After 296 miles behind the wheel today, it certainly felt like the end of the road. Over six hours driving, soaked to the skin twice in the first half and then, just when it looked like we were starting to get the measure of the home team early in the second, it all went totally pear-shaped. We ended up, once again, getting beaten out the gate and this time we couldn’t even blame the referee. Well, at least the Derry crowd were nice, hospitable people and I finally got to lay eyes for the first time on the Walled City, at last getting the chance to proclaim that I had stood in all 32 counties of Ireland.
That’s about as good a boast any Mayoman in the vicinity of Celtic Park could have made at around five o’clock this afternoon, as we surveyed the wreckage of yet another championship hammering. Ever since the draw was made last Sunday, we knew this was going to be a tough assignment and, while we had real doubts as to whether or not we would make it through to tomorrow evening’s draw for the third round, I don’t think we had any real fears that we’d take the kind of hiding that we eventually did.
The odd thing was that, although we played poorly for much of the seventy minutes, for a good deal of the game it looked as if we might just do it. We started the match like the weather – horribly. The ball was thrown in, the heavens promptly opened and Derry immediately took control in the treacherous conditions. By the time the rain had eased, we were already four points down, Paddy Bradley was – as we’d feared would happen – skinning Liam O’Malley and Derry were winning all the ball that was flying round – and there was plenty of it, as it was proving impossible for anyone to get a clear catch – in the middle.
Then, all of a shot, we were back in it. A mistake by the Derry keeper gifted a soft goal to Barry Moran and this was followed soon afterwards by a Conor Mortimer free. So, despite having been comprehensively outplayed in the opening twenty minutes, we were level. Barry Moran went on to score two more points after that,one of which is should really have been a second goal. Derry went in two points in front but we were happy enough at the break to be still in with a shout. If the lads could up their performance in the second half, went the line of thinking, we might just shade it.
That’s how it looked to be shaping up for the first ten or fifteen minutes of the second half, during which time we virtually controlled midfield and drove forward repeatedly. Aidan Kilcoyne had replaced an injured-looking Alan Dillon at the break and he looked really up for it, kicking a nice early point and generally making a nuisance of himself. A Pierce Hanley point then pulled us level and the stage looked set for the lads to ease ahead and kick for home.
And then, almost completely without warning, the roof fell in on us. We’d kicked a few bad wides, Barry Moran narrowly missed another goal chance and then Killer went off injured and his departure seemed to unbalance the side completely. Enda Muldoon began to win ball at midfield and our profligacy in front of the posts was thrown into sharp relief when Derry raced up the other end and got a goal which, like our own one in the first half, had as much to do with defensive shortcomings as it had to forward invention. And so, all of a sudden, we were a goal down with twenty minutes to play. Of itself, this shouldn’t have been terminal but their stranglehold around the middle became more pronounced and the main beneficiary was Paddy Bradley who, as he’d done in the first half, proceeded to rip Liam O’Malley to pieces.
The next ten minutes was like watching a car crash in slow motion. Everything Derry tried came off, everything we attempted fell flat on its face. Super Mac came on but it was too late to make any difference. Derry ended up scoring points for fun as we lost all sense of purpose and the first of our supporters began to bolt for the exit.
Then, to cap it all off, Derry began flinging the ball around from one to the other and, with Celtic Park ringing to the repeated cries of olé, olé olé, the ball was worked over to Muldoon who lobbed Clarke for Derry’s second green flag. That really was the end of the road for our 2007 championship hopes.
We can have no complaints about the result. It was a match we could have won but when Derry put it up to us in the second half, it became all too clear all too quickly that we had no response in us. Maybe the scar tissue from last September was a factor but that kind of analysis is for another day. The simple fact was that this afternoon we were well beaten by a side that showed a far greater desire to win than we possessed. It now means that, for the first time since 2003, we’ve failed to make it to the All-Ireland series and that there’ll be no big days out for us in Croker this year. In other words, it’s the end of the road for us . . . for this year.