Preview: Showdown in the city

All-Ireland SFC Round Two
Derry v Armagh
Sunday, Celtic Park, 4pm

By Michael McMullan

SIX weeks feels like a lifetime in Derry. From league champions, a narrative now points towards their back-to-back defeats.

That’s why Sunday’s visit of Armagh is huge. Speaking after their defeat in Galway, manager Mickey Harte felt it was a must win game.

Their opponents had one hand on the Anglo Celt Cup without taking it home. They failed to keep their boot on Donegal’s throat. And paid the price.

Their win over Westmeath got Kieran McGeeney’s men back on the horse. It will lessen the pressure this weekend.

“It’s a must win game and that doesn’t guarantee you anything,” Harte said of qualifying for the knock-out stages.

“I’m sure Armagh will take stock of how we performed and come to Derry with confidence because, with a throw of the dice, they’d be Ulster champions so they are no bad team.”

There are similar injury stories this week. Conor O’Neill’s ruptured Achilles tendon has ended his year. Paddy Burns was a late exclusion against Westmeath with Rian O’Neill not included.

For Derry, Niall Loughlin has been forced out with a groin injury that may need surgery. That’s on top of Paudi McGrogan’s injury. Gareth McKinless is suspended.

All eyes will be on Eoin McEvoy, Conor Doherty and Cormac Murphy on Sunday afternoon. Doherty wasn’t togged out in Galway.

Magherafelt duo Murphy and McEvoy went through an extensive session with conditioning coach Sean Quinn in Salthill. None of the three were ready.

“I hope that some of them will be for the next game,” Harte added. “You can’t risk players who are recovering from injury and get a recurrence of it.

“You know you have three games to run so you want to make sure you are not reducing their chances by putting somebody in too early.”

Derry could be doing with Doherty and McEvoy this weekend. Their combined 4-11 has been a launching pad from defence this season.

Speaking on this week’s Gaelic Lives podcast, former Derry player Benny Heron highlighted Doherty’s ability to mark playmaking half-forwards while offering something positive in an attacking sense.

Armagh boss McGeeney spoke of how his side weren’t beaten by Derry or Donegal in the last two Ulster finals. The penalty story of woe is a different story but they’ll take positives in how close they are.

They’re in the heap of contenders for Sam and are crying out for a victory of note. It might be all they need.

Take a look at how Armagh defend. It’s not a million miles away from Donegal. Their minor team is the same. It’s about numbers shifting left and right. It’s about cutting out both the kickpass and the backdoor cut.

The second layer is pressing the players who operate around the edges. That’s what will make Odhrán Doherty’s equaliser in Clones all the more painful.

Jemar Hall sat with him before ducking into the centre. It left Patton free to pick out Doherty who purchased Donegal’s lucky lottery ticket ahead of the penalty drama. That’s how close the margins are.

Armagh will need to patrol the space in front of Shane McGuigan and Lachlan Murray. That goes without saying.

It’s getting eyes on Paul Cassidy, Ciaran McFaul and Ethan Doherty that will provide Armagh with a gateway to victory. They are Derry’s men around the edges. The supporting cast.

Should Derry not have Doherty or McEvoy available, it leaves them low on experience to call from the bench.

Only Shea Downey, with 10 championship appearances – including starts in all five of Derry championship games in 2022 – has had a sustained spell in the white heat.

On the flip side, Derry will need extra levels of concentration coming down the stretch. Oisin O’Neill, Jason Duffy and Aidan Nugent all have scores in them. All three can have strong cases for a starting berth.

Much of Sunday’s pattern will come down to the battle in the middle. Blaine Hughes hit a long kick over Westmeath to create a goal chance for Oisin Conaty. It was like Shaun Patton in an Armagh jersey. It will keep Derry on their toes.

When Armagh picked through the wreckage of their Ulster final collapse, they’ll wonder why nobody really gave Stefan Campbell a hand. At times he was a one man orange battering ram. If someone else had leant on his shoulder, they may have pushed Donegal over the edge.

Brendan Rogers had his moments in Galway. Conor Glass played despite a stomach bug. Emmett Bradley put in a huge shift. If Derry can get a tune out of all three this weekend, it could tip the scales in their favour.

There is no small word like ‘if’ that packs as serious a punch in any sporting environment. The ifs have been floating around the Derry camp for six weeks. Armagh are fed up with the word. Derry’s need is greater and it should light a fire bright enough to get their season off the floor. We’ll see.


2024 Derry 0-17 Armagh 2-7 – McKenna Cup semi-final
TEN points from man of the match Shane McGuigan shot Derry back to another McKenna Cup final.
The Oakleafers’ response to both Armagh goals proved the foundation for victory.
Conor Doherty, debutant Cormac Murphy and McGuigan had Derry out of the blocks for 12th minute opening Armagh point from Sean Conlon. The home side were level before Conlon pounced to finish low to the net in the 24th minute. The sides were level at the break before Ben Crealey palmed to the net for a 2-4 to 0-9 Armagh lead. Oisin O’Neill point put Armagh 2-7 to 0-12 ahead with their last score of the game before Derry finished with a flourish.

Derry: O Lynch; D Baker, E McEvoy (0-1), C McKaigue; C Doherty (0-1), G McKinless, P McGrogan (0-1); D Higgins (0-1), B Rogers; D Gilmore, D Cassidy, P Cassidy (0-1); B McCarron, S McGuigan (0-10, 8f), C Murphy (0-2)
Subs: N Toner for D Cassidy, N Loughlin for McCarron, R Forbes for  Higgins, N O’Donnell for Murphy

Armagh: B Hughes; T McCormack, C Higgins, S Conlon (1-2, 1m); Connaire Mackin, N Rowland, M Shields; B Crealey (1-1), C O’Neill (Belleek); C O’Hanlon, J Sheridan, J Kieran (0-1); C McConville, O O’Neill (0-3, 2f), D McMullen
Subs: J Burns for Sheridan, D Magee for Crealey, M McConville for Conlon

2024 Armagh 2-7 Derry 0-17 – McKenna Cup semi-final
2023 Derry 1-15 Armagh 0-18 AET (Derry win 3-1 on pens) – Ulster SFC final
2020 Derry 0-15 Armagh 0-17 – Ulster SFC
2018 Armagh 1-15 Derry 0-14 – NFL Div 3
2018 Derry 0-13 Armagh 1-15 – McKenna Cup



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 won 3-1 on penalties)
Derry 0-17 Donegal 4-11
Galway 2-14 Derry 0-15


Donegal 3-16 Armagh 1-6
Armagh 1-14 Tyrone 2-10
Armagh 2-7 Derry 0-17
Armagh 0-12 Louth 0-11
Armagh 2-16 Meath 0-10
Kildare 0-8 Armagh 2-16
Armagh 1-9 Donegal 0-12
Fermanagh 0-11 Armagh 0-15
Armagh 2-21 Cavan 0-12
Cork 2-16 Armagh 2-16
Armagh 0-15 Donegal 0-16
Fermanagh 0-9 Armagh 3-11
Armagh 0-13 Down 2-6
Armagh 0-20 Donegal 0-20 (5-6 on penalties)
Armagh 0-16 Westmeath 0-11


Shane McGuigan 3-73 (46f, 2-0 pen)
Paul Cassidy 1-18 (1f, 1m)
Lachlan Murray 1-12 (1m)

Conor Turbitt 3-39 (23f, 1-0 pen, 1m)
Rory Grugan 2-32 (18f)
Oisin Conaty 0-23

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