Granted, Dublin have men to come back, and good players, men who strengthen them immeasurably. But when Derry lost in Mullingar on the last day in 2012, and avoided relegation from Division 2 by virtue of other results, they were a million miles from where they are now. A million miles and more.
For 25 minutes at the end of the game in Celtic Park, they were out on their feet. Every time Dublin ran at them, the blue shirts looked like they would find a gap, like they would power through somewhere. It never happened. A Fergal Doherty tackle, a Dermot McBride hand, a Thomas Mallon save on a few occasions kept them at bay, and then a Patsy Bradley catch, a Mark Lynch score would turn the momentum back.
It was just sheer doggedness, sheer dig in from Derry. The football had all been played against the breeze in the first half, building themselves a 1-10 to 0-9 lead by the interval.
That ought to have been extended right on half-time but referee Fergal Kelly somehow turned away Cailean O’Boyle’s appeals for a penalty when he was pulled down by Sean George. That said, the Derry man appeared to have gotten away with a pull on the Ballymun man as the ball came in.
For 35 minutes, it was football as it’s meant to be played. No sign of a sweeper, this was man against man combat. Celtic Park looked 500 yards long as space opened up time and again.
The Derry goal was superbly taken by Mark Lynch, finishing side-footed across Cluxton, though the groundwork had been done by Sean Leo McGoldrick and Kevin Johnston to put him in position to score.
That made it 1-8 to 0-8 and opened daylight just as Dublin looked to be shutting it down. Derry struggled in defence for long periods of the opening period, the quality of the delivery to Eoghan O’Gara early on, then Alan Brogan in the second quarter, creating havoc at times.
Brogan’s inclusion was so secretive that the press were told it would be Declan O’Mahony starting, only for the Oliver Plunketts man to line out at centre-forward against Gerard O’Kane.
Patsy Bradley and Fergal Doherty were on top form for Derry at midfield, but more importantly they pushed right up on Cluxton’s kickouts and disrupted him. When Derry tired, he started to find blue shirts more regularly, but for 40 minutes it was a battle that Derry won.
With the sides tied at 0-7 apiece, Johnny Cooper burst through but Thomas Mallon didn’t fall for the eyes. The Loup keeper got twisted back to his right to make a vital save.
Derry’s own full-forward line was left with a gap to fill when Emmett McGuckin was replaced before the game due to a hamstring complaint. But Cailean O’Boyle stood up to the plate and became the outlet his side needed, until he had to be replaced after picking up a knock in a heavy challenge from Philly McMahon.
The last half hour, it seemed to just be one monstrous Mark Lynch score after another, turning the Dubs back.
The Oak Leafers started the second half with scores from Lynch and Benny Heron, extending the gap to six, but Jim Gavin’s side, having made three changes at the interval, hit three points on the bounce.
Brogan landed two of them to make it 1-12 to 0-12 and they might have had the equalising goal had Davy Byrne not taken his eye off the ball as it came across goal, and fumbled it.
Lynch kicked a 50-yard score to put four in it before he took a belt on the kickout that followed. Play went on and resulted with Mark Craig picking up a black card to go with his earlier yellow, leaving Derry with 14 men. But Fergal Kelly’s linesman alerted him to the incident with Lynch and Philly McMahon was already walking by the time a straight red card was produced.
The Derry captain kicked another massive score from outside the 45 and added a free before Benny Heron put the seal on his side’s win with the final score.
Scorers for Derry: M Lynch (1-8, 4fs), F Doherty, C McFaul, B Heron (0-2 each), C O’Boyle (0-1).
Scorers for Dublin: A Brogan (0-6, 1f), P Andrews, P Hudson (2fs) (0-2 each), MD Macauley, P McMahon, J Whelan (f) (0-1 each).
DERRY: T Mallon; M Craig, C McKaigue, D McBride; K Johnston, G O’Kane, SL McGoldrick; F Doherty, P Bradley; C McFaul, M Lynch, E Lynn; B Heron, D Mullan, C O’Boyle. Subs for Derry: R Bell for O’Boyle (36), A Devlin for McFaul (54), C McGoldrick for Bell (54), A McAlynn for Doherty (66).
DUBLIN: S Cluxton; M Fitzsimons, S George, P McMahon; D Daly, J Cooper, D Wilson; MD Macauley, C O’Sullivan; D Byrne, A Brogan, B Cullen; P Andrews, E O’Gara, P Hudson. Subs for Dublin: K Nolan for S George (ht), T Brady for Cullen (ht), J Whelan for Hudson (ht), N Devereux for Nelson (41), C Reddin for Byrne (50), D O’Mahony for O’Sullivan (66).
Referee: F Kelly (Longford)