Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Middle men Patsy Bradley and PJ McCloskey display their class as Derry begin to look dangerous

Derry's Patsy Bradley and Down's Ambrose Rogers.
PJ McCloskey of Derry

Despite all the scientific thinking and even the examples of Tyrone winning All-Irelands in the last decade without a dominant midfield, the Derry pairing of Patsy Bradley and PJ McCloskey showed on Saturday that there is still a means of getting a foothold on a game by lording the central area.

Bradley laid deeper than usual, not far in front of sweeper Mark Lynch. The implication was clear that Kevin McKernan would not reproduce his exhibition art of catching, running and pointing, showcased in the earlier edition.

Slap bang in the centre was McCloskey. Making only his second Championship start, the Banagher man began this season with a man-of-the-match performance in the McKenna Cup against Tyrone.

He started the first six games of the league before injury ruled him out of the beginning of the Championship campaign.

A familiar story. Injury also deprived him of summer action in 2011 and 2012.

The first round qualifier against Sligo was his first start in Championship. Against Down though he played like a veteran.

Every bit of it was needed as Down's Kevin McKernan and Kalum King had bullied and dominated their opposite numbers in the first game; Patsy Bradley had been suffering from 'flu in the week leading up to it and had lost significant weight, while Ryan Bell had to fill in the other midfield spot – a tall ask for a 19-year-old making his debut.

McCloskey feels that he had a point to prove.

"There's nothing less productive than not playing. I had to get out there and make sure I had an influence," he said.

An influence he most certainly had. Of the five times that Derry goalkeeper Eoin McNicholl was forced to go long with his kickout, McCloskey was there to catch cleanly. On two occasions that Down goalkeeper Brendan McVeigh hoisted the ball to the skies, McCloskey came down with it snugly tucked under the oxter.

Derry targeted Down's strength in the original game, with McKernan ruling the skies. This time McKernan was switched out of midfield in a swap with Ambrose Rogers at half-time, such was the performance of McCloskey.

Frustrated with their diminishing returns, McVeigh was forced to look to hit short kickouts which took a lot of working up the field in the face of aggressive Derry tackling.

"Funny, there was a lot of short kick-outs and that happened the last day against Sligo too," noted McCloskey.

"Sometimes you play a slightly different role than the traditional midfield role, but that's just the way the game is going. You have to be fairly versatile."

The modern fan can be pessimistic. While football is evolving and some might maintain it is going through a particularly gawky phase right now, McCloskey sees both sides of the argument.

This was a game that produced 1-18 on Saturday, compared to the 3-32 the first day.

Of course, the pay-off for Derry is that they won the game. Is that enough?

"The supporters pay massive money to watch games and they say to players and management and journalists that it's not entertaining," said McCloskey.

"The players and managers are tempted to say, 'it's not our job to entertain,' but you must feel sorry for them.

"They pay to watch games, so they have a point. My mammy and daddy, they get in for free, obviously because I get a few free tickets, ...and they still complain!

"I think there was a bit more enjoyment. Derry and Down served up another good game and this time we came out the right side of it."

Another good game? Debatable. But still, when the likes of Martin McHugh anguishes over who wants to come and see defensive football, the following that has sprung out of the ground like mushrooms in Donegal contradicts the point.

Most supporters aren't musos. They just want to see a winning team, something articulated by McCloskey when he says: "I would say to the supporters to bear with us, because if we get a few more 'bad wins' as you would call them, a few more £10, £20 wasted, you might really enjoy yourself some day.

"They'll be happy enough that way if we get a few wins. I think the supporters will bear with that too."

In the meantime, Derry have already got something out of this season. Real progress.

They could be a team to watch in the backdoor and traditionally, they have one of the best records of any county in the qualifiers.

They will have their ears to the wireless next Monday as the next opponent comes out of the hat.

"You can go every week and get on a run and you never know how far you could get," says an optimistic McCloskey.

Wouldn't doubt it.

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