Derry v Dublin preview: A marker for summer

NFL Division One final
Derry v Dublin
Sunday, Croke Park, 4pm

By Michael McMullan

FROM the moment Derry decided to make seven changes to their team ahead of the Dubs’ visit to Celtic Park the interest in a potential rematch in the final ramped up.

Now it’s here, when you delve through the noise of those who feel league finals are a waste of diesel.

The season-defining moments are far away around the corner, but Sunday brings national silver to the top of the Hogan Stand steps and a proper benchmark.

Dublin are eyeing a 15th league title and with the Leinster Championship a glorified procession, it’s the last chance Dessie Farrell will have to see his side’s underbelly tested before the season gets real.

For Derry, the last of their six successes came in 2008 against Kerry in Parnell Park. They can’t turn their nose up at silver. There is also the question of Derry’s form in Croke Park. In their entire history, they’ve played 19 championship games at headquarters.

With only six wins, fans have been used to battling through traffic with that slumped body language of disappointment.

Beating Cork in the 1993 All-Ireland final was their last championship victory of substance in Croker. Beating Westmeath (2004), Clare (2022) and Cork (2023), well, any team with Sam Maguire aspirations would be expected to come through those ties.

That’s why Sunday is vital for Derry, even with Donegal lurking three weeks later to strip them of their title as Ulster’s top dogs. Performing in Croke Park is where it is at now.

Derry and Dublin crossed paths in the final 10 years ago. After losing in Celtic Park in the league game, Dublin tore the Oakleafers asunder in the final. There was a 14-point margin, a decent hammering.

Dublin have been bobbing away at the surface since whereas Derry needed a deep dive to navigate their way from a well-documented adventure back from Division Four.

Their story is like no other. Many will rank it as a false tale of woe. Derry were too good for the lower leagues. Maybe so, but the league table never lies.

From the moment Sligo pushed them through the Division Three trapdoor, their climb all the way to the contenders’ paddock for the biggest prize can be filed away as progress, with a capital P.

When Brendan Rogers found a gap to kick the winner against the Dubs last winter, it was another milestone. It was a league game, yet so much more.

By the time they met in the final, Dublin – with Con O’Callaghan’s movement – sent Derry back up the road with the tail between their legs.

Even without Chrissy McKaigue and Eoin McEvoy, Derry did so much right but the first Dublin goal started the rot. Conor Glass tweaked a hamstring in the preamble. After he trudged ashore, Derry were left wide, wide open.

Glass was one of the seven players rested after February’s win over Galway. The Derry mantra was always going to be the same after they amassed eight points. Safety in the top flight was the only currency.

In an interview with Gaelic Life, selector Paul McFlynn stated Derry were going to shuffle in their next game after securing top flight status. The fact it was Dublin was coincidental.

The narrative of not showing their hand against the Dubs would fit if people wanted it to.

It was time for Glass to get a rest after club duty. Niall Loughlin needed a seat in the stand too after a taxing spell mixing Derry duty with kicking goals as Ulster University annexed the Sigerson Cup.

On the night, Ciarán Kilkenny and Brian Fenton took control of the game. Shane McGuigan was awesome, something that has become all too common.

Derry did have chances during a spell of relative third quarter control. There was also a back peddling David O’Hanlon clawing a McGuigan lob from its trajectory towards an empty net with the Dublin house down.

Rotation offered Ryan Scullion, Cormac Murphy, Donncha Gilmore and Lachlan Murray a chance to see what the top level is all about. That was the plus you can’t find in any amount of training sessions.

The negative was how passive Derry were in the second half. They simply sat too deep.

It was like the first half of the 2023 league encounter at Celtic Park when Derry dropped off and showed Dublin too much respect.

Brian Howard and John Small were afforded the freedom to ferry the ball unchallenged into the home defence.

The second half of Derry’s problems came from how their packed defensive third still allowed the dancing Dublin feet to pick the holes. It helped them see out the game. Cormac Costello came in and nabbed a goal with his first touch.

It proved how important the piercing runs of Conor Doherty and Gareth McKinless are to the counter-attacking plan.

It was like the league final last year when Conor McCluskey, out of necessity, played as a marker rather than a potent deep lying attacker.

McKinless could well miss out again after sustaining a broken nose in the win over Roscommon.

Aside from that, Derry’s injury problems have begun to clear up.Lynch, Murray, Matthew Downey and Murphy are back in the fold. Should McKinless not make it, Donncha Gilmore will be given another taste of the big time.

In one way Derry’s season won’t be defined by Sunday but Glass getting his hands on the lugs of the New Ireland Cup would be one hell of a confidence booster.


Kerry 2-8 Derry 0-15
Derry 1-12 Tyrone 0-9
Derry 3-17 Monaghan 0-13
Galway 1-11 Derry 3-10
Derry 1-11 Dublin 1-16
Mayo 2-13 Derry 3-15
Roscommon 1-9 Derry 2-19

Dublin 1-14 Monaghan 3-9
Mayo 1-12 Dublin 0-14
Dublin 1-19 Roscommon 0-12
Dublin 3-18 Kerry 1-14
Derry 1-11 Dublin 1-16
Galway 0-14 Dublin 0-22
Dublin 5-18 Tyrone 0-12

TOP SCORERS (All competitions)

Shane McGuigan 2-61 (40f, 1-0 pen)
Paul Cassidy 1-15(1f)
Niall Toner 0-10 (2f)

Con O’Callaghan 3-30 (11f, 3m, 1-0pen)
Cormac Costello 2-8 (7f)
Ross McGarry 0-13 (1m)



Shane McGuigan
WHILE he is Derry’s top scorer, he has made chances for others and the focus teams put on curbing has given extra space to others.


Ciarán Kilkenny
THERE are many key links in the Dublin chain but Kilkenny is playing the football of his career. He has added a scoring dimension to his link play.

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