Marking the unmarkable Shane McGuigan - Defender Johnny McGrath delighted as Galway target top spot in group after victory over Derry

Galway set stall out for quarter-final spot but tests against Westmeath and Armagh are still to come

Johnny McGrath is often given challenging man-marking roles in the Galway defence. Picture: Ben McShane/Sportsfile (Ben McShane / SPORTSFILE/SPORTSFILE)

SHANE McGuigan is unmarkable at times. Near the end of the first half against Galway, the Derry maestro picked the ball up near the corner flag, he was double-marked and off balance but he scored a point of rare quality.

He almost got his county out of jail late in the second half when he jumped, caught, landed and spun all in one motion and cracked a shot towards the net.

A goal then and the game was level, but the Galway goalkeeper saved the drive and the home side broke and scored a goal of their own and Derry made the long trip home empty-handed. The duel between McGuigan and Galway man-marker Johnny McGrath was one of the intriguing sub-plots in the Pearse Stadium clash.

“Shane is in good form,” said McGrath afterwards.

“He’s flying it this year so I was just trying to stick to him and limit the amount of shots he could get off. Obviously the lads around me helped as well, getting in and doubling up on him if we could slow him down and try and turn him over then.”

In the second half, the roles were briefly reversed when Caherlistrane clubman McGrath got forward and tried a shot himself only for McGuigan to showcase his all-round brilliance as he dived full-length to block it.

“I thought I had a run on him,” said McGrath with a smile.

“He came out of nowhere then and blocked me, so I won’t want to look back at that one.”

Derry star Shane McGuigan narrowly missed out on a Footballer of the Year nomination.
Shane McGuigan almost got Derry out of jail against Galway at Pearse Stadium

Galway also began last year’s All-Ireland group stage with victory over Ulster opposition – they beat Tyrone by three points – in Salthill. Their next two games were exactly the same as this year’s – Westmeath away and Armagh at a neutral venue.

The Tribesmen won the first by eight points but losing to Armagh in the final round meant the Orchardmen topped the group and went straight to the quarter-finals. Meanwhile, Galway, without several injured players, had to play again just a week later against Mayo in the preliminary quarter-final.

They lost and lessons have been learned, says McGrath.

“I suppose last year we learned the importance of trying to top the group, so this was a big stepping stone in order to get to that,” he said.

“If you don’t top the group you are going three weeks in-a-row at the end of it, so we definitely learned from that last year and the importance of topping the group.

“It could come down to the last game again to top it, so we’ll have to be ready for that but we have Westmeath next and we’ll have to start looking at them now.”

Galway had been well beaten by Derry in the National League and finished third-from-bottom in Division One, just above relegated Roscommon and Monaghan, after a disappointing campaign. With key players back on the field, they improved throughout the Connacht Championship and will campaign for a record equalling four in-a-row next year.

“It’s massive,” says McGrath

“Just even to have the competition at training and everyone is fighting for positions, it’s great and to get everyone on the pitch is just huge. You have a full pick then and you don’t know what can happen.

“We’re delighted with the result against Derry. Derry had four or five weeks off there, so we knew they were going to come hard at us so we had to be ready for it and try and build on the momentum we got from winning the Connacht final, so thankfully we did that.”