Derry senior Football Championship final
Magherafelt O’Donovan Rossa v Glen
Sunday, Celtic Park, 4pm
The Glen teams that won minor titles from 2011 to 2014, and then u-21 championships in 2016 and 2017, were known for their lightening pace and devastating scoring returns.
Blessed with a host of star players, they were able to expose gaps in their opponents’ defence with ease.
But senior football is very different to the underage game.
When those successful minor and u-21 teams made the transition to the adult game they soon realised that the gaps that they had exploited at underage level, were not there at senior.
They team that had promised so much now looked as though they were not going to fulfil their promise.
Danny Tallon was a star forward on those minor and u-21 teams.
He explained how things have changed.
“Senior football is completely different. Football has changed,” he said.
“When we were minors it was all about fast football, kicking it in to the forward line quickly.
“Now (at senior level) players get behind the ball. The way we play at senior is a lot different to how we play at minor.”
Tallon, as a minor, was an incredible scoring threat for Glen Watty Grahams. He, perhaps more than most, has had to tailor his game for the senior stage.
“I have had to adapt my game. I would have played a good bit inside when I was a minor.
“When teams get behind the ball it can be frustrating, but you have to adapt.”
And that means foraging further out the field, and being more patient for those gaps in the defence to open up.
Their opponents Magherafelt were lambasted last year for playing a defensive style game. They suffered the ire of the internet when videos were shown of them playing 15 men behind the ball in their first round game against Slaughtneil.
Tallon said they are a different proposition now.
“I think that they have changed.
“They still get men back, but they have added to their game. They are difficult to play against.”
The experiences of playing at senior level have taught Tallon and his team mates that they must be wary.
“I just think that Magherafelt will be a massive test. They beat Coleraine who were the previous county champions. They have had our number for the past few years, even though we beat them this year.”
When Glen were winning their string of minor championships Magherafelt were a regular opponent.
Tallon remembers playing against them in two finals.
Glen reached the final by pulling off the shock of the tournament when they beat Slaughtneil, who were heavy favourites to win the competition outright.
Last year, they were defeated by Lavey in the semi-finals.
So what changed this year?
“We have new management, and we also had a lot of numbers back. A lot more than we had in previous years. We have enough now to play full games in training.
“We have had 40-45 at training, when in previous years we would have had 25.”
And according to Tallon, each of the wins have come from a collective performance.
Their run to the final has seen them pick up some very important wins.
They beat the Loup in the opening round, 1-14 to 1-10. Then they faced Lavey, the team who knocked them out of last year’s championship, a game they had been fancied to win.
Bolstered by that result, they headed for a semi-final against their old rivals Slaughtneil. The team who had won four senior football championships in a row, from 2014 to 2017, but had fallen to Coleraine in 2018.
Yet Glen upset the odds and earned a brilliant win 3-7 to 1-11 against their neighbours and rivals.
During that run, Tallon said that Glen have functioned as a great unit.
“I don’t think anyone has stood out. We have had no super stars. There is no one you could really pick out. Everyone is doing their very best.”
Yet it will all stand for nothing if they don’t get past Magherafelt on Sunday.
“We know it is going to be a very difficult test.
“It would be a massive for us to win this title, it would be the first senior championship for our club. But we are trying not to think about that. But there is no doubt that it would be a huge achievement.”