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Slaughtneil's fringe aces can take centre stage in showpiece: Kearney

By John Campbell

Published 24/11/2016

Final countdown: Kilcoo manager Michael Kane and Aidan Branagan with Slaughtneil’s Brendan Rogers and boss John Joe Kearney
Final countdown: Kilcoo manager Michael Kane and Aidan Branagan with Slaughtneil’s Brendan Rogers and boss John Joe Kearney

When a team sets its sights on major success, the management generally look to marquee players to point the way to glory.

But Slaughtneil's efforts to capture the Ulster Club Senior Football Championship trophy for the second time in three years tend to centre more on the lesser lights within their line-up.

And that's perhaps indicative of the way that the Derry champions go about their business.

Unusually, Slaughtneil do not house a bar on their impressive complex in the Sperrins, manager Mickey Moran eschews contact with the media and despite serving the club in both football and hurling codes, you won't hear a murmur of complaint or any mention of the word 'burn-out' from a raft of players who are currently stockpiling medals.

It's hardly surprising, then, that while luminaries such as Chrissy McKaigue, Patsy Bradley, Brendan Rogers and Christopher Bradley will be handed their normal key roles for Sunday's provincial final against Kilcoo, Moran and his popular assistant John Joe Kearney will be strongly focused on a batch of other players who have climbed to prominence this year.

Kearney warms to the task of eulogising Slaughtneil's resources not with the intention of providing a further motivational tool - he does not see that as necessary - but to highlight what he views as the more earthy qualities which help to keep the side in the spotlight.

"You look at young Keelan Feeney, he plays at half-back with no fear," mused Kearney. "And then take Paul McNeill - he rides into tackles and goes through them. These two boys had excellent games in our semi-final win over Killyclogher. And Karl McKaigue, too, was outstanding. No player in the teams we play against likes to see Karl coming to mark him."

Kearney, though, does not mask the fact that big demands will be made on each of his players against a Kilcoo side harbouring a burning desire to lift the provincial silverware for the first time at the fifth successive attempt.

They may have over-elaborated on occasions in the second half of their semi-final but Slaughtneil have absorbed a timely lesson from doing so, conscious that Kilcoo's tigerish marking, best exemplified by the five Branagan brothers, can wear teams down.

Kilcoo boss Paul McIver for his part feels his encyclopaedic knowledge of Slaughtneil will help him plan his strategy accordingly.

"I know Slaughtneil inside out having played against them and been in and around the Derry camp for a while," stated McIver, whose father Brian formerly managed Derry.

"Slaughtneil have a great work ethic and they won the Ulster Club title two years ago so we certainly know the extent of the challenge we face."

When Crossmaglen Rangers exited the Armagh Championship at the hands of St Patrick's, it served to add a whole new dimension to the Ulster Club Championship.

McIver added: "I suppose you could say that ourselves and Slaughtneil were the two teams that maybe stood out from the start of the Ulster series and now I think we are in for one mighty final."

Belfast Telegraph

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