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Bar is now raised to All-Ireland level, says McGuigan

By John Campbell

A five-star individual performance in every sense in the Ulster Club Football final, coming as it does on the cusp of Christmas, would normally entitle such a player to put his feet up and make merry for the rest of the year.

But words such as 'normal' are not quite in the Slaughtneil dictionary.

Shane McGuigan's towering feat in grabbing five of the scores in his team's eclipse of Kilcoo on Sunday may have rocketed this talented 19-year-old St Mary's University College student into the headlines, yet from his perspective it has merely raised the bar for what he sees as more pressing challenges.

One of around a dozen dual players in the Slaughtneil club, McGuigan was already focussing on All-Ireland Club hurling and football action shortly after referee Sean Hurson sounded the final whistle at the Athletic Grounds on Sunday.

Slaughtneil are due to play in the All-Ireland Club football quarter-final against St Kieran's in London in two weeks, which means there will be no respite for McGuigan and his colleagues - but you won't hear a murmur of complaint.

The Ulster Club champions then face a massive All-Ireland hurling semi-final against either a powerful O'Loughlin Gaels side, who hail from Kilkenny, or Dublin standard bearers Cuala in the early part of the New Year.

"We know we have a lot of hard work still to do but we hope to take things in our stride," said McGuigan.

"You could say we are continuing to raise the bar for ourselves but that's the way it is and we are happy to live with this.

"We try to set our own standards and it's the players who drive each other on."

McGuigan's sublime finishing against Kilcoo helped give Slaughtneil their second Ulster football crown in two years but All-Ireland glory is already very much on the club's radar.

"We were beaten in the All-Ireland Club football final in 2014 by Corofin, who are back in the All-Ireland semi-finals again this time round when they will be meeting a good Dr Crokes side," McGuigan explained.

"We will be playing the winners of the Leinster final between St Vincent's and Rhode if we manage to overcome St Kieran's at the quarter-final stage."

"Obviously we will be taking a big step up now in the hurling and football worlds but we know the extent of the challenges that lie ahead of us."

Slaughtneil's corps of dual players includes Brendan Rogers, Karl McKaigue, Meehaul McGrath, Sé McGuigan, Cormac O'Doherty, Chrissy McKaigue, Paul McNeill and, of course, McGuigan, and they all started against Kilcoo on Sunday.

While manager Mickey Moran strives to keep the lid on the expectations of Slaughtneil's fanatical followers, there is nonetheless palpable optimism that the team can make an impact in both hurling and football at All-Ireland Club level.

When they met Corofin two years ago, Slaughtneil did not possess the maturity or guile they currently possess, and the feeling is that they will be able to give a better account of themselves this time round.

Hurling boss Michael McShane will also be calling the shots as he focuses on keeping Slaughtneil in the spotlight.

"Obviously it was great to win the Ulster title but we know that a much stiffer test lies ahead in the All-Ireland series," insisted McShane.

"This will be a big challenge for us no matter how you look at it and we have to show that we are ready for it. This is where we want to be, testing ourselves against the best."

And John Joe Kearney, the affable football team assistant manager, has his own quaint take on just what it would mean if the All-Ireland football and hurling titles were to arrive at the club as part of an historic double.

"Now wouldn't that be quite something," he smiled.

Belfast Telegraph


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