In their first ever foray into Ulster club territory, Derry’s Glen now get to take the field against the defending champions Kilcoo.
In doing so, they set up one of those serendipitous moments that sometimes present themselves in Gaelic games. Kilcoo are managed by Mickey Moran, who played for Glen and lives in Maghera.
They got this far by taking out another renowned club in this crucible, Scotstown with a performance that owed a great deal to the tactical acumen of manager, Malachy O’Rourke.
For several seasons, O’Rourke took Rory Beggan’s raw talents and nurtured them into one of the most potent weapons in Gaelic football. His kickouts and ability to kick frees are not in question, but by stringing four men across the middle and forcing Beggan short, he short-circuited one of their chief strengths.
When Beggan decided to try a few long kickouts, they were hopelessly outnumbered for the breaks, Glen committing more bodies to the area and Michael Warnock in particular gobbled up a lot of loose possession. The statistic that jumped out at half-time was that Scotstown were only securing possession from 56% of their own kickouts.
“Anyone that watches Monaghan, watches Rory to know what way, the boot he has of the ball off the tee,” explained O’Rourke afterwards.
“So it was a case of trying to get damage limitation, if you like. We were trying to spoil their kickouts as much as we could. That worked fairly well at times, but Rory is always going to get a certain amount of them away.
“Having worked with Rory for so long, and the other boys, I suppose you have some sort of insight into them. But it doesn’t count that much when the game starts.
“It was strange for me, plotting against those boys rather than plotting with them, but that’s football.”
In the previous game, Glen only scored 1-4 against Donegal’s St Eunan’s. But it was still enough to get them across the line on a day when scores were at a premium. Racking up 1-18 here in the middle of December shows they are a versatile and adaptable unit.
“We always thought that Scotstown wouldn’t set up as defensively as St Eunan’s did,” O’Rourke stated.
“That was a great challenge for us the last day and we were delighted to come through it. It was pure character I suppose that pulled us through in the end up.
“Today it was more open. We got off to a good start, we always had that gap between us and Scotstown. It gave us that wee bit of breathing space.
“The second half there was a period where Scotstown came back and that was a difficult period for us. But again it was a case of holding our heads, using the ball that wee bit better and we were able to do that and finish the game strongly.”
That was only part of it. Glen are blessed with a number of supremely gifted athletes and they ran right at the heart of Scotstown’s defence time and again, drawing frees, converting no fewer than seven of them.
Ciaran McFaul’s ability to take on his man had them in all sorts of bother. From him, Conor Glass and Jack Doherty took his lead. When they didn’t have the ball, they brought everyone inside their 45 metre line and while the Monaghan champions had a lot of ball, they had to do an awful lot of work to get something on the scoreboard.
When they attacked, they got the right men in the right positions, running the correct angles. Behind them, they had their defence correctly set for fear of a counter attack. It may be their first time in the Ulster club, but they are already at a high level of tactical sophistication.
They jumped into a half time lead of 0-11 to 0-6, a golden spell for them coming in the second quarter kick-started by two Paul Gunning frees. Conor Glass had his confidence up and strode forward to stroke one over and Emmet Bradley converted a free.
Scotstown’s hopes felt gone when midfielder Kieran Hughes was awarded a red card just four minutes into the second half. His brother Darren followed him to the line in time added on, both men going after referee Joe McQuillan consulted with his linesmen.
"I honestly didn’t see what happened,” said O’Rourke of the incident that left Conor McDevitt on the floor, “but obviously the referee thought it was a red card offence. That gave us more room to exploit and made things a little easier on us.”
While they rallied and got the margin back to three points, Glen found a bit of momentum of their own after the second water break disturbed Scotstown’s momentum.
The goal arrived at the death, Danny Tallon stabbing home from close range past an exhausted Rory Beggan, who featured prominently throughout.
GLEN: C Bradley; M Warnock, R Dougan, C Carville 0-1; T Flanagan, C McFaul 0-1, E Doherty; C Glass 0-1, E Bradley 0-3, 2f; C McDevitt 0-1, J Doherty 0-2, C Convery 0-1; P Gunning 0-3, 2f, D Tallon 1-3, 3f, C McGuckian 0-1
Subs: C Mulholland for Convery (51m), A Doherty 0-1, for Gunning (61m), S O’Hara for J Doherty (63m)
SCOTSTOWN: R Beggan 0-1f; M Meehan, R McKenna, D McArdle 0-2; J McDevitt, R O’Toole, P Sherlock; M McCarville, K Hughes 0-2; F Maguire, C McCarthy 0-2, M Maguire 0-1; S Carey 0-4, 2f, D Hughes, D Morgan
Subs: G McPhillips for McCarville (25m), J Carey for F Maguire (40m), S Mahon for McKenna (47m), J Hamill for McDevitt (52m)
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan)