Dubs to add further fuel for Derry's pyre of ire
Refereeing barbs hint at mounting pressure for McIver, whose side face litmus test against resurgent champs
HERE'S the match report headline from Derry's deadlock with Tyrone on the last night of February: "McIver furious as Tyrone salvage draw to deny Derry first victory."
We quickly ascertain the source of Brian McIver's frustation with the world - or more specifically referee David Coldrick, whom he accuses of making a "hometown decision" in awarding Tyrone a late equalising free.
Even though TV replays revealed a stonewall free-in for a high tackle on Tyrone's Tiernan McCann, the Derry manager chose instead to focus on a more debatable 'foul' on Fergal Doherty seconds earlier.
"Decisions were going like that for the great percentage of the night," he claimed. "We had turned the ball over at the very end and our man was fouled on the way out. It should have been a free-kick to us and it's game over."
A week later, Derry hosted Mayo. Victory was paramount for last year's now-labouring Allianz Football League finalists - instead they lost by 2-12 to 1-13, prompting another "McIver raps ref" headline.
"Disgusted. I'm disgusted. Not taking anything away from Mayo but they got a jammy goal and every decision going," he complained.
McIver is not the first boss under pressure to rail against the refereeing gods; he won't be the last either.
Another week on and Derry lost again - by 0-15 to 0-10 against Monaghan - to remain stuck on one point. This time, there was no post-match tirade. Maybe McIver was already resigned to Derry's fate.
Promoted as Division Two champions in 2013, and shock qualifiers for last year's top-flight decider, Derry are three points adrift of the rest and appear destined for the drop. Even two victories would probably not save them.
There's another problem: the first of those two fixtures is against a seemingly resurgent Dublin in Croke Park tonight.
Up in the Setanta Sports gantry, Senan Connell has been keeping a close watch on his native county this spring. He spied a perceptible shift in attitude against Mayo two weeks ago, reflected in a 2-18 to 0-10 scoreline that rinsed away an accumulation of negative vibes about a looming relegation dogfight. "What we noticed in Castlebar was a sense of urgency from Dublin - from the moment the ball was thrown in. In the space of a week, Jim (Gavin) had managed to turn the attitude around," he surmises.
"They were going lateral and very ponderous against Tyrone, but the attitude was spot-on against Mayo - possibly because, for the first time, there was a different type of pressure on Dublin, which they hadn't experienced under Jim.
"If they lost, they were facing into a relegation battle, whereas a win gives them a little bit of breathing space. The response of the players, from one to 15, shows they still have a lot of football in them," adds Connell, highlighting the midfield relocation of his Na Fianna colleague, Tomás Brady, as a switch well worth monitoring with summer just around the corner.
The retired Dublin star-turned-pundit believes the team has tailored its game-plan this spring to be more "mindful of defensive duties" - while still allowing players to "bomb on" at the right time.
"Because Dublin were so offensive last year, they were forcing teams to set up defensively," Connell points out. Three weeks back, Tyrone came within a late Dean Rock goal of hitting the jackpot with that policy - he reckons Derry might try the same tonight.
But do they have the personnel, or form, or belief, to pull it off? Unlikely. Last year in Celtic Park, with a peerless Mark Lynch helping himself to 1-8, Derry made life distinctly uncomfortable for their vaunted Sky Blue visitors and won by 1-16 to 0-13.
Yet, just six weeks later, Dublin torched Derry in the league final at Croker. Lynch was rendered peripheral by a brilliant man-marking exhibition from Jonny Cooper. It finished 3-19 to 1-10; you might argue that the losers never fully recovered for the championship, even though the history of Derry football is littered with examples of league promise turned to dust.
This year - whether by accident or design - they must be hoping to turn history on its head. Dire spring, summer on fire ... any takers?