy 8, E Lynn 8, C Doherty 7; S McGuigan 9, R Bell 8, C Bradley 7. Subs: B Heron 7 for Lynn 50; N Toner 7 for Bell 50; J Rocks 6 for Doherty 59, E McGill 6 for K McKaigue 64, R Dougan 6 for Bradley 70 +1.
Leitrim - C McCrann 7; A Flynn 6, M McWeeney 7, P Maguire 6, R Mulvey 7; S McWeeney 6, C McGloin 5; M Plunkett 7, S Moran 7; S Quinn 6, R O'Rourke 7, D McGovern 6; D Flynn 6, E Mulligan 6, E Sweeney 7. Subs: P Dolan for McGloin 33; D Rooney for Mulligan 44; D Moran 5 for S Moran 50, C Reynolds 5 for A Flynn 61; J Heslin 5 for D Flynn 65m.
REF - B Cawley (Kildare)