Derry v Donegal – Ulster SFC 1/4 Final Preview

For Brian McIvor this year’s league was a bit like the Crying Game movie; t started looking really good, then ended with a shocker.

Their dream league had a nightmare ending with their trouncing by Dublin. A one point loss away to Cork and a last game defeat away to Mayo when McIvor gave the extended panel a run-out were hardly concerns against the backdrop of away wins against Kerry and a comprehensive six point win over Dublin in Celtic Park.

It only got better in the semi-final when the Oak-leafers dug deep to overcome the first-half sending off of Fergal Doherty to overcome Mayo by 2-15 to 1-16. And then…all the positives of a superb Division 1 campaign melted in a swirl of electric blue as Dublin demolished them by 3-19 to 1-10. This is the real test for McIvor – will the scars of that defeat be present on Sunday or can he return his men to the performances they served up prior to that?

Captain Mark Lynch has been the stand-out operator in this year’s leagues. He has been phenomenal. Starting as a centre-back in the league he has operated successfully too at centre-forward. He notched a phenomenal 2-44 in the league and the job of marking him will be key to Donegal’s chances on Sunday. Perhaps one of the McGee brothers will get that detail. A major concern for Jim McGuinness has to be the midfield area. Neil Gallagher is struggling with injury and Rory Kavanagh is suspended. If they cede this area to Derry in Celtic Park it will be difficult to stop the home side whose scoring at home has been impressive. Fergal Doherty and Patsy Bradley are good operators and are strong in the sky. If Michael Murphy has to be redeployed here then McIvor and Derry would be delighted to get his goal-scoring threat removed.

The return of Sean Leo McGoldrick to the starting line-up is also a major positive for Derry, and he with Gerard O’Kane can set up go-forward ball of midfield breaks. Derry will have to dominate this middle sector though given the quality of Donegal’s inside line. McFadden is in good form and if Murphy can be left inside the long ball on top of that line can cause damage.

Donegal have had the indian sign over Derry in the recent past and hammered them 2-13 to 0-9 in their Ulster clash in 2012. However, if McIver can get a tune out of his men then Donegal do look weakened. Mark McHugh’s absence suggests all may not be marshmallows and hot chocolate in the O’Donnell county set-up. The Derry men have a point to prove after their league final humiliation and home advantage can help them to a famous victory.

The 4/5 about Derry is shortening all the time and that begs the question: ‘Are Donegal a price at 13/10?’. Well, they are a price but for value I’m going with the Derry-Derry half-time/full-time. In their three home league wins they’ve led at both whistles and a quick start will be key to them again on Sunday. If Mark Lynch can produce the type of form that saw him land 1-8 against Dublin, they’ll be well on their way.