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Derry’s comparisons with Donegal’s 2011 team extends to the manner of their All-Ireland semi-final no-show

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Heartbreak: Padraig McGrogan and his Derry comrades reflect on what might have been

Heartbreak: Padraig McGrogan and his Derry comrades reflect on what might have been

©INPHO/James Crombie

Padraic Joyce celebrates Galway's win with Damien Comer

Padraic Joyce celebrates Galway's win with Damien Comer

©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Dessie Conneely and Dylan McHugh celebrate Galway's victory

Dessie Conneely and Dylan McHugh celebrate Galway's victory

©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

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Heartbreak: Padraig McGrogan and his Derry comrades reflect on what might have been

Since Derry won the Ulster title, the easy comparison was to draw this team alongside the Donegal side of 2011 that Rory Gallagher was assistant manager of and who ended a 19-year wait for provincial success.

In light of this performance, how their subsequent All-Ireland semi-finals went draws that contrast a little closer into focus.

In both cases — Donegal against Dublin in 2011, and Derry against Galway here — they began cautiously but nonetheless made headway.

The opposition started to get frustrated and took potshots. In Dublin’s case, it was happening from anywhere, here the Galway forwards had recorded four wides from difficult angles before they managed to break their duck on the 22nd minute.

The source of that score is the interesting thing. Damien Comer is built like a light heavyweight boxer with the shoulders to match. He backed himself to muscle past Brendan Rogers and kicked the score which was met with a huge Galway cheer.

Just like Donegal in 2011, the Derry puzzle was eventually found out. The lack of variety to their attacking threat was also evident as they carried ball cautiously up to the Galway defensive cordon and then proceeded with a series of loop arounds before either Gareth McKinless or Rogers tried to worm their way into the ‘D’, or they could force a free.

Apart from substitute Lachlan Murray’s finish at the very end of time added on, Derry had no real goal chances.

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This, despite firing 10 goals in their previous four games. It was a performance that was most unlike Derry and their form lines this year.

That’s not to say that everyone did not fulfil their talent here. Chrissy McKaigue added Rob Finnerty to the growing list of forwards that he has left scoreless from play this campaign. Conor McCluskey is just in his first season as a starter and in five Championship games he has not conceded a point from play against his direct opponent.

Up here against Galway’s Shane Walsh, he had a sensational display.

The difficulty for Derry is that they just became a little one-dimensional. Performance analysts would scoff at the notion of being due one bad performance, but that’s what happened.

After going 0-3 to 0-0 up after 12 minutes, the rest of the game belonged to Galway, scoring 2-8 to 1-3 in the remainder of the contest.

Think about it. That is 1-3 over 66 minutes. The goal came in garbage time and two of the points were from frees.

What happened to Donegal? They went away over the winter and, convinced that the fundamentals of the defence were sound, worked on a way of bringing the ball from back to front.

They came up with a three-man weave system with the player in front running a hard line, but two supporting players sprinting even harder to offer options off either shoulder.

It wasn’t just all that, though. Recall the opening minutes of the 2012 All-Ireland final and it was a high ball sent in by Karl Lacey, creating a physical contest between Michael Murphy and Mayo’s Kevin Keane.

Murphy won that, and almost bust the net with his shot.

If only things were that simple now. Teams have a level of sophistication and Galway manager Padraic Joyce needs to be celebrated for figuring out Derry and getting a great all-round performance from his team.

The first goal came after a series of frees converted by Walsh that left Galway 0-7 to 0-4 ahead. A beautiful John Daly delivery inside was latched on by Comer and a Rogers slip left him through on goal. He slipped it under Odhran Lynch.

Some post-match analysis may centre on the goalkeeper.

He came upfield on several occasions. In the first half, he even broke the ball away from an opponent on a Galway kickout. But with his side struggling to break down Galway, he was needed as another body.

It didn’t go well for him, being blocked down and generally not getting to add much from open play.

And in the end, he suffered the indignity of being caught hideously out of position after Paul Conroy turned Conor Glass over and a Liam Silke pass reached Comer, who thumped it to the empty net from 30 metres.

By then, it was go for broke for Derry.

They will look back on 2022 as perhaps the start of something special. They beat the All-Ireland champions, Tyrone, in Omagh and two other Division One teams in Monaghan and Donegal to win possibly the hardest Ulster title of them all.

But the short days are coming. The period of reflection will have already begun in Gallagher’s mind as the team bus made its way back up north on Saturday night. One statistic — that of being turned over 18 times — will fill his thoughts as he follows the rest of the All-Ireland series. And clearly they need a few players to step out of the fringes.

They have to go away and figure it all out for themselves.


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