We’re just glad to have the Derry fans back on our side: Doherty

By Michael McMullan

PLAYING in Croke Park brings the best out in players, insists Derry’s Conor Doherty ahead of Sunday’s All-Ireland quarter-final showdown with Kerry.

Doherty made a return from injury to help Derry to victory in last weekend’s preliminary quarter-final win over Mayo in Castlebar.

It was the Newbridge man’s penalty that sealed victory with the last kick of a shootout on a ground where Damian Barton handed him his senior debut seven years earlier in an extra-time defeat to Mayo in the All-Ireland Qualifiers.

Saturday’s victory jump-started Derry’s season after their loss of form led to three championship defeats after the high of winning the league.

Speaking minutes after kicking home the winner on Saturday night, Doherty wasn’t aware who from Dublin, Kerry and Galway the Oakleafers would be paired off with in the last eight but was fully aware of the landscape.

“It’s going to be a tasty draw,” he said. “The three teams we can get are three top quality teams, definitely in the top five in Ireland at the minute.”

The debate this week has been around teams having momentum from winning a tight game versus the fatigue going in against someone with a week off after topping their group.

“Going to Croke Park, it gives you an extra 10 percent of energy anyway once you walk into the changing rooms,” Doherty said of the tight turnaround.

“I have no doubt the Derry fans will be down in Croke Park. When you see…when we run out and we hear the noise again, we won’t be worrying about what happened this weekend, it’ll be a different energy.”

Travelling to Castlebar, Doherty knew the challenge. Mayo had pushed champions Dublin every inch of the way before Cormac Costello’s late, late equaliser forced a draw.

“Dublin took them to the wire so look whatever way we won (against Mayo) was a victory for us and we’re just happy to go over the line,” Doherty added, also touching on how his side have targeted improvements since the Armagh defeat backed them into a must-win game against Westmeath.

“We were trying to build momentum. In that game, Westmeath had nothing to lose at the same time so it was one of those ones where’s it about getting over the line.

“The way we played today, (against Mayo), I suppose just naturally we played a wee bit more structurally defensively and just played the game, nothing really massively changed in our training I suppose.”

Chrissy McKaigue’s late, late point earned Derry a second bite in extra-time before Ethan Doherty (twice) and Brendan Rogers kicked points as they pushed clear.

“I suppose we’ve been there before many a time,” Doherty said of the mood in the Derry dressing room ahead of extra-time.

“This year again, in the league final, we showed good nerves. We have boys like Ethan, who’s relentless – I would hate to play against him.

“He’s relentless and when we get to extra-time we know boys like Ethan and that are going to eventually punch holes after a hammer and a hammer, so it was always coming.

“We were going in confident that it was all to play for (in extra time). It’s championship football, where else would you rather be, going to extra-time and the whole place bouncing

“Castlebar is a brilliant venue and brilliant fans and we’re just glad to have the Derry fans back on our side.”

• Check out our Gaelic Lives All-Ireland SFC quarter-final preview show with Éamonn Fitzmaurice is available via  Spotify. Link below.

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