It’s difficult to get too worked up over our NFL opener against Derry yesterday evening up at Celtic Park and so I’m not going to spend all that long kicking over the traces. It was just a league match in early February, after all.
I suppose the first thing to note is that, for all our shortcomings, particularly at the back in the first half, we could – and, maybe, should – have nicked the points. We certainly had enough chances in the second half to rack up a winning score, even after Derry struck for their second goal. The playing conditions were, however, atrocious and our lads didn’t seem to be able to cope with all that wind and rain (where the fuck were they raised, then, one might well ask?), whereas Derry appeared to revel in it, especially in the first half when it sounded like they were using the wind as an extra forward or something. So, we could have done better in terms of shooting but the conditions were an obvious mitigating factor in explaining why we didn’t.
The big minus on the night, as it’s been for all of Johnno’s Second Coming so far, was our porous defence. God be with the days when we had backs built like brick walls who took no shit: these days, it seems as if even average teams can just open us up at will. Derry did so twice last night (by the way, their first goal was scored by Colin Devlin, not, as I reported, Paddy Bradley – I was just going on what the lads on the radio were saying, Guard) and in the first half they seemed to be able to stream through our backline at will.
Poor defending was our undoing last year (remember Salthill, with the freedom of the pitch given twice to Bane for those two early goals? Or what about Celtic Park last July, where Bradley and Muldoon skipped unimpeded through our rearguard?) and, on this first showing, there’s little or no evidence that Johnno is doing much about shoring up the area. Sure, we haven’t a full pick yet but the return of the Ballina lads won’t solve this problem on its own (though The Brother’s theory about Ronan at full-back is sounding ever more plausible) and it’s obvious that we have to experiment now or face certain annihilation in the Summer.
I don’t need to repeat all I’ve said before about BJ at full-back and although it probably made sense to shift David Heaney in there last night, the fact that these are the only two options for the position that Johnno could come up with is more than a tad worrying. On the plus side, it was good to see Tom Cunniffe coming on and playing well at corner-back but why did Conor Moran start in front of him in the first place? Cunniffe was outstanding up in Celtic Park last July and is one of our really exciting prospects so why he wasn’t just turfed in from the start strikes me as a bit odd.
Having not been there, it’s difficult to know what to say about how the half-back line fared but, such was Derry’s dominance during the second quarter of the game, you’d have to conclude that it wasn’t just the full-back line that was labouring. Keith Higgins’ man, Mark Lynch, bagged 1-1, but the other two Derry half-forwards only got a point (from Muldoon, who didn’t sound all that involved) between them. That would suggest that debutant Chris Barrett (who also scored a point) and Trevor Howley did okay. Can anyone who was there shed some more light on this? (There’s always The Mayo News on Tuesday for further enlightenment as well, I suppose).
Seamus O’Shea seemed to do reasonably well but, according to the Mad West lads, our best performer on the night was his midfield partner Peadar Gardiner, who seemed truly unlucky not to register a green flag at a crucial point in the second half. I can’t see Gardiner reclaiming a position in the half-backs come the Summer – not after last year, when he patently failed to defend all through the Championship – but, on last night’s evidence, he could well find a home somewhere in the front six. He’s well able to score too – if you check the scorers archive elsewhere on this site, you can see that he’s contributed on a regular basis since 2005.
The other good thing about midfield was that Tom Parsons seemed to do well when he came on in the second half. Again, I’d question why he wasn’t on from the start but it probably made sense to partner the greenhorn O’Shea with someone more experienced. I’d still like to see Parsons starting there the next day.
I wonder what the crack was with James Gill? It sounded like he was getting stuck in early on but then there was little heard from him during that period when Derry were rampant and he was then replaced by Heaney at half-time. Likewise, Austie – who seemed to be operating out the middle somewhere – didn’t trouble the commentators too much but he did register a point from play late in the first half.
I knew it would happen – this brief analysis has already run on far too long for a match at this time of year. In summary, there’s precious little evidence that anything tangible is yet being done on the sideline to construct a defence that’s capable of defending and while some worthy experimentation is happening, we need more of this and we need it to happen over the next three or four games. Next up, we have Donegal at home and, with a score (two of them in fact, this one and this one) to settle with the Herrin Gutters from last year, it would be nice to see – and this one I’m planning to get to and so intend to see – a performance with a bit more purpose to it.