AIB Ulster Club Hurling Championship @ Owenbeg
Dunloy 2-8 Slaughtneil 1-18
By Brendan McTaggart
Dunloy were taught a harsh lesson in Owenbeg on Sunday afternoon as Slaughtneil reinforced their credentials as the best team in Ulster. Seven points separated the sides at the end of the 60 minutes and in truth it did not flatter the the Oakleaf men, who on this display are firm favourites to retain their provincial crown.
It was an incredible performance from the Derry champions who didn’t score their first point from open play until the 20th minute of the game. Brendan Rodgers with his first of two during the match but it signalled an awakening from Slaughtneil. Dunloy had made a dream start and after the opening quarter lead by six points, thanks largely to a goal from Nigel Elliott but once Slaughtneil went through the gears, they were ruthlessly brilliant. 1-8 without reply in barely 12 minutes ensured they were firmly on the front foot and they never looked back from then on.
Star forward Cormac O’Doherty put on an exhibition for the winners, finishing with 0-11 for his hours work despite an uncertain start to the match while the Robbies goal came from Rodgers. Dunloy managed a second goal in second half injury time, Paul Shiels hammering a free high to the back of the Slaughtneil net from 30 plus yards but it acted as scant consolation for the Cuchullains.
Slaughtneil had their homework done on the Dunloy hugely vaunted attacking prowess, conceding just 1-3 from play throughout the match with Karl McKaigue and Meehaul McGrath inspirational in defence. Their work rate in rucks and breakdown in midfield allowed them to maintain pressure on the Cuchullains with Gerald Bradley and Captain Chrissy McKaigue immense.
The Cuchullains were reduced to 14 men when star forward Conal Cunning was given a straight red card for an altercation in injury time but the match was long over as a contest at that stage as Slaughtneil sent out a warning to the rest of Ulster. They have a vice like grip on the Four Seasons Cup and don’t intend to loosen their clutch on the provincial crown in a hurry.
Dunloy made two changes from the team that won the county championship two weeks earlier, Paudie Shivers and Ally Dooey coming in for the injured Oran Quinn and full forward Chrissy Brogan. A free from O’Doherty opened the scoring in the first minute but such was the intensity that the Cuchullains started the game with, it was the last time the Derry champions would trouble the scoreboard operative until the 15th minute. Paul Shiels picking up from where he left off against Cushendall from placed ball in the third minute before a superb score from Eoin O’Neill put the Cuchullains in the lead in the fifth minute. The Cuchullains attacking unit were living up to their pre-match billing and when Nigel Elliott found the back of Oisin Doherty’s net in the eighth minute, the Cuchullains support could have been forgiven for thinking they were dreaming. Retrieving a long delivery from Conor McKinley, Elliott rounded his man before making a trademark dart into the Slaughtneil defence. His shot was low, drilled and accurate. The sliotar in the back of the net and the crowd of over 6000 in attendance at Owenbeg erupted.
‘Shorty’ doubled his tally with a free in the 11th minute before a huge score from Gabriel McTaggart opened the Dunloy lead to six points. That would be as good as it got for the Cuchullains though as Slaughtneil started to settle into the game. Dropping Gerard Bradley into a deeper role proved to be an inspirational move by the Slaughtneil management team as Bradley was immense in the first half. If he wasn’t pulling the sliotar out of the sky he was fighting tooth and nail in rucks to gain his side possession. Dunloy simply couldn’t get a footing as the Oakleaf champions hit eight unanswered points to take a two point lead before Rodgers scored Slaughtneil’s goal in the 26th minute. Rodgers was at the edge of the square when Chrissy McKaigue sent a long ball into the heart of the Dunloy defence. Rodgers had Kevin Molloy and Ryan Elliott for company but managed to pull on the sliotar in mid-air and find the back of the Dunloy net.
It rounded off a sensational 12 minute period of hurling for the reigning Ulster champions who went from looking like they were in trouble to taking control of their own destiny.
Shiels stopped the rot when he pointed a free in the 28th minute to reduce the deficit to four points and end the scoring for the half as Slaughtneil went into the interval 1-9 to 1-5 ahead.
Dunloy needed another second half renaissance similar to their county final showing and when Keelan Molloy scored his first of the match with barely a minute played in the second half, the Cuchullain fans would have been forgiven for casting their minds back to that spell of hurling just two weeks ago. What they got though was more brilliance from Slaughtneil. O’Doherty, Rodgers, Brian Cassidy before O’Doherty again punished the Antrim champions.
Half time substitute Nicky McKeague and Shiels pointed frees either side of an O’Doherty ’65 but Slaughtneil were relentless. Three further points in as many minutes from O’Doherty (two) and Brian Cassidy opened a nine-point lead as the game entered injury time.
A brilliant 30 plus yard free riffled to the back of the net from Shiels took his tally to 1-4 for the hour but it was too little too late as far as the Cuchullains were concerned. Fittingly, it was an O’Doherty free that rounded up the scoring in the third minute of injury time before Cunning saw red souring the end of what was an absorbing contest.
The experience of playing in such games was a major difference between these sides. Slaughtneil have earned the right to be called the best hurling team in Ulster the hard way in 2016 and on Sunday they showed their class. For Dunloy, their unbeaten Ulster record comes to an abrupt end and while defeat always leaves a sour taste, they can take solace from the fact that they have shown huge progression in 2017 and build for the future from here.
The Antrim connection. Slaughtneil manager Michael McShane and Cormac Donnelly who is one of his assistants
Dunloy: Ryan Elliott; Phelim Duffin; James McKeague; Paudie Shivers; Kevin McKeague; Conor McKinley; Kevin Molloy; Ciaran Elliott; Paul Shiels; Nigel Elliott; Gabriel McTaggart; Keelan Molloy; Eoin O’Neill; Ally Dooey; Conal Cunning
Subs: Nicky McKeague for C Elliott (HT); Christopher Brogan for A Dooey (39 mins); Shane Dooey for G McTaggart (42 mins); Eamon Smyth for P Shivers (49 mins)
Slaughtneil: Oisin Doherty; Karl McKaigue; Sean Cassidy; Mark McGuigan; Meehaul McGrath; Shane McGuigan; Paul McNeill; Conor McAllister; Christopher McKaigue; Gerald Bradley; Sean Cassidy; Brendan Rodgers; Se McGuigan; Brian Cassidy; Cormac O’Doherty
Subs: Cormac McKenna for Sean Cassidy (10 mins); Gareth O’Kane for Seán Cassidy (35 mins)
Dunloy: Paul Shiels 1-4 (1-4 frees); Nigel Elliott 1-00; Gabriel McTaggart 0-1; Keelan Molloy 0-1; Eoin O’Neill 0-1; Nicky McKeague 0-1 (1 free)
Slaughtneil: Cormac O’Doherty 0-11 (6 frees, 1 ’65); Brendan Rodgers 1-2; Brian Cassidy 0-2; Sé McGuigan 0-1; Christopher McKaigue 0-1; Cormac McKenna 0-1
Ref: James Clarke (Cavan)