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Derry aces are kings of Ulster once again

Dunloy 0-10 Slaughtneil 1-15

Champions: Slaughtneil celebrate after defeating Dunloy in the Ulster Senior Hurling Championship Final at Pairc Esler
Champions: Slaughtneil celebrate after defeating Dunloy in the Ulster Senior Hurling Championship Final at Pairc Esler
Captain Christopher McKaigue
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

Slaughtneil stamped their authority on their own province with their third Ulster title in four years in a chilly Newry, with manager Michael McShane revealing afterwards that the old tactic of covering the dressing rooms in newspaper clippings will always be in vogue.

"The drive that we got this week from people talking about how we weren't a good enough hurling team, that we were going to have to come out and bully them, physically intimidate them and do all of those things but we wouldn't be able. To out-hurl them," he began.

"And that insulted us because we were two times Ulster champions in the last three years. We had a bit of a blip last year. Don't get me wrong, Dunloy are a superb team and we had to play at the top of our game to beat them today. But that was our drive this week."

He continued: "Did you read some of the media this week and some of the things that were being said? In other words, we were only thugs with hurling sticks, not hurlers.

"You saw out there today who's the best hurling team."

The opening seven minutes told you all you needed to know about Slaughtneil's reluctance to accept the pre-game judgements.

Accusations that Dunloy were 'horsed out of it' in their semi-final meeting in 2017, and that they had sufficient work done since to withstand the greater physicality of the Derrymen had an early examination.

Under puckouts and dropping ball, Dunloy were far more static. Slaughtneil had four wides in opening seven minutes and there was a moment when Chrissy McKaigue barged through four heavy-duty winter challenges only to get blown up by referee Aidan Ferguson for steps. Never mind that the call went against him, the sight of him throwing himself into the conflict was enough to show the crowd that this was genuine war.

Despite having the wind, Dunloy did not take advantage with Paul Shiels dropping deep and McKaigue pushing up on him.

For sure, Slaughtneil played the better hurling, aided in no small part by the red card awarded to Dunloy's Nigel Elliott after two bookings within five minutes of each other at the start of the second half, but they also brought a ravenous work-rate, got their match-ups perfect and just swamped the Antrim champions.

By the eighth minute they had four wides and their first score and they never let up.

Five consecutive scores in the middle third of the first half opened up a gap and even when Dunloy cut it to two by half time, the Derrymen added another brace once play resumed.

The killer blow came when Paul Shiels hauled Cormac O'Doherty down in desperation and referee Aidan Ferguson awarded a penalty. O'Doherty dusted himself down and took it himself, bouncing the shot beyond Dunloy goalkeeper Ryan Elliott.

Other factors played into the flow of the game. Dunloy would have liked the fleet-footed Keelan Molloy on more ball, but Shane McGuigan executed a perfect marking role, rendering Molloy scoreless throughout.

Gerard Bradley had another monstrous game in the middle of the park, including catching an Elliott puckout over the head of Kevin Molloy and returning the ball over the bar with some interest.

As Dunloy grew ever more frantic, Slaughtneil garnished the victory with the last four points of the game to leave it in no doubt whatsoever that their claims to superiority cannot be challenged.

"At the end of the day, Slaughtneil are the benchmark for Ulster hurling because they are Ulster champions for three of the last four years. So like, that's what you have to match if you want to be Ulster champions," said a gracious, defeated Dunloy manager, Gregory O'Kane.

"They are conditioned for this time of the year. Slaughtneil are... the one thing they will bring to the game is intensity and for parts of it, it looked like we were under pressure. Your strikes become rushed, your composure on the ball goes. And they are all wee bits and pieces that add up as the game goes on.

"And then we started to snatch at things and that is the difference between winning and losing."

Slaughtneil now will gear up to play the Leinster club champions in the All-Ireland semi-final in January.

Elsewhere, the two other hurling finals in Ulster fell foul of the incessant rainfall. St Enda's of Antrim were down to play Eoghan Ruadh of Dungannon in Owenbeg for the Intermediate final, that game called off an hour before throw-in.

The same fate befell Newry Shamrocks and Eoghan Rua Coleraine, their encounter in Dub also called off. Both games will be fixed for this weekend.

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