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Michael Murphy: Galway impressively shift gears but Derry stall

After McKinless’s red card, there was no way back for Mickey Harte’s team who no longer look like All-Ireland contenders

Galway won me over at the weekend.

I used to watch them and their patient build-up play and for me it was borderline aimless; I’m not so sure any more. I look at that half-back line with Liam Silke, Dylan McHugh and John Daly and Paul Conroy in the middle and they know exactly what they’re doing.

The sending-off happened at a crucial juncture. Gareth McKinless had been in there as the plus-one and after he was red-carded, Conor Glass had to go back to play the plus-one role, basically leaving Conroy quite free, which caused enormous damage to Derry.

I was on co-comms at the match. Sometimes there’s a tangling of legs in the immediate aftermath but this happened three to four seconds after the foul. At the time it looked like a severe reaction from Damien Comer, who was really animated. The replay showed it all and in fairness to the linesman, Niall Cullen, he was eagle-eyed.

The foul was terrible on a number of levels, most seriously to injure a fellow player but it was also really irresponsible to his team-mates when the team are up against the wall, going down to Galway after getting beaten in Ulster and with a lot of questions to answer if you’re going to get the show back on the road.

Then in the match, it’s four-each with 20 minutes gone. Derry aren’t going badly. There’s also already a lot of injuries in the defence, which should have been an added responsibility.

For a game that I thought Derry would show up for and win and a game they started so well despite the injuries, it is hard to fathom the sending-off with all its consequences.

As soon as they were down to 14, the game looked finished to me. Galway got scores and although Derry rallied at the start of the second half and showed they could still win an odd battle, the war was over.

Derry defend with 15 but at times they leave Shane McGuigan up or in the league final, Lachlan Murray.

A really telling substitution in terms of how they were reacting to the red card was Niall Toner going off and Eunan Mulholland coming on because it meant Mickey Harte had decided that they needed everyone behind the ball. McGuigan played more or less at centre forward after the sending-off.

The influence of the Galway half backs was striking. They are quite content for that ball to go over and back across the pitch even if there are roars and shouts from supporters on the sideline, and prod away for openings.

Their composure on the ball was total – it reminded me of Kroos and Modric at Real Madrid – and then they’ve got these battering rams in John Maher and Matthew Tierney.

Derry aren’t small in the middle third but Galway are massive: Matthew Tierney is an ox and John Maher equally – if not more – physical. You could see Maher doing spade work for his clubmate Rob Finnerty, who’s a finisher.

The full back Seán Fitzgerald pushed up all the time and I really admired his readiness to get involved. He looks a little cumbersome in possession but made penetrative runs after giving the ball and Derry had no real choice but to pick him up.

With the first four scores, if you were putting a timer on it, Derry were getting inside the cover and getting their shots away extremely quickly. Within about 10 seconds, they had got up the field, made one incision or executed one cross-field switch of the ball and had a shot.

Galway took a lot longer and looked laborious and indecisive as the ball was moved around. Now I’m looking at it more as method.

Derry had four weeks since the Donegal defeat and word came pretty quickly that McGrogan was injured so they knew coming into it what the stakes were. In my view, whoever lost on Saturday was not going to win the All-Ireland.

That’s the stage we’re at. Nobody’s talking about winning provincial titles any more. That’s over. All the focus is on the All-Ireland. It’s easy to see Derry making a quarter-final or even a semi-final but I can’t see them going all the way.

The current schedules are fast and punishing, especially for teams with injuries or suspensions but there are no good quick turnarounds in fortune. Teams are either building gradually and positively like Galway or they are falling out of contention, as I believe happened to Derry on Saturday.

Before the championship started last month, I strongly believed that Derry had proved their right to be considered contenders but it was also inevitable that they would be subject to more intense scrutiny. They have had a great run for five years or so, getting promoted up the divisions to winning back-to-back Ulster championships.

That’s a growing profile. Your players begin to get known and after the Dublin game, everybody in the country is talking about you. They know all your players, even your corner backs. They know your kick out strategy and all about your play. This all brings pressure.

In your own county, the talk becomes all about All-Irelands, which is challenging no matter how much experience of winning a club All-Ireland you have and no matter how hard you try to put a lid on it.

Then when it doesn’t go well, cracks start to appear and after the Donegal defeat, everyone’s on about the kick out strategy and the wides. Now there’s been indiscipline and a red card. It’s a results business and looks as if after a four-week break to gather themselves, all they got was another defeat, more injuries and a suspension.

We heard Pádraic Joyce week after week talking about not having his full team available and how he couldn’t risk players who weren’t properly fit. That’s how he played the cards he was dealt. He was fairly patient. Derry were more gung-ho and made no apologies about it.

I was impressed by them and their know-how and patience and understanding of each other, their cohesion as a team. They’re not there yet but they’re on the way and it’s a great time of the year to be travelling in that direction.

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