Joe Brolly

JOE BROLLY: Jimmy’s bursting bubbles

THE night of the Ulster final, when they arrived home with the cup, Jimmy McGuinness stood in front of his players and addressed the huge crowd.

“These next three games are massive for us. Really really big games. And we have got to put them front and centre. These players are a different animal now. They were here (he held his hand at chest height). Now, they are here (he held his hand above his head). And they are here now purely because they are Ulster champions. We have to find a way to harness that belief. We have taken two massive steps: Promotion to Division One. Today, Ulster champions. Now there is only one thing left, and we are going to go after that with everything we have.” As the crowd went wild, you could almost see the Donegal boys getting taller.

Meanwhile, you can see the Derry boys getting smaller. I worried about the psychological damage caused by our humiliation in Celtic Park. I had hoped that Mickey Harte would take responsibility for that tactical and strategic disaster. After all, it was his responsibility. Before the throw in at Salthill, he was asked about that. When he said, “It was not any one person’s fault. It was a collective malfunction,” I knew we were in serious trouble. The players are not stupid. Like everyone else in the country apart from The Sunday Game panel, they knew it was Harte’s responsibility. Instead of manning up and absolving the players, instead of accepting the blame, Mickey passed it around. He did what he always does – came to Salthill hoping for the best, hoping that we could just go back to things the way we were before that savaging in Celtic Park. Hoping that the players could pretend it never happened. Nothing is ever Mickey’s fault.

Derry, predictably, were a mess. Mickey said before the Donegal match that his assistant Gavin Devlin was the best coach in Ireland. I wouldn’t like to see the worst one. In Salthill, we were an embarrassment. No one trusting each other. No one believing. Players not trusting management (How could they?). There was no plan, except to bring everybody back behind the 45 and hope for the best.

By the second minute, the Derry ‘keeper was back on the halfway line for the first Galway kick out. As soon as he saw it coming long, he turned and sprinted back towards his goals in a panic, like a mother in the carpark in Tesco realising she has left the baby in the grocery aisle. We couldn’t tackle. We couldn’t catch a ball over our heads. There was no cohesion. We couldn’t shoot. Five times in the first half, we kicked a ball into the goalie’s hands.

The indiscipline, which is a by product of not believing, was shocking. Frees were brought forward into scoreable positions. Players remonstrated with the officials. There was worse. A lot worse. The game highlighted an alarming decline in Derry’s culture, from jostling and grabbing and disrespecting opponents and it didn’t there. Ciaran McFaul was very lucky not to be sent off on at least a second yellow. Gareth McKinless was sent off for stamping on Damien Comer’s ankle off the ball.

It was a shocking and outrageous act which made me ashamed to be a Derry man. Gareth, like his team mates in this new regime, remonstrated and protested his innocence, which only made it worse. After soldiering on for as long as he could, Comer eventually had to limp off the field in the 45th minute. I can only apologise on behalf of the Derry GAA community.

Jimmy had identified Derry’s lack of size around midfield and targeted it with long kick outs. Galway did the same. By half time, Galway were enjoying themselves and we were sitting ducks.

The intensity and efficiency that marked us out under Rory Gallagher had disappeared. For the second game in a row, without guidance or structure, we collapsed.

When Galway decided after half time to press our kick out, it collapsed too. In the 41st minute, Sean Kelly intercepted a terrible short kick out and returned it for a goal to put them four up. It was painful to watch. Galway were six up by the 50th minute and the game was long since over. Another counter attacking goal in the 63rd minute had Galway high fiving and smiling broadly.

In three years under Rory Gallagher, Derry did not have a sending off or an injury. Now, the entire Derry half back line is injured. The Watty Graham’s men are running on empty, after Mickey started them in the league six days after they won the All-Ireland. The discipline and self respect that marked our lads out has evaporated. Is it any wonder, when Mickey smirked and said after the game that Damien Comer had reacted “theatrically”? On Galway Bay FM, the presenter said afterwards that “football had beaten thuggery.”

Mickey wanted to hit the ground running. He wanted to have a great league. For his own sake. Mickey is what matters. The longer term good of the team and Derry football is irrelevant.

Mickey Harte’s Derry is what the media calls us now. What a waste.

Jimmy’s bursting bubbles.

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