ulster final | 

Ross Carr: Derry can’t give up easy scores in Ulster final

Rory Gallagher story has dominated the build-up to the final

Danger: Shane McGuigan is arguably the best forward in the country at the moment© SPORTSFILE

29 April 2023; Brendan Rogers of Derry before the Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship Semi Final match between Derry and Monaghan at O’Neills Healy Park in Omagh, Tyrone. Photo by Ben McShane/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Ross Carr

ONCE the draw for the 2023 Ulster Championship was made, you would have got pretty short odds if you wagered that Derry and Armagh would make it through to today’s final.

Neither had to reach full tilt during any of their fixtures while navigating their way to Clones.

Though both share the goal of winning the Ulster Championship, their managements are under different kinds of pressure.

While there have been a couple of decent ‘qualifier’ campaigns, Armagh have been poor in Ulster since they dominated the competition from 2002-2008 – and the annual failure must be something that concerns Kieran McGeeney and his backroom team.

Derry, on the other hand, blazed a trail through the province in 2022, only to leave the All-Ireland series rather tamely against Galway.

The players will inevitably have been distracted by all the speculation over Rory Gallagher.

However, in the wake of his decision to step aside on Friday, I imagine the players will have rallied around selector Enda Muldoon, who is revered in Derry.

Despite fairly straightforward wins so far, both of today’s finalists will look to be much better than they have been so far this year.

Prolonged lapses in concentration provided the opposition with quite a number of chances – chances that had they been converted may have made life very uncomfortable for them both.

Derry have conceded two goals in each of their two games and a number of opportunities for points.

Had Monaghan been as ruthless as they had been against Tyrone, then Derry, while being the better team, would have had a very nervous last quarter.

Against Fermanagh the game was over at half-time, but the best teams don’t usually cough up easy scores.

Conceding four goals in two games suggests that Derry’s defensive system is not the fortress that it is reputed to be.

If Armagh get the same chances against Derry that Monaghan did, then McGeeney’s men could run riot.

Derry must make the centre of their defence harder to get through.

Do that, and they have enough ammunition as an attacking threat to make it a very uncomfortable afternoon for Armagh.

Paul Cassidy, Ethan Doherty, Conor McCluskey, and Brendan Rogers have the pace and athleticism to cause Armagh’s rear-guard major headaches – and that’s without having to deal with Shane McGuigan, arguably the best forward in the country at the moment.

Armagh have definitely improved this year. In a really top-class Division 1 League, they were competitive in every game.

Granted, they were relegated, but with two rounds of the campaign remaining Armagh were in position to challenge for a place in the final.

Instead, just when they seemed ready to push on they hit a blip, lost those two games, and ended up dropping out of the top tier.

All was not lost, however, and being on the ‘favourable side’ of the Ulster draw allowed them to regroup.

They knew they wouldn’t meet anything like the calibre of teams they faced in their League campaign on the road to the Ulster final.


They won each game comfortably – though it will worry them how inferior opposition created so many scoring opportunities against them.

Luckily for Armagh, Antrim, Cavan and Down could not capitalise.

Against Cavan, Armagh were cruising until the last 10 or 12 minutes.

A first glance at the scoreboard in their semi-final against Down would suggest that Armagh won in a canter.

But Down should have kicked another six or seven points.

This illustrates that, though Armagh breezed into this afternoon’s final, if they cough up as many scoring opportunities against Derry they could get beaten by double figures.

Granted Armagh have improved – but not by enough to win today.

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