Gaelic GamesNFL Division One preview

It’s difficult to see Derry stopping Dublin’s flow

Mickey Harte’s consistently effective team comes up against in-form champions as the league’s two best sides go head to head

Allianz Football League Division 1 final: Derry v Dublin, Croke Park, Sunday 4pm (Live on TG4)

Derry have looked like they were sizing up the league from the first day when, less than a week after the club final, Mickey Harte fielded players from Glen’s club All-Ireland victory in the opening encounter against Kerry in Tralee. It nearly came unstuck but they got the win.

Earlier this month, the Derry manager disabled his team when Dublin arrived in Celtic Park. Subsequently, he explained that it had simply been to rest players whose presence wouldn’t have guaranteed a win anyway.

Now 12 months on from their weird Division 2 final (four second-half goals in Dublin’s 4-6 to 0-11 win), the counties are back in the main event and enough water has passed under the bridge to flood the Sahara.

Derry are now managed by Harte rather than Rory Gallagher whereas Dublin are All-Ireland champions.


They have been the outstanding teams this league: Derry’s measured efficiency even in the Dublin match, when they weren’t easily broken despite being understrength, against Dublin’s explosive form in a five-match run-in, which followed defeats in the first two fixtures.

The most obvious issue is the extent to which Dublin have been flattered by suboptimal opponents. Derry have taken on all comers and lost just the once. Their attacking from deep has been too sustained and recurrent to be random. Corner back Conor McCluskey has scored three goals, including against Dublin, by making the run at the right time and getting picked out.

Dessie Farrell was rightly irritated that day by the loss of concentration and if there has been a genuinely impressive aspect to Dublin’s recent form, it has been how well they are defending. Lessons will have been learned.

Whether that will have any impact on Shane McGuigan’s influence is open to question. He was immense in Celtic Park, a one-man scoring resistance in the second half, his movement and economy with the ball all but unstoppable. There will need to be better attention paid to how straightforward it is to supply him.

Derry’s centrefield of Conor Glass and Brendan Rogers will put it up to Brian Fenton and whoever partners him in a way that hasn’t been happening in the past few matches.

Glass has been remarkable at multitasking, winning ball and getting forward for scores. But what the teams have been doing so devastatingly will not be as easy this time. Can Dublin’s forwards exert sufficient pressure to make the attacking runs that bit more demanding for the opposing defence?

In Derry the All-Ireland champions did turn the screw but their conversion rate wasn’t great and Harte’s team stayed in touch for most of the match. To be fair to Dublin, they were coping with a significantly improved team after half-time when Paul Cassidy, Eoin McEvoy and Ethan Doherty were all dispatched. Despite these upgrades, Dublin took an even tighter grip in the second half.

The central question will be how effective will Derry be at frustrating Dublin’s recent form, the slick movement, the hungry dispossessions and ruthless counter-attacks.

It is impossible to imagine the sort of opportunities that littered the rout of Tyrone, for instance. If it settles into a bit of a grind, will Dublin be any better at creating and taking chances than they were in Celtic Park with a good possession advantage?

There is a look about Dublin that suggests they won’t be easily shifted off course. Such has been the form of senior players Fenton, Ciarán Kilkenny (man-of-the-match in Celtic Park) and Con O’Callaghan that the fine performances of others can sometimes pass unnoticed.

Niall Scully, for instance, looks back to his industrial best while maintaining his eye for threatening runs. Colm Basquel was in All-Star mood last week and the inputs of Lorcan O’Dell and Ross McGarry were such that Farrell would appear to have genuinely hard selection choices to make.

Not sure the form will change significantly this weekend for Derry to emerge on top.

Verdict: Dublin

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times