Slaughtneil win on wave of emotion
Loughgiel 1-13 Slaughtneil 2-14
It might have been the way they were scheduled to depart the field at half-time anyway, but as Slaughtneil left the pitch they were greeted by one of the lustiest roars any support could grant their favourite sons.
And well they deserved it because from the 20th second, as Paul Gillan was bottled up when trying to clear his lines leading to the opening score from Cormac O'Doherty, right through the first half, they drowned their more illustrious Antrim opponents in workrate, heart and desire to become the first Derry club ever to win the Four Seasons Cup.
It was only on Friday that they buried Thomas Cassidy, the man who revived hurling in the club - with two sons featuring, Eanna at midfield and Sean on the bench, along with his three daughters Aoife, Brona and Eilis playing in the drawn camogie final. This was the little community on Carn Togher paying tribute to him in the most fitting way.
They were helped on their way by an early goal. A long scramble six yards from goal ended eventually with O'Doherty poking to the net. It was ugly and hard-fought, the kind of sequence of play it takes to gain deliverance for a breakthrough act.
But it also owed something to the threadbare state of the Athletic Grounds pitch, which was patently unsuited to a hurling match - one example being the extraordinary length of time it took Eanna Cassidy to take a sideline cut in the first half, even kicking a divot to try and find a suitable platform to get under the ball.
Slaughtneil had already compiled 1-3, fought for tooth-and-nail, when another goal arrived in the ninth minute. Ronan McCloskey should have dealt with a delivery towards the Loughgiel square but Sé McGuigan controlled it instead. He made a beeline towards goal and when the tackles flew in from all quarters, he scooped it up for Brendan Rodgers to bat to the net.
Johnny Campbell's men finally opened their account a minute earlier when Benny McCarry rifled over.
A goal chance arrived when McGuigan again did the donkey work for Rodgers to have another cut at goal, but he was denied by some smart goalkeeping from Shamrocks veteran DD Quinn.
Campbell then tried to negate the influence of Chrissy McKaigue by placing Eddie McCloskey on him, but that was shown up as a failed operation when McKaigue produced the point of the match, raising a bobbling ball and splitting the posts from near the sideline.
The scoreline at half-time read Slaughtneil 2-8, Loughgiel 0-7, three Maol Connolly frees keeping the Antrim champions in with a good shout.
Loughgiel entered the pitch with purpose for the second half, attempting to go about their business in a very brisk fashion.
Slaughtneil held back and as they ran back up the tunnel, their camogie team were lined up to cheer them on. An emotional day went up a notch.
The danger for them was that the enormous reserves of energy eaten up in their intensity of the first half, might become depleted.
Loughgiel sub Joey Scullion raised a gallop towards Oisin O'Doherty's goal and never stopped until the ball rested in the net.
But if they needed inspiration from their former generals, it wasn't forthcoming.
Liam Watson's marker Shane McGuigan dominated their exchanges and certainly brought an edge to proceedings. By the 44th minute, he had been replaced.
Eddie McCloskey was also marginalised, and Campbell even took off freetaker Connolly in an effort to inject some new chemistry with Barney McAuley.
As the clock wound down and it became apparent Slaughtneil, for whom Conor McAllister (below) came off the bench and helped keep things steady, would not be caught, they replaced Eanna Cassidy, son of Tommy remember, who had attended training on Friday night a mere few hours after burying his father. The support rose as one to hail his bravery and contribution.
Slaughtneil held out. Comfortably, bravely, assuredly.
They will meet the Leinster champions in the All-Ireland semi-final in February.
Who would bet against them making it to another All-Ireland final, only in another code?
SLAUGHTNEIL: O O'Doherty; R McCartney, S Cassidy, P McNeill; M McGrath, K McKaigue, Shane McGuigan; E Cassidy, C McKaigue 0-3; G Bradley, C O'Doherty 1-9, 8f, C McKenna; B Rodgers 1-0, Sé McGuigan 0-2, M McGuigan
Subs: S Cassidy for McKenna (41-51, Blood sub), C McAllister for McCartney (46), B Cassidy for E Cassidy (55), G O'Kane for McKenna (62)
Yellow cards: Bradley (29), B Cassidy (57)
Red cards: 0
LOUGHGIEL: DD Quinn; P Gillan, N McGarry, R McCloskey; J Campbell, T McCloskey, T Coyle; M McFadden 0-2, D McMullan; M Connolly 0-5f, E McCloskey 0-1, D McKinley 0-1; B McCarry 0-1, L Watson 0-1, S Casey
Subs: J Scullion 1-0 for McCloskey (22), O McFadden for Watson (44), B McAuley 0-2, 1x'65', for Connolly (54)
Yellow cards: McKinley (5), E McCloskey (30), McFadden (33)
Red cards: Gillan (63)
Referee: James Clarke (Cavan)