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Comment: Slaughtneil have silenced doubters to become undisputed kings of Ulster hurling

Slaughtneil 2-21 Ballygalget 1-12

By Declan Bogue

If you weren't careful, you might have mistook the polite clap of Slaughtneil supporters as Chrissy McKaigue raised the Four Seasons Cup in Armagh as the men and women from Carn Togher becoming blasé about winning Ulster titles.

Instead, we should read it as a reaction of deep satisfaction at having arrived as undisputed kings of Ulster hurling. Nobody knows how real or imagined the slurs were about last year's success being a 'fluke' were, but either way, any doubts were silenced by the kind of performance that champions deliver; assured, calm and when needed, they lifted things up a few notches.

They just didn't let Ballygalget come up for air.

Since mid-August, Slaughtneil have been in action in one code or another every single weekend. With only goalkeeper Oisín O'Doherty and centre back Cormac McKenna not on their football panel, they have to be the most battle-hardened group of players in the country and it shows.

To their credit, Ballygalget had made plans here. Their sprightly forward John McManus - in action for Ireland just the day before in the Shinty International against Scotland - was brought back into the full back line to mind Brendan Rogers and limited his influence.

However, Slaughtneil had already wasted two goal opportunities by the middle of the first half when a Chrissy McKaigue clearance reached Rogers who guided it into the path of Sean McGuigan who batted the ball past Jamie Crowe to the net.

Slaughtneil were a goal up and from that moment on, never looked like losing.

Ballygalget tried a number of things to get their most famous son, Gareth 'Magic' Johnston, into the game, including pulling him away from the edge of the square.

But in truth he was dominated in open play by the more mobile Shane McGuigan.

At half time with the scoreboard reading 1-7 to 0-6 in their favour, Slaughtneil waited to go into the tunnel second and were clapped off the pitch by their vocal following.

With Cormac O'Doherty just missing one of his 12 placed balls all day, they have a stream of scores that just keeps flowing. While the stickwork wasn't of the highest order some of their scores showed classy individual ability, not least Conor McAlister's point - aided by Sean Cassidy's flick through his own legs, pick up and handpass on the ground - that was swung over on his left side.

Karl McKaigue also bounded forward a few times to register points, his third on 55 minutes a special effort as he spotted an empty furlong in front of him and scorched Ballygalget captain Ben Toner for pace before striking off his weaker side for a supreme score.

If Slaughtneil struggled with anything, it was getting Rogers into the game to become the pivotal figure he can be.

Manager Michael McShane, however, made a clever switch at the start of the second half putting in Gerard Bradley there and his aerial ability brought about a penalty as he was hauled down by Mark Fisher, who earned his second yellow and a red for the offence.

O'Doherty drilled his penalty low and while Crowe got a hint of stick behind it, it wasn't enough to prevent it trickling in.

From then on, it was a procession but not without concerns as Rogers looked groggy coming off the pitch afterwards.

Ballygalget's goal came from a Johnston free that was batted out and Caolan Bailie let fly on the ground and it went to the roof of the net.

Slaughtneil: O O'Doherty; K McKaigue 0-3, Shane McGuigan, P McNeill; M McGrath, C McKenna, C McAllister 0-1; G Bradley 0-1, C McKaigue; M McGuigan, C O'Doherty 1-10 (1-0 Penalty, 8f, 2 x 65), Sean Cassidy 1-0; Sé McGuigan, B Rogers 0-2, B Cassidy 0-4

Subs: G O'Kane for Sean Cassidy (42m), B Óg Corbett for McAllister (62)

Yellow cards: C McKaigue (60)

Red cards: 0

Ballygalget: J Crowe; B Byers, E Clarke, J McManus; E Coulter, B Toner, Peter McManus; C Bailie 1-0, J Doran; G Roddy, D McManus, M Fisher 0-2; C Coulter, G Johnston 0-8, 7f, D Toner 0-2

Subs: C Doran for Bailie (blood, 25-28m), J Smyth for Byers (60), C Doran for C Coulter (60), P McManus for J Doran (60)

Yellow cards: Peter McManus (5), Fisher (15 & 53), J Doran (23), Bailie (51), Paul McManus (66)

Red cards: Fisher (53)

Referee: Colum Cunning (Antrim)

Attendance: 3,200

The game at a glance

MAN OF THE MATCH

Gerard Bradley (Slaughteil): Man of the match against Dunloy for his uncanny ability to get his paw to a dropping sliotar, Bradley was all over the place here again. There could be a case made that Slaughtneil’s efforts were flagging slightly in the second half, but his catch of a Karl McKaigue delivery panicked Mark Fisher into conceding a penalty, which is all they needed. 

TALKING POINT

Injuries (Slaughtneil): The kind of workload that  Slaughtneil have has to take its toll. Paul Bradley missed the Kilcoo game, and now reserve goalkeeper Sean Cassidy and Brendan Rogers could be in doubt for the visit of Omagh.

MAGIC MOMENT

Karl McKaigue (Slaughtneil): A week after he blotted out a succession  of Kilcoo attackers in the preliminary round of the Ulster football Championship, McKaigue did the same to Down’s established attacker Danny Toner.

McKaigue is pacey and relentless, best summed up by his point in the closing stages when he exposed Ben Toner in open space and ran 20 yards in a matter of seconds before opening up on his weak side.

REF WATCH

Colm Cunning (Antrim): A difficult day with raised temperatures and a lot of scrappy hurling, Cunning appeared a little over-fussy for many tastes. Got the decision right about the penalty, but Radio Ulster co-commentator Shane Elliott felt he shied away from issuing a red card to Chrissy McKaigue at the end. 

MATCH STATS

WIDES

Slaughtneil: 4 (three in first half)

Ballygalget: 2 (two in first half)

FREES

Slaughtneil: 12 (five in first half)

Ballygalget: 17 (nine in first half)

YELLOW CARDS

Slaughtneil: 1 — C McKaigue (60)

Ballygaglet: 6 — Peter McManus (5), Fisher (15 & 53), J Doran (23), Bailie (51), Paul McManus (66)

RED CARDS

Slaughtneil: 0

Ballygalget: 1 — Fisher (53)

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