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Inspirational Graham calls the shots as Slaughts retain title

Loughgeil 1-7 Slaughtneil 2-8

Winners: Slaughtneil joint captains Siobhan Bradley (left) and Grainne Ni Chathain lift the cup
Winners: Slaughtneil joint captains Siobhan Bradley (left) and Grainne Ni Chathain lift the cup
John Campbell

By John Campbell

Hunger can often prove an irresistible driving force and Slaughtneil provided adequate proof of this at Pairc Esler, Newry yesterday when they fended off a robust challenge from Loughgiel to retain their Ulster Club Camogie championship title.

With just eight minutes gone, Slaughtneil found themselves 1-3 to nil in arrears but with inspirational duo Shannon Graham and Tina Bradley offering invaluable leadership, they forced their way back into the game before eventually closing it out with considerable authority.

No wonder manager Damien McEldowney was beaming from ear to ear when referee Philip McDonald sounded the final whistle.

"These girls don't do panic. They just kept battling and everything came right in the end but it was tough because Loughgiel are a good team," declared McEldowney.

And he had a sharp answer to the suggestion that his team's All-Ireland title appetite might just be sated having won the biggest prize of all for the last three years.

"Look, Slaughtneil won nothing for about 40 years and you can take it that another All-Ireland crown is very much in our focus," rapped McEldowney.

"We have a few new players in the side but they have been stepping up to the mark on a regular basis and that is proving very encouraging for us. Obviously it's a big step-up to the All-Ireland stage but we are familiar with it now and it won't faze us, although we will certainly be in no way complacent."

A Clare McKillop goal complemented three early Loughgiel points but by the 11th minute their advantage had been trimmed to a point after a spectacular Olivia Rafferty goal and points from Bradley and Player of the Match Graham had reined them in.

And it was Graham who snapped up what was the most crucial score of the contest when she rifled the ball into the Loughgiel net in the 26th minute.

The score came at a period when Loughgiel were bidding to recapture the flair and penetration they had shown in the earlier stages and effectively impacted on Loughgiel's spirit.

The fact they missed scoring chances and their distribution was wayward on occasions meant they were unablee to maintain any sort of pressure on Slaughtneil.

A brace of points from Bradley helped to cement Slaughtneil's 2-5 to 1-5 lead and when the same player slotted two points immediately on the resumption, Slaughtneil began to look more comfortable. Yet Loughgiel, with Maeve Connolly exerting her authority at the back and Emma McMullan always looking dangerous up front, crept up on their opponents' shoulder again when the latter swept over points from frees in the 44th and 50th minutes. But that was as good as it got for the Antrim champions.

Bradley took her points haul to six, the Slaughtneil defence closed ranks and Graham continued her unrelenting work-rate as the All-Ireland champions secured their passport into the All-Ireland arena - and it will take a formidable team to thwart them in their four-in-a-row bid.

The superb Shananon Graham was in no doubt just why Slaughtneil came out on top after making such a shaky start.

"I think that in the games we have played in recent years we have experienced some difficult passages but we have managed to cope with this and I believe it was the same again on this occasion," she said.

"Obviously we are very familiar with Loughgiel and we knew they would come at us which they certainly did."

Slaughtneil: J Bradley; C McEldowney, G Ni Chathain, E McGrath; B McAlister, A NiChaiside, C McGrath; S Graham 1-2, C Mulholland; S Bradley, T Bradley 0-6 (2f), T Mellon; O Rafferty 1-0, S Mellon, L Dougan. Subs: J McMullan for T Mellon (49).

Loughgiel: M Coyle; C Campbell, C Higgins, C McKillop 1-0; M Lynn, M Connolly 0-1, S Devlin; A Boyle, L McNaughton; C Dobbin 0-1, A , E McMullan 0-4; Ciara Laverty, Christine Laveerty, R McCormick 0-1. Subs: O Laverty for Boyle (44), M McGarry for McKillop (47), C Dobbin for Lynn (57).

Referee: Philip McDonald (Cavan)

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