Match preview: Last-chance saloon for Derry

All-Ireland SFC
Derry v Westmeath
Saturday, Páirc Esler. 7pm

By Michael McMullan

WOULD the real Derry please stand up? That’s the message that has been repeatedly dominating column inches, air waves and every conversation since Armagh beat them out the gate at Celtic Park two weeks ago.

“We’re in a very bad place at the minute,” manager Mickey Harte said in the aftermath of the Armagh defeat.

“You have to hold your hands up and accept that, collectively, we have to try and see what we can do about it.”

Within days, Derry GAA chairman John Keenan had to make a statement you quell a relentless evening of rumour that manager Harte’s tenure was over soon after Gaelic Life had confirmed that he was remaining in place.

It seems like a lifetime ago since Derry left Croke Park with the National League title before heading to Portugal for their championship preparations.

It has been freefall since. Four players have left the squad since the start of the season. There have been rumours of unrest.

Paudi McGrogan’s cruciate ligament was another blow. Eoin McEvoy hasn’t kicked a ball since the Donegal defeat. Cormac Murphy hasn’t played in the championship.

Gareth McKinless is suspended. Ciaran McFaul was sent off, on a second card, against Armagh. Conor Glass played in Galway despite a bug and Conor Doherty didn’t look to be 100 per cent in the Armagh game either.

Then there are the turnovers on the high press that has led to teams having a half a pitch of grass to race into and finish off goals.

There are a lot of negatives in there, but that’s where it is. The bizarre thing is that three championship defeats count for nothing. Derry, while their hopes hang by a thread, are still in the race for Sam.

There is certainty this weekend. There can be no more ifs. Anything less than a draw and Derry’s goose is cooked for the year.

This is real championship. Since Derry played Longford in the first game after Covid, they’ve been used to winning games. It’s a habit.

Now it has turned full circle. There will be need to be urgency this weekend. This is a free shot for Westmeath. And they’ll relish it. They are a walking example of what the Tailteann Cup was brought in for.

As Armagh and Tyrone found out last year, they are a quality side with an underbelly. Ask Galway. Hunting down Ray Connellan’s pass led to the release valve Shane Walsh’s goal twisted open.

Emmett Bradley, McFaul and Niall Toner played in a defeat when the teams last met six years ago. Conor Doherty came off the bench.

Saturday is a third championship meeting of the counties. Current selector Enda Muldoon hit 1-6 when Derry were winners in the 2004 All-Ireland quarter-final. Three years later and four points from current Westmeath manager Dessie Dolan wasn’t enough to stop Derry.

If Derry are to make it a third championship win, they’ll need a clean sheet in Páirc Esler for starters.

One goal might not be fatal but Westmeath beat Down in the league final thanks to closing out their goal threat.

Derry have not scored a goal since Croke Park. Their last three tallies – 0-17, 0-15 and 0-15 – would win plenty of games provided there is a clean sheet at the other end.

McEvoy and Murphy have trained during the championship window but Derry will need them on board this weekend to thicken up their options.

“We just weren’t entirely happy that he would be fit to play the (Armagh) game,” Harte said of McEvoy.

“It would probably put him back. So, two weeks’ time, maybe he will be available. On Cormac Murphy, he probably was risky.

“If the game had been in the melting pot, you might have given him 10 or 15 minutes but I would have been pointless risking him the way the game was going.”

Two weeks on and they will need to be closer. After Newry, there may be no tomorrow.

All eyes will be on this game. The team who were tipped to dance with Dublin later in the summer now find their legs dangling over the championship’s edge.

It’s an evening for simplicity and for effort and for solidity. Westmeath will smell blood. This is 70 minutes for Derry to save four years of progress. A win won’t leave them much closer to Sam. But it will stop the rot.

Derry are favourites. Why? They have played at a higher level. They have quality players. Their need is at its greatest. It’s time for the real Derry to stand up.

Check out the latest podcast as the Gaelic Life team look ahead to a weekend of Sam Maguire and Tailteann Cup action.


2018 NFL: Derry 2-14 Westmeath 2-17
ENDA Lynn missed an injury time penalty as Derry’s Division Three campaign started with a disappointing three point. Derry had struggled following a blistering start from the visitors that brought two goals in the opening three minutes but had put themselves into a position to salvage something when Niall Toner was upended by Frank Boyle as he tried to latch on to a through ball. In the absence of the red carded James Kielt, Lynn took responsibility but his spot kick was too central and was turned away by Eoin Carberry to secure a precious two points for Colin Kelly’s team.
B McKinless; N Keenan, K Johnston, R Mooney; M Bateson (0-2), L McGoldrick, M McEvoy; C McAtamney, E Bradley (0-2, 1f); E Lynn (1-0), P Hagan (0-1), C McFaul (0-2); D Tallon (0-2f), J Kielt (0-3, 1f), N Toner (1-0)
Subs: C Doherty for M McEvoy, M Lynch (0-2f) for Tallon
E Carberry; M McCallon, K Daly, B Sayeh; N Mulligan, S Duncan, J Dolan; A Stone, R O’Toole (0-1); K Martin (0-1), J Heslin (1-7, 4f, 1-0 pen), G Egan (0-1); C McCormack (1-4), L Loughlin (0-2), J Egan
Subs: Frank Boyle for Daly, D Whelan for O’Toole


2018 Derry 2-14 Westmeath 2-17 – NFL
2014 Derry 3-15 Westmeath 0-12 – NFL
2013 Derry 1-18 Westmeath 0-15 – NFL
2013 Derry 2-17 Westmeath 1-5 – NFL
2012 Westmeath 1-15 Derry 0-10 – NFL



Derry 1-10 Cavan 0-15
Derry 0-13 Down 0-10
Armagh 2-7 Derry 0-17
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 won 3-1 on penalties)
Derry 0-17 Donegal 4-11
Galway 2-14 Derry 0-15
Derry 0-15 Armagh 3-17


Longford 0-9 Westmeath 0-7
Westmeath 0-12 Louth 2-12
Offaly 0-10 Westmeath 1-11
Westmeath 1-11 Clare 0-13
Wicklow 0-10 Westmeath 1-13
Westmeath 0-14 Limerick 1-8
Antrim 0-9 Westmeath 0-13
Westmeath 0-13 Down 1-10
Sligo 1-14 Westmeath 0-11
Westmeath 2-10 Down 0-13
Westmeath 1-11 Wicklow 2-9
Armagh 0-16 Westmeath 0-11
Westmeath 0-11 Galway 1-12


Shane McGuigan 3-80 (50f, 2-0 pen)
Paul Cassidy 1-19 (1m, 1f)
Lachlan Murray 1-13 (1m)
Luke Loughlin 0-24 (11f)
Ronan O’Toole 0-17
Senan Baker 1-12 (11f)

Receive quality journalism wherever you are, on any device. Keep up to date from the comfort of your own home with a digital subscription.
Any time | Any place | Anywhere


Gaelic Life is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
Registered in Northern Ireland, No. R0000576. 10-14 John Street, Omagh, Co. Tyrone, N. Ireland, BT781DW