I have a good early warning system for Derry games. It has not been activated this week. After a few pints at Cleary’s to gently numb myself, I went to the park and settled in for the game.
he is 2012 Donegal all over again. Derry was up to speed from the throw-in. Hard, well timed sprinting – good distance up front. Ferocious, smart approach without fouling. De Clare leading forward through dead ends.
Clare wanted Derry to be complacent. But they came to this game fresh from a first Ulster Championship in 24 years. They are also endlessly rehearsed by Rory Gallagher, an obsessive and unusual man who leads a regime that allows no free time. Long before the end, Clare was back on his feet, exhausted by Derry’s refusal to slow down and admire their work.
It was a more or less perfect portrayal of Derry. It took 25 minutes for them to be turned around, a stray hand pass that clearly looked out of place. The glamorous brunette next to me said, “Rory will eat him at halftime.”
It was 3-6 to 1-3 by half time and it was clear things were going to get a lot worse for Clare.
Derry has suddenly developed that quality of playing in a world of his own, completely ignoring the opponent and the backlog. Clare, like Tyrone, Monaghan, and Donegal before them, could not withstand the tremendous psychological pressure of this relentless precision. Derry chased them manically, from endline to endline.
There was no time for Clare catch your breath. They would come to the end of a run, only to see the Derry man take off again. Derry’s five goals all came from sprints that burst into the lungs, with no one sparing themselves. They were masterpieces of timing, precision and composure.
Derry’s drift defence, borrowed from Jim Gavin’s Dublin with one rotary sweeper, prevented Clare from scoring. Their first score out of the game came at 30 minutes 30 seconds, leaving it 2-5 to 0-2. By this time they were yelling at each other and their manager. Big games in Croke Park are not the place for rhetorical cries for help.
At halftime, Dublin CEO John Costello said Derry was taking advantage of the reverse silo effect and it was hard to disagree. Derry was now playing against himself. From their first kick-out of the second half, a short one, Derry’s squad went into attack formation and spied the length of the field, leaving the Clare men stunned. Gareth McKinless took a moment to weigh things up before heading beautifully to the net. 4-7 to 1-3.
Just ahead of us, Gallagher pacified restlessly, roaring into the void. He worked his way through a whole tub of water bottles, taking big gulps and spitting it out like a prize fighter between rounds. He also spat a thousand times imaginary saliva on his hands.
I said to him after the Ulster final, “You have to spend time with a yoga master.” He said, “Believe it or not Joe, I’m calm.”
It is an unsentimental regime. Everything superfluous has been removed. Gallagher promised the team they would become Ulster champions if they did their job. Seeing his predictions come true, they redoubled their efforts. There was no sense of elation at the final whistle here, suggesting a team whose sights are higher. A bit higher.
Dublin, meanwhile, was not up to speed. They didn’t have to be against the Cork Solo Running Association. I counted two kick passes in the first 50 minutes. They run a lot and cover a lot of ground. But they don’t seem to have a concept of team. Heads down. Running solo. Step into the block. A football nothing. They need to be reprogrammed.
Ciarán Kilkenny is a real great football player. Like the greats, his excellence is not temporary. His standards are eternally high because anything else would be an insult to his self-esteem. Here his pace of work, tackling, winning the ball, finishing and leadership were of the highest quality. Dean Rock has now been reduced to free-taking. A great free-taker, the best we’ve seen. But only a freebooter. Paddy Small is fast and skilled, but predictable.
Niall Scully was always a great sixth man in a great forward line. Con O’Callaghan has a hamstring injury. They won’t win the All-Ireland without him, although the Dubliner in the front row assured me he would be back in time for Derry in the final.