McKinless key to Shamrocks win with man-marking a vital tactic
IN the post-match analysis, two factors reached universal consensus in the winning and the losing of this match; Gareth McKinless' enthusiastic man-marking of Michael Murphy and Ballinderry's beating of the Glenswilly blanket defence with long-range points.
Shamrocks captain Conor Nevin was originally given the Murphy job but as McKinless generously conceded, the breaks weren't going with him.
Glowing in the aftermath of the triumph, McKinless told reporters: "From talking among us players, Conor was the best man for the job. Sometimes marking a man, you can get some of the breaks going for you one way, and it just wasn't going his way, thank God some decisions went my way when I was on him."
Murphy had started like a rocket, getting a somewhat fortuitous goal with only 26 seconds gone on the clock. While he threatened throughout the first-half and was directly involved in getting 1-2 for his team in the first four minutes of the second-half, McKinless gradually sank his claws in.
His tight attentions grew more successful and at one stage in the final quarter Murphy had actually shrugged him off and got goalside of McKinless, before a brilliant tackle from behind robbed the Donegal captain of the ball.
"He's some player," was McKinless' assessment of Murphy.
"The score he got at the start of the second-half showed it, it was just unbelievable. It's a honour to play on him.
"I said before that it's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog. I was looking up at him and he is a tower, it nearly scares you a wee bit."
Regardless of his awe, the job he performed gained much praise, Nevin commenting afterwards: "I was on him at the very start and then Gareth went on him and done brilliant. He's a massive player Gareth. He has been brilliant."
Ryan Bell, already a key player for Derry even though he is merely 19-years-old, said that McKinless' performance should earn him an extended run in the county squad: "Young Gareth McKinless was marking Michael Murphy today and I thought he did well when he was on him for a wee small man. He did really well but he is just a class man-marker."
Stopping Murphy was only one part of it however, as Glenswilly had a massed defence that included not one, but two sweepers in defence. With avenues to Bell at full-forward cut off and leaving him scoreless in the final, they had to rely on long-range shots.
Conleith Gilligan, Dermot McGuckin and Daniel McKinless were able to deliver, to go along with the superb brace of points from rampaging midfielder James Conway.
McKinless felt that once they knew they would be facing Glenswilly in the final they could plan accordingly.
"As soon as we knew we were getting Glenswilly we knew what way they would set up. We knew long range points would be needed and would get us there somehow.
"Some great scores ... some of those boys couldn't even do that in training never mind the day of a match!"
Bell added, "That is what we had been practising on in training. You can't run into the defence or you will lose the ball. We practised our long-range shooting and it is one of my strong points, long distance shooting, but you just couldn't afford to run in with it or you would lose it.
"There were times where we did lose it and they got up the field to score. Long shooting was the key and lucky enough they went over the bar."
This Ballinderry team is very much a blend of young and old. The likes of Mickey Conlan, Conleith Gilligan, Enda Muldoon and the Conway brothers already have an All-Ireland club medal from over a decade ago, but there is a sense that the younger band of players are serious driving forces.
They now face London champions Kingdom Kerry Gaels in an All-Ireland quarter-final in less than a fortnight. Win that, and there is a long wait until mid-February when they get a shot at the Leinster champions, who will be either Portlaoise or St Vincent's.
"It will be an experience now, but we will enjoy it," says McKinless of their venture over to London's Ruislip grounds.
"At the start of the year you set out to get here and win this, and we have. You don't think you have anything else, but now you are there you don't want to stop, you want to keep her going on this road."
The 2001/02 All-Ireland win also featured a trip to London when they beat Tir Chonaill Gaels. Coincidences ...