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O'Doherty is backed to have a glittering career

 

By John Campbell

It's not often that an impish 21-year-old with an angelic smile is detailed as the go-to player when the temperature rises in an important final in any code.

But Slaughtneil's baby-faced assassin Cormac O'Doherty tends to defy logic in some respects - and certainly when it comes to stockpiling personal kudos.

Four Derry Senior Football Championship medals, a similar number of county hurling accolades, two provincial football honours and one Ulster hurling medal represent an array of prizes that proclaim an extra special talent.

Tomorrow, the stocky forward will once again be off in pursuit of yet another accolade when he lines out with a Slaughtneil side that will bid to enter the history books - again! - by claiming back-to-back provincial hurling titles.

Opponents Ballygalget will enter the fray buoyed by an emphatic semi-final win over Lisbellaw (2-26 to 0-8) but acutely aware that the 1-9 O'Doherty plundered in last year's final defeat of fancied Loughgiel represents a much more imposing statistic.

In showcasing his full range of talents in that match, O'Doherty spawned the belief that Slaughtneil could remain as Ulster's overlords and tomorrow this may become reality.

If Ballygalget eventually sauntered into the decider, then Slaughtneil slaved tirelessly at the coal face against a stubborn Dunloy side before they eventually had their passport stamped in front of 6,000-plus spectators.

But Slaughtneil's lung-bursting shift in what was an Owenbeg cauldron will almost certainly stand them in good stead tomorrow.

Brendan Rogers, the McKaigues Chrissy and Karl, Meehaul McGrath, Shane McGuigan and Se McGuigan will join the peerless O'Doherty in a team that might quietly believe they have bigger fish to fry but will nonetheless address the job in hand with their usual zest.

Manager Michael McShane's enthusiasm for and dedication to his task are obvious - and mention of the name O'Doherty has him drooling.

"He's an exceptionally gifted hurler," purred McShane.

"He's just a pleasure to watch. When we had our backs to the wall against Dunloy and were in real trouble, he stuck over a point that was nothing short of magical and we never looked back after that.

"He has blossomed on the senior stage as his haul of honours will testify and when you think of what he might achieve in the future, it's frightening."

Tomorrow, O'Doherty's effortless grace, his uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time and his razor-sharp finishing will not so much impose demands on Ballygalget as perhaps test their very sanity.

When these qualities are complemented by Chrissy McKaigue's generally flawless technique and the many-sided qualities of Brendan Rogers, this is more than enough for any opposition to ponder without contemplating the south Derry machine's other well-oiled component parts.

Yet it would be uncharitable to denigrate the men from the Ards peninsula.

Their skipper Ben Toner showed just why he fits the bill as a leader when in the immediate aftermath of the team's Down final win over Portaferry, he hailed the patience and fortitude of the management for sticking with the players when they were not necessarily toeing the line earlier in that year.

Since that fiery declaration was made, Ballygalget's pride has taken an upward trajectory and their desire has acquired a sharpened edge which should be manifest at the Athletic Grounds.

If Toner epitomises passion and belief, then Gareth 'Magic' Johnston, Cormac Coulter, Daniel Toner and Brook Byers are among the players who are suitably equipped to go toe-to-toe with the reigning champions.

The Ballygalget defence in particular will come under the microscope both in terms of character and defiance with the slightest hint of indiscipline likely to incur censure on the scoreboard on every occasion.

The Down representatives will certainly not consider lobbing in the towel at any stage, that's for sure.

Yet the task of contending with O'Doherty's sparkling evolution as an all-round class act in particular may ultimately prove too much for them.

Ballygalget vs Slaughtneil

Ulster SHC Final: Athletic Grounds, Armagh, Sunday, 2.30pm

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