Heartbreak as Derry fail to seal deal against Tipperary
Derry 2-17 Tipperary 1-21
A mad, mad evening in Kingspan Breffni Park left Derry out of the Championship and wondering two things; how did they ever get in the position to win it, and how could they not close it out?
The truth is Derry were entirely architects of their own downfall. The teams were level in the third quarter with the Oak Leafers hinting they might have the measure of Tipperary, when a weak shot by Bill Maher was comfortably dealt with by Derry goalkeeper Thomas Mallon.
As he went to clear, he stumbled and the ball fell to the grateful arms of Kevin O'Halloran, who recovered from the shock of such a gift to plant a shot to the net.
And yet, still Derry got themselves back into the reckoning, a goal from Eoghan Brown and a point from the outstanding Daniel Heavron putting them two up by the end of normal time, before a late Tipperary surge sealed it.
"I thought the boys we have were absolutely fantastic," said boss Damian Barton.
It was one of those Saturday evenings where football takes on a life of its' own, and Barton continued: "They gave their all today to put themselves back into a position to win the match. I just think the boys that we have had and have hung in since the Tyrone have been awesome.
"I am proud of them and I think they can be proud of themselves. I think we lost it because we didn't perform to the level we expect to perform to. I mean, the scoreboard would suggest that we were just too porous and we conceded too much. You can't concede that and expect to win the game.
"We have racked up some good scores this year. Our average I think has been 2-14, but at the same time we have conceded 2-14. That speaks for itself."
But from the moment Derry went two points up, Tipp pushed up on Mallon's kick-out and won the last eight. With marking getting slack and the Derry effort tailing off, the Premier county strung together three points to book their place in next weekend's All-Ireland quarter-final against neighbours Galway.
On that frantic last 10 minutes, winning manager Liam Kearns held up his hands and admitted: "It's nothing to do with us. It's about heart and commitment. The players won that game, nobody else. I take no credit for the last 10 minutes, it was all the players - their heart and their commitment. It's either in them or it isn't."
The story of Tipp's game was also baffling. With 10 minutes left on the clock, a Bill Maher score left them five points up and coasting.
Just then, Mark Lynch swung over a serious free. Substitutes Liam McGoldrick and Christopher Bradley converted big efforts. From the very next kick-out, with the unusually swollen Derry support at fever pitch, Conor McAtamney turned over the kick-out. They knitted together a fist pass move that ended with Ciaran McFaul presenting Eoghan Brown with a tap-in with his fist to leave Derry one up.
"To be five points up, you are saying, well, 'we are there.' In fairness to Derry they came back and kicked some great scores and the goal was a real sucker punch for us, I thought we couldn't come back from that," admitted Kearns.
"Wherever the guys found it from, we only used 16 players until the last few minutes. The fellas found it from somewhere and they got the result I think they deserved."
The game got off to a bizarre start when Derry's Gareth McKinless injured himself in the warm-up, and manager Damian Barton had to plunge Oisin Duffy into the starting line-up.
Although Derry opened the scoring, Tipp hit the next five points, their full-forward line in fine form, dragging Derry's defence out of their zonal positions. When full-back Alan Campbell tossed in a couple of high balls in towards Michael Quinlivan, they found a Derry defence that was flapping at everything.
In truth, the magnificent performance of Daniel Heavron kept Derry in it for stretches. Operating as a sweeper, he roamed forward to great effect and made things happen.
The game was marked however by some downright baffling decisions by referee Marty Duffy, who at one point stopped the play to decide if a penalty call for Tipp was legitimate or not, and seemed to change his mind, opting instead for a throw-up ball. It was referee freestyling that left Tipperary getting 31 frees to Derry's 16.
Barton wasn't clinging on to that stat as a rubber ring, instead stating: "I mean, Marty looked at the steps fairly consistently and he blew them up as well. I just thought some of the contact frees were easy enough. There were a couple of ridiculous scenarios - it's a long time since a linesman has blown a ball for being too short. But they capitalised from that. Those fine margins make a difference at the end.
"There is something seriously wrong there. I don't think we are a negative team, a dirty team. But to have 50% more frees again, maybe I will have to look at the video before I comment further."
Whatever about the recriminations, Derry are gone from the Championship for another year. Only Tyrone and Donegal remain from Ulster. Lean times.
DERRY: T Mallon; O Duffy, C McKaigue, K McKaigue; C McFaul, B Rogers, C Mullan; C McAtamney, N Holly; D Heavron 0-4, N Loughlin 0-3, E Lynn 0-1; J Kielt 0-2, 1f, E McGuckin, M Lynch 1-4, 3f. Subs: N Toner for Lynn (43), C Bradley 0-1 for Kielt (50), E Bradley 0-1 for Holly (52), L McGoldrick 0-1 for Duffy (56), E Brown 1-0 for McGuckin (62), N Forrester for Heavron (73)
Yellow cards: Loughlin (69), Black cards: 0, Red cards: 0
TIPPERARY: E Comerford; C O'Shaughnessy, A Campbell, C McDonald; B Maher 0-1, R Kiely, J Feehin; P Acheson 0-1, G Hannigan; J Keane 0-2, K O'Halloran 1-5, 4f, 1x'45', B Fox; P Austin 0-1, M Quinlivan 0-5, 3f, C Sweeney 0-5. Subs: A Maloney for Hannigan (h-time), S Leahy for Kiely (67), M Hanley for O'Shaughnessy (74)
Yellow cards: Fox (44), Black cards: O'Halloran (76 - no sub), Red cards: 0
Referee: Marty Duffy (Sligo)