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Monday, October 2, 2023

Galway 2-8 Derry 1-6: Oak Leaf exodus runs out of steam at Croke Park

Brendan Rogers’ two early scores helped Derry take a three-point lead

Derry expected. My goodness how they expected.

It quickly became apparent that this was going to be no regular two and a bit hour All-Ireland semi-final hop to Dublin when the vehicles bedecked in red and white were backed up some half a mile shy of the Sprucefield exit near Lisburn.

It was an Derry exodus like no other as their fans, often accused of lacking passion for the county amid fierce club rivalries, were turning over a new Oak Leaf.

It took 20 minutes to negotiate your way through those first couple of roundabouts and that proved a brief delay compared to what followed at the toll booths near Drogheda, after an enforced go slow which had begun shortly after the Dundalk exits.

Many with weak bladders were having to make alternative arrangements than the usual Applegreen pitstops – lest you got caught up in more traffic gridlock.

Four hours after departure, we finally rolled into the capital and mercifully the allocated wagon parking spot was still available despite arriving after the stated cut-off point.

Derry fans were everywhere. I even saw the county’s kit van man trying to talk his way down one of the closed-off side streets, as his fellow county men and women shouted their support.

The inaugural Tailteann Cup final between Cavan and Westmeath was a tasty enough appetiser for the neutrals though the Breffni players were looking decidedly queasy at the finish, Kieran Martin’s sensational late goal saw victory snatched from them as the Lake County secured guaranteed top-tier championship status for next year.

As the main event mercifully got under way after all that earlier stress, Derry made all the initial running as Brendan Rogers bombed forward to clip over two of their three opening unanswered scores.

At that stage, it all seemed to be going Derry’s way with Galway having fired a couple of early wides amid close attention from the likes of Conor McCluskey and Chrissy McKaigue.

But Derry also missed other tap-over opportunities during their early period of superiority with Benny Heron dispossessed after taking one step too far as he saw the chance of goal and Paul Cassidy then seeing a goal attempt brilliantly blocked at full-length by Kieran Molloy.

Derry’s mantra all through the campaign had been to go for the goal when the chance was there but in what was likely to be a low-scoring arm wrestle, it may have been a day for taking your points.

Amid the excellence of captain Sean Kelly and Molloy, Galway’s defence soon began to shut down the incisions that Derry’s runners such as Rogers and Gareth McKinless had been making.

Damien Comer fires in his magnificent second goal
Damien Comer scored Galway’s two goals which included his exquisite lobbed finish for the second major

Inevitably it was eventual man of the match Comer who finally opened Galway’s account in the 22nd minute but it left them only two points down after Derry had been unable to get full purchase from their early dominance.

Derry’s fourth point – a free tapped over by a largely subdued Shane McGuigan – ended a 22-minute drought and left them only one ahead at the break as Comer had the finally scoring say in injury time.

As it turned out, that had been the levelling score with referee Brendan Cawley correctly ruling that the Hawkeye had got it wrong in decreeing an earlier Shane Walsh 45 as a wide.

Rory Gallagher insisted afterwards that he had “no issue” over Cawley’s call but losing the lead did appear to be a psychological blow for the Oak Leafers.

And after mirroring Derry’s men-behind-the-ball approach in the first half in almost a ‘show us what you’ve got’ taunt, Galway suddenly cut loose after the break as three quickfire frees from Walsh put them three up before Comer darted away from Brendan Rogers to roll in his first goal low under Odhran Lynch.

That first goal on 46 minutes was the pivotal score of the match. Galway had already been taking control but a six-point advantage now looked insurmountable – even with the guts of half an hour to play.

Derry huff and puff as Galway take control

Derry huffed and puffed in truth, their game plan was set up to forge leads and hold on to them rather than having to chase.

The Oak Leafers could quibble at a few refereeing decision with McKinless a particular victim as he harshly blown for over-carrying when surrounded which yielded Galway’s sixth point and then booked for a dive after another typically long-busting run.

But did those decisions impact significantly on the outcome? No.

Comer’s sensational finish for his second goal only put gloss on the outcome.

I let my journalistic neutrality slip badly as I openly clapped Comer’s stunning finish from 35 yards to the empty net, with Odhran Lynch caught stranded after one of his regular forays upfield, and got a match programme flung in my direction for my troubles from high above in the Hogan Stand.

Whether that was an irate Derry fan I know not.

Amid the ongoing goalkeeping revolution, ironically Rory Gallagher said earlier this season that “some goalkeeper is going to be very badly caught out one of these days” and after Monaghan’s Rory Beggan was punished by Kerry in the National League, Lynch became the latest high-profile victim of the new fad at Croke Park.

Source: BBC

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