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Slaughtneil fall at last hurdle in their latest bid for elusive All-Ireland final

Slaughtneil 1-17 Ballygunnar 2-19

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Gripping stuff: Ballygunner’s Dessie Hutchinson and Paul McNeill of Slaughtneil. Credit: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Gripping stuff: Ballygunner’s Dessie Hutchinson and Paul McNeill of Slaughtneil. Credit: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Shane McGuigan. Credit: INPHO/Bryan Keane

Shane McGuigan. Credit: INPHO/Bryan Keane

©INPHO/Bryan Keane

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Gripping stuff: Ballygunner’s Dessie Hutchinson and Paul McNeill of Slaughtneil. Credit: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

The feelings may be raw right now, but when you consider the life cycle of this Slaughtneil team and the circumstances around it, you suspect they will not ever reach that elusive All-Ireland final after this defeat to Waterford’s Ballygunner.

It’s not a question of application, of skill or any of the attainable things they can go after. It’s just a simple scan through the ages of the likes of Brendan Rogers, the McKaigue brothers, the demands that are currently on with the Derry football project and the ability for them to make it all work for another full year.

If that is the case, and this is the closest they come, then it is a pity. You cannot say Ballygunner did not deserve this, but you can only imagine if Slaughtneil won a game like this in similar fashion, a couple of cynical pull-downs towards the end ensuring they would not leak goals while going down the stretch.

"We knew coming up here what type of game it was going to be,” said Ballygunner manager Darragh O’Sullivan.

"Space is really at a premium. It was only when they came out the field in the last quarter that there was a lot of space but up to that there was no space and that’s the way it was. Our fellas adapted very well to it.

“Listen, they’re a formidable outfit, they’re a savage club team and have been around a long number of years and I’ve no doubt they’ll be back again next year because that’s the level they’re at and these are the places they strive to be and fair play to them for that.”

Slaughtneil manager Michael McShane has a talent for summing things up.

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“It’s very obvious, we lost the game in the first five minutes of each half,” he said. And that was about the height of it really.

That Slaughtneil didn’t make the most of their experience was largely down to their slow start in each half as McShane says. Ballygunner go off the mark with a Conor Sheahan point and had a goal fater four minutes when Slaughtneil failed to clear and a Crossfield ball to Peter Hogan had him eating up the grass before an unselfish lay off to Billy O’Keefe to place the ball in the net.

1-2 to no score down, it could have gotten even worse for the Derry men as a superbly floated ball from the endline by Kevin Maghony was met with full force by Dessie Hutchinson on the double. Angled into the ground, Slaughtneil goalkeeper Oisin O’Doherty did a Gordon Banks on it to turn it away and inspire his side.

Gradually, Gerard Bradley’s usual deployment as sweeper began to pay dividends as he hoovered up a series of puck outs from Stephen O’Keefe. Brendan Rogers was getting the better of his marker Barry Coughlan with some clever dummies and tacked on two scores.

Just prior to half time, the scores had gone to and fro, mostly for Slaughtneil and they had the Ballygunner lead trimmed to a single point by the 27th minute with Sé McGuigan’s only score.

That was as close as they were to come.

Another flying start from Ballygunner at the start of the second half had Sheahan firing over his second of the game.

The ball was only pucked out again when the scale of Slaughtneil’s task became almost impossible. Bradley failed to make a routine pick and Kevin Mahony practically went through him. He burned in towards goal but deftly squared to the waiting O’Keefe who might have scuffed his shot slightly off Oisin O’Doherty’s heel, but it still went in to leave them 2-9 to 0-9 in front.

The third quarter was the key to the win. Ballygunner amassed 1-5 to 0-3 in that period. They didn’t assign a marker to Gerard Bradley but they were able to split the spaces around him and apply a great deal more pressure. From play they were lethal but their concerns centred around the miscuing of freetaker Pauric Mahony who got the yips badly in the 43rd, 44th and 45th minutes, sending three consecutive dead balls wide of the posts.

There was always going to be a big kick in Slaughtneil and at the start of the fourth quarter they compiled four consecutive points, helped largely by Rogers coming out around the middle and vacating his full-forward slot. There might also have been a goal chance in the 53rd minute when Sé McGuigan put the head down but was wrestled to the floor by Shane O’Sullivan who was booked for the action.

The effort might have drained them though. At the end of the run, it was Billy O’Keefe displaying some lovely stickwork to convert a chance over all the blocks coming in and when switched to frees, made no mistake.

Late goal chances arrived. Meehaul McGrath wound one up that O’Keefe parried although it was travelling straight to the body.

Substitute Jack Cassidy was hooked before eventually getting the ball to Shane McGuigan, who drilled it to the net to leave four in it once again.

But time ran out.

And maybe that’s it over for the great Slaughtneil adventure. We could be proved wrong of course, and would be delighted to be so. But for now it is Ballygunner, and not Slasughtneil, who are heading for their first All-Ireland final.

SLAUGHTNEIL: O Doherty; K McKaigue, S Cassidy, P McNeill; Shane McGuigan 1-0, C McAllister, M McGrath; C O’Doherty 0-6, 5f, C McKaigue; Sé McGuigan 0-1, J McGuigan 0-2, G Bradley; M McGuigan 0-1, B Rogers 0-4, B Cassidy 0-2

Subs: P Kearney for S Cassidy (50'), J Cassidy for M McGuigan (53')

BALLYGUNNER: S O’Keefe; I Kenny, B Coughlan, T Foley; S O’Sullivan, P Mahony, R Power; C Sheahan 0-2, P Leavey; D Hutchinson 0-4, M Mahony 0-1, P Hogan 0-3; B O’Keefe 2-3, 0-1f, K Mahony 0-4, P Mahony 0-2f

Referee: Fergal Hogan (Tipperary)

Man of the match: Billy O’Keefe (Ballygunner)

Match rating: 7/10


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