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Comment: Slaughtneil stars are speading themselves thin and paying price of success

By Declan Bogue

They would never be into making excuses for themselves, but there was something about the demeanour of certain Slaughtneil hurlers on Sunday that makes you worry about their wellbeing after the workload they have borne.

Since mid-August, between football and hurling games - most of them of the blood and thunder Championship variety - they have had just two weekends off.

And after winning the Ulster hurling crown on Sunday, captain Chrissy McKaigue said: "With the demands of the last number of weeks I think one code needed to disappear because it was becoming just a wee bit too much."

Here's why. Sean 'Tad' Cassidy (reserve football midfielder) came off injured against Dunloy in the hurling semi-final. Sean O'Caiside (reserve football goalkeeper), no relation but a wing-forward on the hurling team, had to be taken off on Sunday with breathing difficulties.

Brendan Rogers is one of the finest footballers in Ulster, with the potential to be one of the best in the game. On Sunday, the dual code star was escorted into the dressing room by two ladies not looking all that well having taken a seat during the post-match celebrations.

You can see how they are spreading themselves thin. But everyone has a breaking point.

This Saturday night they are expected to be back out in action against Omagh St Enda's in the Ulster football quarter-final. Yet the Ulster Council are unprepared to move their fixture to the Sunday to allow more recovery time.

It's not hard to understand the motivations. Over the past two seasons, attendances at Ulster County Championship matches have stagnated. Slaughtneil against Omagh would be a huge draw in Celtic Park, and the move to Saturday night fixtures is a clever and simple innovation by the Ulster Council to maximise publicity and gate receipts.

And if there are those who wonder what difference a day makes?

For a start, Slaughtneil could have conducted a pitch-based tactical run through on Saturday in broad daylight ahead of a Sunday game.

And God forbid if a player had suffered a concussion on Sunday. The Sports Concussion Institute recommends a return to play protocol that takes seven days. Taking the field six days later is a risk never worth taking.

In assessing the patchy hurling of his team on Sunday, Slaughtneil boss Michael McShane said: "When we talk about the performance out there, these lads have now played their third big, big Championship game in 14 days.

"Sometimes it feels as if Slaughtneil are being punished for being successful."

It's hard to argue against that.

To their credit, Slaughtneil have been the most under-utilised marketing tool that Ulster GAA have.

Theirs is a simply astonishing story when the achievements of their camogie wing is factored in; a shining example of how the one-club model can work, with members of both sexes cherished equally.

And boy can they talk. Last Friday night I shared a pint with a Tyrone football die-hard who talked of his dejection coming back up the road after their All-Ireland semi-final hammering by Dublin.

His journey was shortened by the RTÉ documentary on One - 'Being Slaughtneil'. It spoke of their vibrant community with sport, culture and language.

"It made me even more jealous! Why can't we be more like that?" he asked of his own club.

Slaughtneil's story has been captured in expressive newspaper features, radio shows and lit up the television screen in the RTÉ documentary 'The Geansai' and the BBC's 'Níos Mó Ná Cluiche'.

They have a cast of characters such as the Cassidy family, their extremely affable chairman Sean McGuigan, a football assistant manager John Joe Kearney who says precisely what he thinks, and a squad of players that would go through you for a shortcut in their pursuit of success.

It wasn't always so. In 2008 they reached a Derry Championship final. The fledgling County Derry Post was giving GAA coverage to clubs on an unprecedented scale. They wanted features but Slaughtneil said they wouldn't co-operate.

Their culture changed when they started winning.

And now they are the best marketing tool the GAA has, set right in the heart of rural Ulster.

It's a pity others can't see that potential.

Belfast Telegraph

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