Slaughtneil Too Strong for Cuchullains

Ulster Club Hurling Championship Semi-Final

Sunday 12th December

Dunloy 0-14 Slaughtneil 1-18

Brendan McTaggart reports from the Athletic Grounds, Armagh

It was more Ulster heartbreak for Dunloy supprters on Sunday evening as they came up short in their attempt to wrestle the Four Seasons Cup from Slaughtneil.  Seven points separated the sides at the end of a pulsating hour of hurling at the Athletic Grounds where the Cuchullains found the Derry kings too tough a nut to crack.

Conal Cunning top scored for the Cuchullains with 0-6 to his name while Eoin O’Neill and Eamon Smyth all showing well in the green shirt.

Brendan Rodgers display proved to be the difference in the sides, the Slaughtneil man finished with 1-4 to his name in a top class display, amplified in the second half with a monumental performance that put the game out of Dunloy’s reach.

Brendan Rodgers fires in a second half goal to give Slaughtneil total control of the game.

Moving Gerald Bradley to a deep sweeper in the second half meant Slaughtneil starved Dunloy of any space in attack while Meehaul McGrath and Cormac O’Doherty also shone for the Derry men who played with vigour, intensity and tactically got it spot on to out-fox the Cuchullains forward line.

It’s a case of déjà vu for Dunloy who came up short two and four years ago against the same side but this game had more similarities to the contest in Owenbeg back in 2017.  The Cuchullains started well that day also before Slaughtneil found their way.  The Cuchullains were two clear after a bright start at the Athletic Grounds and working the sliotar and keeping possession.  It was a high-risk tactic but they were confident in their own ability and in those opening exchanges they made all the early running.

Slaughtneil began to find their way and with a strong wind at their back, Cormac O’Doherty opened their account with his first of five first half frees.  Chrissy McKaigue and Deaglan Smith swapped points as Dunloy held the narrowest of leads by the eighth minute but it was the last time they would be ahead of Slaughtneil in the game.  

The Derry men, like four years ago, hit a purple patch that saw them score seven points unanswered either side of the first half water-break to take a six point lead and complete control of the game.

Eoin O’Neill sends over a Dunloy point just before half time

Dunloy hit back with Eoin O’Neill splitting the posts either side of a Kevin Molloy point to cut the Slaughtneil lead to three points at the interval.  O’Neill’s first of that brace of scores ending a run of 18 minutes without a score for the Cuchullains and remarkably coming from the first poc out the Cuchullains went long with in the first half.

If anything, half time came at the wrong time for Dunloy who had began to find some form.  Three points was far from an unassailable lead and they would have been confident of reeling in Slaughtneil’s lead at the start of the second half.

That confidence would have been brimming by the 36th minute as the gap was reduced to the minimum. Two frees from Conal Cunning at the start of the second half, incredibly the first of the game for the Cuchullains and a point from Shorty Shiels was answered to by Brian Cassidy’s first of the game.  Dunloy had the momentum and it would take something special from Slaughtneil to get the momentum their way again.  They found it in the form of Brendan Rodgers.

Moving Rodgers to midfield in the second half began to look like a masterstroke from Mickey McShane and his team as Rodgers went through the gears and effectively taking the contest away from the Cuchullains.  Slaughtneil robbed Ryan McGarry of possession in the 42nd minute with Jerome McGuigan finding Brian Cassidy with the freedom of the Athletic Grounds.  The Dunloy defence scrambled but Rodgers was on hand to collect a recycled pass and put six points between the sides.

Slaughtneil’s Gerard Bradley picks a high ball out of the air during the first half

Slaughtneil’s work-rate and intensity was paying dividends as Dunloy looked shaky in possession and devoid of any fluency.  Slaughtneil hit 1-4 in the space of eight minutes, Rodgers with 1-3 in that space of time and Dunloy’s solitary answer was a Coby free to leave seven between the sides at the second half water-break.

Dunloy went for broke in the championship quarter and had reduced the Slaughtneil lead to four points by the 60th minute.  Coby’s frees keeping the scoreboard ticking over for the Cuchullains  with Seaan Elliott adding to the list of scorers but it was clear they needed majors to get into the game again and Slaughtneil never looked like coughing up goal chances.  The one ball the dropped from the heavens and bounced in front of Oisin O’Doherty was superbly saved from the Slaughtneil net-minder who had next to no time to react.

Slaughtneil finished the game on top with a trio of points from O’Doherty (free), substute Jack Cassidy and Meehaul McGrath to ensure they booked their place in the Ulster decider in a weeks time against Ballycran.

It’s not the ending of the 2021 season the Cuchullains hoped for and defeat is never an easy pill to swallow.  They will look back to the ‘drawing board’ as they try to come up with the masterplan to topple Slaughtneil but the Derry men have proved yet again they are the kings of the ash in Ulster.

TEAMS

Dunloy: Ryan Elliott; Aaron Crawford, Conor McKinley, Conor Kinsella; Ronan Molloy, Eamon Smyth, Ryan McGarry; Paul Shiels, Keelan Molloy; Eoin O’Neill, Kevin Molloy, Nicky McKeague; Deaglan Smith, Conal Cunning, Seaan Elliott

Subs: Chrissy McMahon for N McKeague (24); Shane Dooey for D Smith (50)

Scorers: C Cunning 0-6 (5f’s, 1 ’65); E O’Neill 0-2; P Shiels 0-2; Keelan Molloy 0-1; Kevin Molloy 0-1; D Smith 0-1; S Elliott 0-1

Slaughtneil: Oisin O’Doherty; Karl McKaigue, Sean Cassidy, Paul McNeill; Shane McGuigan, Conor McAllister, Meehaul McGrath; Gerald Bradley, Chrissy McKaigue; Mark McGuigan, Cormac O’Doherty, Brendan Rodgers; Se McGuigan, Jerome McGuigan, Brian Cassidy

Subs: Jack Cassidy for B Cassidy (60)

Scorers: C O’Doherty 0-7 (7f’s); B Rodgers 1-4; M McGrath 0-3; Shane McGuigan 0-1; C McKaigue 0-1; B Cassidy 0-1; J Cassidy 0-1

Referee: James Connors (Donegal)

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