TO say that Derry GAA is on the crest of a wave this week is an understatement. Having watched the minors beat Monaghan in Armagh on to win the All-Ireland on Sunday past, the attention now shifts to the seniors who take on Kerry on Sunday.
While this column is generally reserved for a general interest piece on topical areas within the GAA at a moment in time, you will have to forgive me for eulogising about my home county this week.
On Sunday, we witnessed the first all Ulster All-Ireland Minor final and I think it’s fair to say that Derry were deserving winners.
Having seen the minors a few times this year at different stages of their development, this is a team that have gelled together and play a brand of football laced with serious pace right throughout the team.
There was talk of this team from when the season started but minor football can be a fickle age grade where it might not take too much to offset the balance of the team.
Kudos must go to the management on how they have managed this expectation while also getting the lads to develop and allowing them to express themselves along the way – sure isn’t that what it’s all about at that age?
Given the change in the age in the last number of years, where minors is now u-17 and not u-18, it’s impossible to say how many of these lads will progress through to Derry seniors, but for me, that’s a conversation for another day.
It’s different now than in years gone by where most lads playing at that level of county minors most likely also started on a club’s senior team.
Don’t get me wrong, the pathway is there for the lads and they will hopefully get every opportunity to maximise their potential, but for now, enjoying all this in the moment is the most important thing for them.
The summer holidays have just started and they will all filter back to their clubs in the next week or so and play club minor football and no doubt cut lumps out of each other and shake hands at the end of the game. For now, let’s just bask in the glory these young lads have brought to the county and given us all a lift ahead of Sunday.
Now, as we do look forward to Sunday, maybe it is the lift that the minors have given everyone this week, but it feels like folks locally in Derry are that extra bit more confident of winning on Sunday than they were this time last week – it is amazing what confidence and belief can do.
If you were to ask me straight up ahead of Sunday – ‘who is the better team with the better group of players’?, I would have to say Kerry. Given they won the All-Ireland last year it would be naïve to say anything different.
However, if you also followed that initial question up with, ‘can Derry win the game on Sunday?’ I would have to say, yes, they can.
The match ups on Sunday are going to be crucial. Everyone is expecting McKaigue to mark David Clifford which is a fair enough assumption but with the rest of the match ups, there are so many permeations. Does McCluskey go with O’Shea and try to get O’Shea to spend his time on the back foot – or is that a job for Gareth McKinless? Does Paudi McGrogan go on Paudie Clifford – he certainly has the strength and pace to mix it with him physically or again, does McKinless go there or maybe Conor Doherty and let his athleticism match up with Paudie Clifford?
Would this then restrict Doherty who has bagged goals in two of Derry’s last three games? These are just three of the potential match ups, without taking into account Geaney, Dara Moynihan or Spillane who kicked 0-2 from wing forward last time out.
Looking at Kerry’s win over Tyrone, I think Derry do have more running power than Tyrone. They simply got caught out in too many areas of the pitch with their running power and it allowed Kerry to be relentless and simply run them into the ground.
I don’t think that will happen with this Derry side – they are conditioned to play that high intensity game and have running power in all areas of the pitch, it’s most likely an unwritten pre-requisite to play on the team.
Derry will probably look back on the semi final last year with a tinge of regret in not having a proper cut at it, especially in the last 10 minutes when it was never more than a three or four-point game.
Hopefully that’s one thing that they won’t wake up on Monday morning with regrets like that. Sure, you can have regrets over missed chances, missed tackles and the like, but those are instantaneous moments which, once they are gone, they are gone.
Like most teams against Kerry, I can only assume the plan is to keep it tight going down the home straight and look to kick on form there.
In their journey over the last two or three years, Derry have yet to take a scalp such as Kerry. Kerry will be primed and waiting too – it’s not to say as if they have not been in this position before so they are well aware of the pitfalls which a game like this has for them but they have plenty of experience and know how.
I am not saying Derry will win, but they certainly can, and no one can say for certain, that if the proper things don’t fall into place after 4pm on Sunday, Derry won’t be sitting in an All-Ireland final in two weeks’ time.