Belfast Telegraph

Declan Bogue: Why Slaughtneil have to pass acid test to make it to All Ireland decider

By Declan Bogue

The laws of nature dictate that Slaughtneil Robert Emmetts will go no further than this Saturday's All-Ireland Club Football Championship semi-final at Pairc Esler.

All the usual assumptions could be thrown at them - that they are spreading themselves thinly, that they are on the road a long time, and that they are just coming up against superior ball players in Dublin and Leinster champions St Vincent's.

The last time the club of the storied names of Heffo, Gilroy and Whelan were in Newry's neck of the woods in February 2014, they obliterated then-Derry champions Ballinderry with a performance based on hard running out of defence and clever ball served from Diarmuid Connolly's foot so cultured that it speaks several languages and has its own wine cellar, towards the evergreen Mossy Quinn in the inside line.

Slaughtneil have been on the road too long to be beaten this easily, however.

After Slaughtneil won the 2014 Ulster title, they were considered a raw outfit. Being paired against Austin Stacks on Valentine's Weekend, 2015, was expected to end their journey.

In many ways, the Stacks opposition of that day bear striking resemblance to the Vincent's team now.

Both from counties where All-Ireland success is a given.

Both had the man who made the decisive plays in a winning All-Ireland final less than five months before; lining out for Stacks, their captain Kieran Donaghy had bent the 2014 All-Ireland final against Donegal to his own will.

Vincent's have Diarmuid Connolly. It can be said that Lee Keegan successfully neutered him in last September's All-Ireland final, but Keegan was always riding the donkey close to the tail and after one too many indiscretions, Connolly was freed from the shackles and became the alpha male in the closing stages of the replay.

By any definition, these are two of the most valued marquee forwards in the game. And if you can stop a forward of that calibre, you are halfway there.

Slaughtneil's manager Mickey Moran appreciates that the best laid plans can often go awry. In 2015, he had Chrissy McKaigue pumped up for a marking job on Donaghy. McKaigue was given a torrid time, was booked and moved off him for Brendan Rogers, who was a revelation, shutting Donaghy down.

Slaughtneil, with other clubs such as the emerging Watty Graham's Maghera and Swatragh cheek by jowl, are a wonder. But it would be wrong to say that kind of volunteerism is exclusive to rural clubs. St Vincent's are managed by Tommy Conroy, the centre-forward of Dublin's All-Ireland winning 1983 tradition. They have also nurtured three of Dublin's finest coaching minds in Kevin Heffernan, Pat Gilroy and Mickey Whelan.

They face all the same challenges as Slaughtneil as a club and - steady on now Fior Ghaels - possibly even more.

While the Vincent's players are unlikely to face the same commutes to training and matches as the weekend's opposition, they do have access to one of the more lively European capital cities, and all the delights that entails.

And it's not just fertile pockets of Ulster that throw up multitudes of clubs. Alongside Vincent's are Raheny Shamrocks, Whitehall Colmcilles, Clontarf and Parnells. All within three square miles.

Slaughtneil will not be beaten for pride, for heart and by a lack of stubbornness. What will catch them is the thorny subject that the GAA will have to eventually grasp on a national level; internal migration.

Within their own ranks, Vincent's have Michael Savage, who has been understudy to Stephen Cluxton for more years than he cares to think. They have former Dublin captain Ger Brennan underpinning the defence. They have the athletic county man Shane Carthy in midfield, not to speak of the Diamond brothers as well as Connolly and Quinn.

But they also get players moving to the area for employment reasons, naturally wanting to continue playing. This is how they acquired former Mayo attacker Enda Varley and Sligo's Brendan Egan.

Already equipped with five Dublin players, the imports in Vincent's - a club that only recently began accepting players from outside Dublin - brings the tally up to seven inter-county players.

Elsewhere it's the same. In Eoghan Ruadh Oliver Plunkett, they have Fermanagh duo Tomás Corrigan and Shane Lyons, along with Cavan goalkeeper Alan O'Mara to go along with the extended Brogan family.

Already, the domination of the All-Ireland Club Championship by Dublin clubs has started.

This has the potential to become yet another hassle for the GAA, not of their own making. Who'd want to be an administrator?

Belfast Telegraph

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