MATCH PREVIEW: Derry’s impact men may tip the scales

Derry v Donegal
Saturday, Celtic Park, 6.15pm

By Michael McMullan


WHEN the teams emerge from the Celtic Park dressing rooms on Saturday, a whole 182 days will have passed since Derry and Donegal were pulled out of the hat together.

There was plenty of time for the Mickey Harte and Jim McGuinness story to fully take root.

It will be the 13th game for each side in just over 15 weeks. Donegal’s promotion mission and Derry’s aim to win every piece of silverware have kept many championship thoughts tucked away.

Now it’s time. Derry are chasing a third title in a row. It was Conor Madden’s goal when Cavan that closed the Donegal door when they were chasing the same feat in 2020.

Derry manager Harte knows the difficulty of annexing a third title. He was Tyrone boss when Vinny Corey’s goal and half a dozen Conor McManus points ended their hopes two years earlier.

Rewind back to 1977. Derry were chasing a third successive title only for complacency allowing Armagh’s charge end their hopes.

Like Saturday’s clash of Kerry and Cork, the loser in Celtic Park will face a four-week layoff before entering the All-Ireland group stages as a third seed. Hardly a soft landing.

Donegal have had five weeks since victory over Kildare sealed promotion. They added the bonus of a league title, but, behind in the privacy of Convoy, they’ve been able to nestle in the proverbial long grass. It’s prime ambush territory.

With little getting out of the camp, it gives them a chance to hatch a plan for Derry who laid everything bare against Dublin in Croke Park.

Being in commanding positions and holding their nerve in the penalty cauldron will have been something Derry can take confidence from.

They’ve had their own cocoon, a warm weather camp in Portugal, to get away from the hype back home and brace themselves for whatever McGuinness can throw at them.

Cast the mind back to their last league title, in 2008, Paddy Bradley kicked ten points in a Ballybofey dustbowl before being chinned by Barry Owens’ late winner in a semi-final defeat to Fermanagh.

Gareth McKinless has been through the wars. A hamstring injury against Tyrone Replaced against Mayo as he was eased back in. A broken nose against Roscommon was followed up by a damaged hand against Dublin.

The Ballinderry man is listed on the bench with Cormac Murphy missing out on the matchday 26 with a hamstring injury.

There were more question marks when running the rule over Donegal. Brendan McCole’s toe injury led to time in a moon boot. He is listed on the bench and could be an inclusion to pick up Shane McGuigan but has missed the last four games.

Eoghan Bán Gallagher has been side-lined with a groin injury since week two of the league and like Caolan McColgan hasn’t made Saturday’s squad.

Dáire Ó Baoill was replaced against Meath on a day Ryan McHugh (shoulder) and skipper Patrick McBrearty (leg) were forced off with the latter going for a scan.

All three have been named by Jim McGuinness with Niall O’Donnell also in after starting in the league final.

Caolan McGonagle has worn the number six jersey and has been one of four players to feature in every game this season.

His positional sense is half their counter-attacking game. The other is the attacking dimension of McHugh, Peadar Mogan and newcomer Ciaran Moore.

With Ethan Doherty arguably Derry’s most potent play-maker, does McGuinness meet him head on with Mogan or detail a man marker to tag him wherever he goes? It’s easier said than done.

That’s the intrigue about Saturday. The five weeks – as well as 182 days of thought in the back of the mind – will have given McGuinness time to reflect.

Blotting out Doherty is one. They’ll have trawled the footage of Odhrán Lynch playing as the extra man. Perhaps the relentless middle third suffocation is what they’ll hone in on.

Derry will have to focus on maintaining their support runs from deep. McGuigan will need extra attention to close off his threat peeling into space. That’s where McGonagle will come in as his second shadow.

Lachlan Murray, if selected, has proved he’ll need the respect of a key marker. It leaves less Donegal eyes to look elsewhere.

Brendan Rogers has the engine to run from box to box like few others. Conor Glass always seems to be in the right place.

It leaves Donegal with the issue of occupying Ciaran McFaul. Derry’s runners will do what they do, but McFaul has the knack of being the out-ball. He is the unselfish link player with a curling score also in his locker.

The head goes up and if there’s space, he pops it and if there’s not, then he has a recycle button.

Three years ago, McBrearty got three touches of the ball but it was his third that dunked Derry through the championship trap door in stoppage time.

The following year, with Rory Gallagher directing operations, Derry went all the way to extra-time against Donegal. It was a bumpy path but Rogers and Glass just ran Derry to a first title in 24 years.

On paper and looking at form, Derry are generous favourites for Saturday. A first glance, there is a case. But there is an itch. It’s Donegal. With Jim McGuinness, it will demand Derry’s respect. It’s championship. It’s a one off.

This one will go all the way. It’s going to be a battle and Derry’s impact men, in home comforts of Celtic Park, may tip the scales.


Derry: Odhrán Lynch; Conor McCluskey, Chrissy McKaigue, Diarmuid Baker; Conor Doherty, Eoin McEvoy, Paudi McGrogan; Conor Glass, Brendan Rogers; Ethan Doherty, Ciaran McFaul, Paul Cassidy, Niall Loughlin, Shane McGuigan Lachlan Murray
Subs: Ryan Scullion, Emmett Bradley, Declan Cassidy, Matthew Downey, Shea Downey, Donncha Gilmore, Conleth McGuckian, Gareth McKinless, Eunan Mulholland, Mark Doherty, Niall Toner

Donegal: Shaun Patton; Mark Curran, Ciarán Moore, Peadar Mogan, Ryan McHugh, Caolan McGonagle, Shane O’Donnell, Ciarán Thompson, Michael Langan; Odhran Doherty, Niall O’Donnell, Daire Ó Baoill; Patrick McBrearty, Oisin Gallen, Aaron Doherty
Subs: Gavin Mulreany, Kevin McGettigan, Stephen McMenamin, Hugh McFadden, Domhnall Mac Giolla Bhríde, Jeaic Mac Ceallabhuí, Brendan McCole, Jamie Brennan, Jason McGee, John Ross Molloy, Charles McGuinness

2024 – Derry 0-12 Donegal 0-6

DERRY retained their title with a controlled second-half performance in Omagh.

Shane McGuigan scored six points in total as Mickey Harte’s side took a 0-5 to 0-3 interval lead.

Red cards for Brendan Rogers and Paddy McBrearty brought the game to life in the second half with the wind and rain making it all the more difficult for the sides.

Oisin Gallen saw red for a second yellow late as Derry pushed further ahead with scores from Niall Toner, McGuigan and Cormac Murphy.

Derry: O Lynch; D Baker, E McEvoy, C McKaigue; C McCluskey, G McKinless, P McGrogan; C Doherty (0-1), B Rogers; D Gilmore, D Cassidy (0-1), P Cassidy (0-1); N Loughlin (0-1), S McGuigan (0-6f), C Murphy (0-1)
Subs: N Toner (0-1) for McEvoy, S Downey for McCluskey

Donegal: G Mulreany (0-2f); M Curran, D Mac Giolla Bhride, K McGettigan; R McHugh (0-1), C McGonagle, P Mogan (0-1); O Caulfield, C Thompson; O Doherty, S O’Donnell, C Moore; P McBrearty (0-1f), O Gallen, J Brennan
Subs: D O Baoill (0-1) for Caulfield, R Frain for Brennan, L McGlynn for Doherty, J Mac Ceallabhuí for O’Donnell, S McMenamin for Curran


Derry 0-12 Donegal 0-6 – McKenna Cup final
2023 Donegal 1-15 Derry 3-14 – All-Ireland SFC
2022 Derry 1-16 Donegal 1-14 AET – Ulster SFC final
2022 Donegal 2-9 Derry 0-11 – McKenna Cup
2021 Donegal 0-16 Derry 0-15 – Ulster SFC



Derry 1-10 Cavan 0-15
Derry 0-13 Down 0-10
Derry 0-12 Donegal 0-6

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 2-21 Derry 3-18 AET (Derry win 3-1 on penalties)


Donegal 3-16 Armagh 1-6
Tyrone 1-10 Donegal 0-15
Monaghan 0-11 Donegal 4-14
Derry 0-12 Donegal 0-6

Donegal 1-20 Cork 2-6
Cavan 0-12 Donegal 0-13
Donegal 2-16 Fermanagh 0-8
Armagh 1-9 Donegal 0-12
Donegal 1-17 Louth 0-15
Kildare 1-8 Donegal 0-17
Donegal 1-18 Meath 1-10
Donegal 0-15 Armagh 0-14


Shane McGuigan 3-65 (42f, 2-0 pen)
Paul Cassidy 1-15 (1f)
Eoin McEvoy 3-5

Oisín Gallen 3-38 (12f, 5m, 1-0 pen)
Patrick McBrearty 1-33 (25f)
Dáire Ó Baoill 2-8



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