HomeFootballKerry eventually put Derry to bed in a pig of a game...

Kerry eventually put Derry to bed in a pig of a game at Croke Park

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All-Ireland SFC quarter-final: Kerry 0-15 Derry 0-10

The Swifties don’t know the half of it. While they were singing Cruel Summer over in the Aviva, we were living it in Croke Park. Kerry and Derry played out a pig of a game that was only decided down the stretch by an injection of pace and chutzpah by Jack O’Connor’s bench. It was played out in virtual silence, a one-afternoon advertisement for everything that needs to change about the sport.

Derry died a slow death here. After all the hullabaloo around their league title, they slunk out of the championship without firing a shot. The sense of adventure that made this fixture last year such an afternoon of derring-do has long since faded from view. Outside of Shane McGuigan, only one of their forwards scored all day. They came to inch their way to the next round and finished a mile off it.

“A real tough battle,” was Jack O’Connor’s verdict. “More or less what we expected. Probably wasn’t a game for the purists because it was defensive. But we were happy to play the game on whatever terms we came across. Derry set the terms early on. They got a rake of men back and made it tough for us to find space.

“I just thought we were playing around the periphery in the first half. In the second half, we made an agreement that we would go at the game aggressively. I thought we started to find pockets in the second half and just showed a bit more intensity and a bit more energy.”

For long stretches, it was one of those games where nothing happened several times over. The kind of stalemate that Jim Gavin’s Football Rules Committee would need a Sahara’s worth of sandbox games to untangle. Both teams’ preferred way of gaining possession was to retreat and wait for the other to come calling. Ugh.

Anything at all to report in the first half? Nothing you’d miss, in all truth. Maybe it was best summed up by the fact that the two best forwards on the pitch saved goals in their own small square within minutes of each other. First, McGuigan dived full-length to block Gavin White in the 13th minute. Not long after, David Clifford nipped in front of Chrissy McKaigue to tap a menacing ball across the square out for a 45.

In fairness to them both, they were able to find their range at the opposite end when they had to. Clifford started like a train, skinning McKaigue for the opening score and soaring over two Derry defenders for a brilliant mark. McGuigan answered with a couple of silky efforts of his own, one off each foot.

And so the two sides picked and packed at each other, all the way to a half-time score of 0-6 to 0-6. Nobody doubted that this was holding pattern stuff, an exercise in passing the afternoon until just before everybody had to think about home time.

The first 20 minutes after the restart weren’t overly different – as we headed into the closing quarter, the score was 0-8 to 0-8. Clifford and McGuigan swapped frees, Diarmuid O’Connor and Paul Cassidy put up one each from play. But it was all still a complete grind, there for whoever could rise above the torpor.

In the end, it was Kerry. O’Connor ran his bench and his bench won him the game. Cillian Burke arrived full of vim, breaking tackles with his angular running style and dishing off dangerous possession. Killian Spillane kicked a point, high and handsome, with his first involvement. Dylan Geaney did the same with his second.

Derry, by contrast, got nothing from their subs. Nor, for that matter, did they source much from the other forwards apart from McGuigan. Their last two scores of the game were a boomer from Brendan Rodgers and a speculative effort from Odhrán Lynch, to whom Kerry were happy to award the freedom of Croke Park all day.

None of it was enough. Tony Brosnan popped his second of the day before parting the scene eight minutes from time and Clifford got fouled for a couple of tap-over frees as the clock ran down. Derry wilted in the face of it, although Mickey Harte wasn’t minded to blame that on the quick turnaround from last weekend’s game in Castlebar.

“Look, when you lose in this situation, it’s easy to make those things a reality or a narrative that fits well,” said Harte. “I can’t say for certain because I felt that we were okay going into the game. People pick up their injuries or niggles and all the rest of it and they get over it and they try to go on. So because Kerry pulled away, it seemed to be that you could suggest that. But I’m not sure.

“I think if we’d been more clinical, as I say, with our own possession, then the gap wouldn’t have widened and it could have been a nip and tuck game to the very end. I feel that if we’d have kept it as a point game or no more than that at any stage, we’d have felt pretty good going into the last two or three minutes.”

They couldn’t and they didn’t so they go home to wonder what the whole season was about. Kerry have Armagh next, in an open championship.

That’s usually the type they end up tidying away.

KERRY: Shane Ryan; Paul Murphy, Jason Foley, Tom O’Sullivan; Briain Ó Beaglaoich (0-1), Tadhg Morley, Gavin White (0-1); Diarmuid O’Connor (0-1), Joe O’Connor (0-1); Tony Brosnan (0-2), Paudie Clifford, Dara Moynihan; David Clifford (0-3, 0-1 mark, 0-1 free), Seán O’Shea (0-3, 0-2 frees), Paul Geaney (0-1).

Subs: Cillian Burke for Moynihan (53 mins); Killian Spillane (0-1) for Geaney (58); Dylan Geaney (0-1) for Brosnan (63); Adrian Spillane for J O’Connor (69); Mike Breen for Ó Beaglaoich (73).

DERRY: Odhrán Lynch (0-1); Conor McCluskey, Chrissy McKaigue, Diarmuid Baker; Conor Doherty, Gareth McKinless, Eoin McEvoy; Conor Glass (0-1), Brendan Rodgers (0-2); Ethan Doherty, Ciarán McFaul, Paul Cassidy (0-1); Eunan Mulholland, Shane McGuigan (0-5, 0-2 frees), Lachlan Murray.

Subs: Niall Toner for Mulholland (39 mins); Niall Loughlin for Murray (59); Emmett Bradley for McFaul, Cormac Murphy for Cassidy (all 65).

Referee: David Coldrick (Meath).

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