By Rory Morrow…
The Aviva Stadium, it’s a big pitch, isn’t it? Adjusting to the showpiece venue is always necessary for any team looking to win in finals when silverware is in sight.
As Shels set up with their two up top and five at the back, Derry’s attacking midfield trio had a heyday. Patrick McEleney pulled the strings masterfully in the 10role whilst Michael Duffy and Ryan Graydon gleefully galloped down the flanks repeatedly running at, tormenting, and nutmegging their defenders with the same wicked grins of kids in the playground.
Those three Candystripes, distinguishable as mischievously slippy-slidy jam in a white bread sandwich of deep-lying Shelbourne players, skedaddled all other their unusually statuesque opponents. I was fortunate enough to be in the press box for this match, hence the unique and weirdly in-depth analogy of the kit colours. But the width was where Derry capitalised on a drearily defensive shape from Damien Duff’s side.
Full backs Ronan Boyce and Cameron McJannet, frequently overlapped Duffy and Graydon. Their thrillingly attack-minded attitude paled in contrast to Shelbourne’s reluctance to make a forward pass on the rare occasion they had prolonged possession.
McJannet himself was a surprise scorer but his brace was well-taken and just rewards for a consistent, versatile player, who has gone relatively unhailed in a phenomenal second half of the season. The contrast in attitudes was staggering and epitomised by McJannet’s first. Defensive setups mean your left back is in position yes, but guaranteed to prevent any breakthrough? No. Attackers pose all the questions, enjoy complete control. Attacking setups mean that your left back is on the front foot, dictating matters, not penned in or viewed as vulnerable by a meandering winger. Defensive setups mean you don’t send your defenders forward in trepidation of conceding from your own corner.
Attacking setups allow your defenders to develop into all-round athletes.
The modern game has evolved whereby now to sit back, hold on and hope for the best is an outdated but commonly used tactic. Why? Because it must be. There are too many inequalities in football but the gulf in class from second to seventh place in times was gaping. What’ll hurt Shebourne most is, like Frank Lampard’s Everton, they never even tried to land a punch. A refusal to build attacks and shoot = not a lot of goals. To defend from the get-go today is a psychological boost to any attackers who know they have
licence to run at you over and over again, to tire you out like a human hamster wheel and then embarrass you. Had Duffy’s second half curler been an inch lower; this would’ve been a goal in action as the winger jinxed and megged John Ross Wilson with such ease, the poor defender must still be having nightmares.
At the back, Mark Connolly and Shane McEleney held the fort imperiously, giving off a total bouncer vibe. You know the one, the “I’m in control here sunshine” one. Sean Boyd and Jack Moylan are pesky, clinical strikers but even Father Ted on Craggy Island had better service. Which isn’t to say that the service they got was sloppy or even at all, bad. More so, that there was no service to them at all. Nothing. Whenever the ball came their way as they harried fruitlessly, one would forgive them for wondering, wide-eyed, like aliens greeting astronauts on Mars, how the ball had possibly arrived in their orbit.
In fairness, it easy to get consumed by the Aviva’s size. The Brandywell and Tolka Park are brilliantly atmospheric and, like the previous Speakeasy bar here at Queens, have a beautifully crammed intimacy to their surroundings. Perhaps that threw them off, the bowl-like dome of the stadium arching them in.
Up in the media stands, my friend sent me a picture of the grey spattering’s of seats where all the assorted media were for the match. It felt surreal to be there, in-person, the winter air beginning to bite in the second half, to hear the party atmosphere of the travelling Derry fans. My favourite moment was the opening goal as it arrived so suddenly. As Graydon controlled McEleney’s (Patrick) wonderful Crossfield pass, the crowd shifted slightly. You know the way, tentatively leaning onto their tippytoes, bracing to jump in joy or anguish, a 32,000 human-coiled jack in the box, programmed only to punch the air jubilantly and embrace strangers at a goal.
Graydon skimmed his man effortlessly and surveyed his options. His cutback was the smartest option and delivered, pace perfectly, into Jamie McGonigle’s path. The crowd stood, hearts in mouths given McGonigle had earlier been repelled in a one-on-one with goalkeeper Brendan Clarke, as McGonigle’s cute finish deceived us all. Like a putt on the golf course, with just the right amount of bend on it, the net bulged. There ended a cagey first eighteen minutes and Shelbourne’s Plan A was in tatters.
If they had a Plan B, it wasn’t a very good one as Derry dominated- Aodh Dervin’s whistling free kick the nearest they came.
One-sided was the buzzword and whilst we had a few teething problems with the website, to cover the Cup final live from the actual match venue itself was an honour. Derry’s trophy fully deserved for a terrific effort all season, they have the youth and momentum to seriously derail Rovers bid for four in a row next year. Shelbourne, shackled and scundered, squandered their Cup chance and subjected Duff to his most dreadful day in the job yet.
The League of Ireland remains, for it’s all combativeness, an immensely imbalanced league. At least by putting silverware in the cabinet after 2012’s Cup win, there can now be some satisfaction in Derry’s decade-held belief that this is the year, these are the players, and this is the manager. And not just for the Northwest side: also, for Dundalk, St Pat’s (beneficiaries also for this sealing a Europa Conference Qualifier place) and all the other wannabee challengers who were probably as elated as the Brandywell when Derry knocked Rovers out dramatically in the quarterfinals to a raucous reception. The moment? Having covered all their Cup games, that fateful Sunday, when Danny Lafferty and Graydon scored as subs, two players at opposite ends of their career, yeah, that felt like a solid contender to be the moment. The question now is, are they the real deal generational talent to regularly trouble the established top order?