By Michael McMullan
SHOCK was the dominant emotion as Derry manager Ciarán Meenagh began to process Sunday’s All-Ireland exit but he also felt the squad did the county proud.
Before leaving a “highly disappointed” Derry dressing room, Meenagh offered the same word to the squad he’d preached “over and over” in the 10 weeks since taking over as manager – perspective.
“The perspective of where we came from,” Meenagh said. “We beat Offaly here in a Division Three final just over 24 months ago.
“You have to take into account where we came from and where Kerry and Dublin were at that time
“Look at the trajectory of where we were and take a step back from things. As devastated as I am and as gutted as we are, we expected to win.
“My overriding feeling that they did themselves and Derry proud for so long and that’s the message I conveyed to them, but ultimately, we didn’t do enough to get across the line.”
Going into the game, Meenagh felt his side needed to up their performance several levels from their win over Cork, something he felt Derry managed for 65 minutes”and he spoke of the confidence in the group.
“When the draw was made, when we were coming back up the road (from the quarter-final) and within 60 seconds we had our match-ups sorted.
“We felt we had the players to take out a lot of their key threats and contain some of the others that are almost impossible to contain on the best of days.
“We also thought we had an attacking plan and we worked ferociously hard on that attacking plan in our training based on the model we knew Kerry would defend on.”
The game began at a frantic pace with goal chances at either end before Gareth McKinless and Gavin White netted n the first five minutes. It was all in Derry’s plan.
“We came to win, we came to win this game,” Meenagh stressed. “There has been a lot of commentary and a lot of punditry about our style of play and a lot of that is fair.
“It also created an opportunity for us because Kerry would’ve looked at it that way as well.
“Our style of play was the same in the way we defended, we looked to build our attacks but we looked to play with bouts of intensity.
“When those openings came for the players, we were intent on going for it and we did and I was very pleased with a lot of those aspects of the play.”
Meenagh looked on Sunday’s defeat as an opportunity missed but pointed to the progress in a short space of time since their relegation at the end of 2018.
He joined Damian McErlain’s management team for the following season and 66 games later he was fielding questions in the Croke Park press room as boss after Rory Gallagher’s resignation in mid-season.
“There are a lot of players in that changing room that have played Division Four football,” he said, pointing to how other counties could follow Derry’s lead.
It’s about committing to each other, getting the house in order and beginning the climb. Sunday was a 20th competitive game for Derry in a first installment of the new spilt season format that rolled into the championship group stages.
“The more games you play at that level the better. When you look at the Paul Cassidys and the Ethan Dohertys at 22 years of age,” Meenagh offered when asked what 20 games would do for Derry’s development, before reeling off a host of names in their mid-twenties.
“They’ve played a lot of football over the last few years, so it is really, really important to build a panel. Ultimately, we didn’t get the job done and that is going to be hard to live with for a day or two.”