Derry v Galway: All roads lead to Croke Park as Oak Leafers aim to book All-Ireland final spot

Chrissy McKaigue
Chrissy McKaigue is hoping to get his hands on the Sam Maguire Cup Credit: Inpho

By Daniel Duffy

Derry head to Croke Park on Saturday knowing they are 70 minutes away from a first All-Ireland final since 1993.

Heroes of that ’93 winning side, the likes of Joe Brolly, Enda Gormley and Tony Scullion have been immortal in Derry since then.

But now is the time for new heroes to be made in Derry Football.

Step forward Chrissy McKaigue, Conor Glass, Shane McGuigan and others for the opportunity to write their names in the history books.

Rory Gallagher has been at the helm since 2019 Credit: Inpho

Rory Gallagher took over the reigns with the county in 2019 and even with the disruption due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been clear progress since then.

The team won promotion to Division Two in 2021 and despite only narrowly missed out on promotion to Division One this year.

Derry kicked off their Championship campaign by defeating All-Ireland Champions Tyrone in their own backyard and backed it up with a victory over Monaghan.

The Oak Leaf county then edged out Donegal in the Ulster Final to get their hands on the Anglo Celt Cup for the first time since 1998.

A bumper crowd will head to Croke Park on Saturday from the North western county, a spectacle Gallagher is looking forward to.

He said: “I’m expecting a really exciting game, both teams have really good footballers, both teams can score quite heavily.

“Galway have operated in four of the last five years in Division One and bounced back to the top Division this year in six games.

"Galway are a phenomenal team with serious ambition of winning the All-Ireland.”

Many of the Derry players have had success at club level with the likes of Slaughtneil and Glen in recent times, and they are now delivering on inter-county level.

“I love being involved with them, love being a part of it", added Gallagher, "I’m really enjoying the way they are honouring their county jersey and their families.

“It’s a very unique experience we’re on, it’s something we really want to cherish and keep going.”

“It would be be massive (to get to an All-Ireland final), I was very fortunate to get there in 2012 with Donegal, we lost the semi-final against Dublin in 2011 and it was heartbreaking, I can tell you which experience I enjoyed most, the winning experience.

“I want the players to enjoy that but at the minute I don’t really care about that I care about us preparing well and learning how to be better."

“I’m confident but very much aware when you play a team like Galway you have to play really well to have a chance of beating them,” said Gallagher.

By and large it is quite a youthful squad that don’t remember the triumph of 1993, captain Chrissy McKaigue was just four-years-old when Sam Maguire returned to the county.

But McKaigue does remember the disappointment in 2001 when Derry lost to Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final, so this weekend will be the chance to bury that demon.

Chrissy McKaigue lifted the Anglo-Celt Cup as Derry won the Ulster Championship for the first time since 1998 Credit: Inpho

“As a player this is the arena you want to be in," said McKaigue.

"Playing in the big games, playing on the big stage and the boys have had a flavour of it this year playing in the three Ulster Championship games and then Clare at Croke Park.

“The beauty of this level is that every day is another day where you have to prove yourself and there’s no doubt in our minds that Galway will prove the biggest test to date.

“They’re a balanced side, their talent is something we have to be aware of but at the same time, our focus has to be on ourselves with half an eye on Galway.“

“This can’t be and shouldn’t be an isolated occurrence. Derry have to stay at the top table like Tyrone, Donegal and Monaghan have done in Ulster and aside from beating Galway on Saturday we want to stay as competitive as long as possible.”

Local band Two Degrees have written a song to mark Derry’s run in the All-Ireland series. A new version of The Undertones’ Teenage reincarnated as ‘A while since ’93” has caught the imagination of the County.

When Gallagher was with Donegal in 2012, the soundtrack of that success was the internet sensation ‘Jimmy’s Winning Matches’ and he was asked how this new track compares.

He said: “The kids love it, it’s exciting, it adds to the hype, these things are for people to enjoy and there’s a feelgood factor, there’s enough negativity in the world so people should enjoy it, good luck to Two Degrees and their bravery for coming out with it and the work they’ve put into it and I wish them all the success.”

So all roads lead to Croke Park on Saturday, time for heroes at HQ, and to quote Two Degrees: ‘We’ve won Ulster now we’re coming for Sam.’