Preview: Stick or twist for Derry in Croke Park

All-Ireland SFC
Derry v Kerry
Sunday, Croke Park, 3.15pm

By Michael McMullan

IT seems like a lifetime ago when Cormac Murphy took off across Austin Stack Park.

Shane Ryan had pulled a shot wide of the posts. Kerry’s last throw of the dice. It was January and Derry were back in Division One for the first time since 2015.

Derry happy with a draw? No way. Gavin Devlin waved his arms furiously as he roared their ball carriers forward on that last attack. Murphy took off. Kerry had to foul and Shane McGuigan kicked the winner.

David and Paudie Clifford were seated in the stands, two of seven players missing that Jack O’Connor appears to deem as championship men.

It was an important win for Derry. They had gone all in. Their Glen players swapped an extension of their All-Ireland celebrations for Tralee.

It was the first step on the ladder of a league title for Derry. In Mickey Harte’s world of valuing every step over the whitewash, it was another game of football to be won.

Sunday is different. It’s real. Kerry have been operating in third gear or below until now.

On this week’s Gaelic Lives podcast, former defender and manager Éamonn Fitzmaurice commented how he felt the Kerry players looked bored across a championship path to date.

Cork and Clare did offer slight inclines but the Kingdom never looked out of breath as they petered their way to Sunday.

Derry’s season was anything but straightforward. After looking Dublin straight in the face in the league final, no bookmaker would have taken bets on the Oakleafers living on borrowed time like they have done.

Donegal and Armagh hammered them. Proper defeats and both at Celtic Park.

The physio table has been busier than it ever was under Rory Gallagher’s tenure. Paudi McGrogan went under the knife for a cruciate ligament injury three weeks ago.

Niall Loughlin is on the mend from a groin operation. It’s hard to imagine him seeing any game time on Sunday. Conor Doherty has had a start stop time with injury.

Back in the middle of their two hammerings was a trip to Salthill that offered a mixed bag.

Gareth McKinless seeing red, an Odhrán Lynch’s misplaced kick-out and a Connor Gleeson save from Shane McGuigan were key moments in a game Derry could’ve won.

When Derry emerge from the bowels of the Hogan Stand on Sunday, they’ll need to tap into last summer’s All-Ireland semi-final.

A questionable free given against Ciaran McFaul, when the game was in the balance, helped tip the scales in Kerry’s favour. It was there, in those last 10 or so minutes, where Derry’s panel depth was found out.

When Lynch placed the ball, looking for the get out of jail card of a short kick-out option, the Derry legs were gone.

The runs Lynch and Ciarán Meenagh were calling for didn’t come. Without the pockets of space, he kicked it long.

The game was into the lottery zone where Kerry got enough possession to pull clear after impact man Stephen O’Brien’s screwdriver had already tightened Kerry’s grip on a game Derry held many of the aces in.

What Harte and Gavin Devlin wouldn’t do for McGrogan and Loughlin this weekend or Cormac Murphy to have had more gametime since offering himself as the Kevin McMenamin of Derry’s title bid. That different dimension.

Especially after seeing Lachlan Murray hobble to the line with cramp or Brendan Rogers standing in the Castlebar with an icepack strapped to the back of his calf.

Last Saturday’s first half performance was as close to last summer as Derry have got on the championship road. While they only led Mayo 0-6 to 0-3, they hockeyed them in every other department.

The question this week. Does Castlebar leave Derry weary and vulnerable or tested and primed? Kerry have been in the long grass without having to stretch a sinew.

On paper, Derry match up pretty well against Kerry. If they can get a tune out of Niall Toner, Eunan Mulholland or Cormac Murphy when called from the bench, they have options they didn’t have in recent weeks.

It comes down to one decision. Do they put on the stabilisers or do they go for the jugular.

Chrissy McKaigue put in as good a performance as anyone last year on David Clifford. Had Clifford shanked the ones wide he did in the final, McKaigue’s stock would’ve been higher than Mick Fitzsimons in the final. That’s the fine margins.

If Derrygo down the road of a sweeper, it opens up a hornet’s nest. It allows Tom O’Sullivan – Ireland’s best footballing defender – to rule the roost. It also allows Tadhg Morley a free shot at doubling up with Jason Foley on Shane McGuigan.

That’s Derry’s question this weekend. Without the stabilisers, they had Jack O’Connor in his seat last year, just hoping a Kerry jersey came out with the ball when they forced Lynch to kick long. Sunday will tell it all.

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


Derry 2-8 Kerry 0-15 – 2024 NFL
A LATE Shane McGuigan free earned Derry victory in a frantic finish in Tralee.
The Oakleafers took a double-score lead into the half-time break – 0-8 to 0-4. McGuigan starred for Derry with 0-7 with second-half goals from Conor Geaney and Dylan Casey not enough to salvage a result for the Kingdom.
Derry: O Lynch; C McCluskey, C McKaigue, (0-1), D Baker; P McGrogan, G McKinless (0-1), C Doherty (0-1); C Glass (0-1), B Rogers (0-1); E Doherty, D Cassidy (0-1), C McFaul (0-1); N Loughlin, S McGuigan (0-7, 6f), Paul Cassidy
Subs: N Toner (0-1) for P Cassidy, C Murphy for Loughlin.

Kerry: S Ryan; G O’Sullivan (0-1m), J Foley, D Casey (1-0); B Ó Beaglaoich, T O’Sullivan, G White; J O’Connor, Seán O’Brien; D Moynihan (0-1), D Geaney (0-1), C Burke; K Spillane, S O’Shea (0-5, 4f), M Burns
Subs: BD O’Sullivan for O’Brien, P Murphy for Ó Beaglaoich, C Geaney (1-0) for Burns, Stephen O’Brien for Burke, D O’Connor for Spillane

2024 Kerry 2-8 Derry 0-15 – NFL Div 1
2023 Kerry 1-17 Derry 1-15 – All-Ireland SFC
2015 Derry 0-13 Kerry 1-17 – NFL Div 1
2014 Kerry 0-16 Derry 0-14 – NFL Div 1
2010 Kerry 0-15 Derry 1-9 – NFL Div 1


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
Derry 2-7 Westmeath 0-9
Derry 0-15 Mayo 1-12 AET (Derry win 4-3 on penalties)

Kerry 3-20 Tipperary 0-10
Limerick 0-11 Kerry 6-18
Kerry 1-14 Cork 1-14 (Cork won 4-3 on penalties)
Kerry 2-8 Derry 0-15
Monaghan 1-12 Kerry 3-15
Kerry 0-16 Mayo 0-15
Dublin 3-18 Kerry 1-14
Kerry 0-18 Tyrone 1-11
Roscommon 1-11 Kerry 1-17
Kerry 0-15 Galway 1-10
Kerry 0-18 Cork 1-12
Clare 1-13 Kerry 0-23
Kerry 0-24 Monaghan 1-11
Meath 0-9 Kerry 2-18
Kerry 2-21 Louth 1-10


Shane McGuigan 3-86 (54f, 2-0pens)
Paul Cassidy 1-19 (1f, 1m)
Lachlan Murray 1-19 (2m)
Sean O’Shea 2-67 (33f, 3m, 2 45)
David Clifford 3-47 (20f, 2m)
Paudie Clifford 0-17

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