By Brendan McTaggart
Slaughtneil manager Michael McShane was delighted with his sides performance on Sunday. Despite the early blitz from the Cuchullains, McShane told us that he expected a slow start from his side: “I wasn’t worried. I knew that the pace of the game was going to be faster than anything we’d encountered all year and I knew it would take us 15 or 20 minutes to make that adjustment. I think they had a five or six point lead but I knew that once we started to take a couple of scores and start crawling back, get a few tackles in and everything would have been fine. Honestly, I’d have been happy going into half time two or three points down.
“It wasn’t psychological. It was the pace of the game. Dunloy have been playing the likes of St John’s, Ballycastle and Cushendall and no disrespect to the other teams in Derry but that’s a different level and higher pace to what we’ve been playing against plus Dunloy will have had a lot more hurling in their legs than Slaughtneil with their dual commitments.
“Once we got to the pace of the game, we were never going to blitz them like the way we did against Loughgiel. It certainly wasn’t psychological.”
This Slaughtneil team have an average age of 23. They have improved immeasurably in recent times and McShane said there is still more to come from his side: “The potential here is scary. We had an average age out there younger than Dunloy and everyone was going on about this young Dunloy team. These guys have a whole lot of maturing and a whole lot of getting better to do. We came out of the Cuala game knowing we played a team who had been building for five or six years to get to that level of performance. We know we’re four or five years behind them but we’re working towards that but while we’re trying to win an All-Ireland football title as well.
“We’re not talking about All-Ireland’s though. We’ve won nothing out here today other than earning the right to compete in the Ulster Final against Ballygalget. That will be another day and another tough game and in between these guys have the small matter of Kilcoo in the Ulster football championship so it’s all go.”
McShane paid tribute to his sides professionalism in the face of their hectic schedule when he continued: “These boys are in the changing room now and they’re already thinking on their recovery for next Sunday. They never tune out. They got up today for a big performance and now Mickey (Moran) will start to get them up again on Tuesday for another big performance. How they do it? I just don’t know but I’ve got nothing but admiration for them. They’re brilliant at their job.”
The Slaughtneil reserved special praise for two of his players when he continued: “We’ve got great leaders in our team and in my mind there’s no greater leader in the GAA than Chrissy McKaigue. He’d be the first to admit that he was slow to get starting there today but by God when we needed him he stood up as he always does, as did Gerald Bradley. He was in defence, he was in attack driving us on and some of his catching was out of the top drawer.”
Slaughtneil remain on course to retain their Ulster crown and will go into the match as Ballygalget as favourites. McShane said that they are hoping for more recognition for achievements on the hurling field: “I thought there was a certain element of people who thought that we caught Loughgiel on the hop last year or a Derry team were always going to get lucky some time and the whole focus this year from our lads was to go back and win another Ulster but I repeat, we haven’t won that yet. But beating the Antrim champions two years in a row is a statement from these guys, they’re a top team and they’re going to be a top team for a long time to come but there’s still a lot of developing to be done.”
Over 6000 people packed into Owenbeg for the semi-final, the biggest crowd recorded at the Dungiven venue. McShane told us that he wasn’t surprised by the attendance and it was always going to be a spectacle: “Everyone knew it was going to be a good game of hurling. Dunloy impressed winning in Antrim and we’ve impressed these last couple of three years. It was in a good venue for everyone so there was always going to be a good crowd and hopefully they’re away home having enjoyed a really fulsome, hard hitting game of hurling. It wasn’t a dirty game of hurling at all. Forget about that at the end there, that was just frustration. There was no dirt in that game. There was hard hits and the referee did his job magnificently well.”