By Michael McMullan
FORMER Derry goalkeeper Barry Gillis is not surprised the underage production line has helped push the county up the footballing ladder.
He feels the Oakleafers have pushed on since last year but Rory Beggan’s range of kicking will keep Derry guessing on Saturday at O’Neill’s Healy Park.
Ironically it was Gillis who conceded the last goal Monaghan scored against Derry in league or championship, a Tommy Freeman effort in a 2010 league defeat in Scotstown that – along with eight Conor McManus points – saw Derry relegated to Division Two.
Gillis feels the county’s footballing health is in a good state and will be hoping is clubmate Odhran Lynch can keep a clean sheet this weekend.
“They have continued in that trend and are pushing on from where the season ended last year with an upward trajectory…they seem to really be in a good place as a group,” said Gillis, now cutting his managerial teeth this season with Derry side Faughanvale.
Promotion was huge. A glance at Derry’s league performances this year tell him of the importance of Derry finishing what they failed to do in 2022. Playing at a higher level is where Derry need to be plying their trade. In a feature Gaelic Life interview last year, Gillis spoke of the thrill he got from playing against the Dubs in Croker and how Galway’s Michael Meehan kicked the hardest shots he’d ever come across.
“Playing against those teams can only make you better and you’ll learn,” the Magherafelt man said of what Derry can expect from the rest of the summer and beyond.
“You will have your weaknesses exposed by these teams that you can work on and help you kick on from.”
In terms of lessons, Gillis has the same take on Derry’s league final defeat to Dublin as Rory Gallagher and Brendan Rogers in interviews. The learning is beyond any number of training sessions of league games.
It comes down to Derry’s system and the importance of having everyone present. Conor Glass and Chrissy McKaigue were absent in Croke Park. Conor Doherty and Conor McCluskey were moved about to fill holes in less familiar places. Glass going off against Fermanagh left the middle open for Che Cullen’s second goal.
“The system they play needs everyone to be operating at a certain level,” said Gillis. “When you take two or three key men out of it, then it won’t function as well as with everyone in it. They are so used to it, they know what is involved in it and they know each other’s game. The communication helps between each other to try and have that defensive mind-set closer to goals.”
Looking into Saturday’s clash with Monaghan, Gillis feels Derry’s win over Dublin at Celtic Park and dancing with them for a half in Croke Park will do wonders for the belief of “operating” at that level.
“If you have belief, it brings confidence and a feel-good factor when you go into your training and gym work,” he said. “Everything goes up a notch whenever you are turning teams like that over.”
Gillis was goalkeeper coach with the minors during Damian McErlain’s first tenure, 2015-2017, with ten of the players now on the senior panel including goalkeepers Lynch and Ryan Scullion. He is not shocked by the number who have progressed to Rory Gallagher’s senior squad. Not in the slightest.
“These lads showed us enough,” he said. “Take their footballing ability out of it, just their mind-set and their overall commitment to being a county player was there at minor level.
“It is no coincidence that these lads have kicked on and are now playing a major role within Derry’s senior team.”
An All-Ireland title eluded them against Kerry’s golden minor generation, but their experience and persistence have helped them through to the highest level. Gillis expects Monaghan to come with the same endeavour and passion they brought to the Tyrone game, helping to open up a path for Ryan O’Toole to kick a dramatic winning goal.
“I was surprised when he (Ryan O’Toole) went for goal,” Gillis said. “He had the conviction to go for it and on another day he could’ve been the worst in the world, but it worked out well for him.
“From my point of view, his (Niall Morgan’s) positioning probably lends itself to him thinking the Monaghan player was going for a point. If there were two points in the game, Morgan could’ve been further out.”
At the other end of the field, Beggan’s impact wasn’t something lost on Gillis, especially with how Gallagher uses Lynch on Derry’s aggressive kick-out press.
Will Beggan force Derry to think differently? Gillis thinks so.
“It won’t be your normal orthodox kick-out,” he explains. “He is capable of two, three, four or five types of kick, particularly regarding the length of his kick.
“It’s whether you position yourself (as an opposing goalkeeper) close to the halfway line or in your own 45 because the distances could be varied. He also pin point kick-outs fairly accurately to be fair.
“When you have that type of accuracy in the kick-out, it lends itself very well to getting your own possession to get your platform to get into a position to come back in a game like that,” Gillis concluded.
Would he love to be puling on the gloves this weekend? Of course, but he is happy to see Derry on an upward spiral.