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Slaughtneil must dig deep to have final say at last: O'Doherty

 

High hopes: Cormac O'Doherty has a first All-Ireland Club final in his sights
High hopes: Cormac O'Doherty has a first All-Ireland Club final in his sights
Icon boss: Henry Shefflin
John Campbell

By John Campbell

Slaughtneil have won seven Derry hurling championship titles on the trot and collected three Ulster crowns in the last four years but they have yet to make it into the All-Ireland club hurling final.

On Sunday they will be presented with another opportunity to achieve this goal and although in Ballyhale Shamrocks they will be meeting one of the foremost teams in the country, the Oak Leaf side are determined not to allow the burden of history to weigh too heavily on their shoulders.

They may have been taken to the limit by Dunloy in the Ulster final but ace forward Cormac O'Doherty, in tandem with manager Michael McShane, feels that the team is capable of a big performance.

And it will certainly take this if they are to sweep aside the challenge of the Kilkenny and Leinster champions who, under the capable baton of the legendary Henry Shefflin, have already signalled their intention of retaining their title.

Indeed, in contrast to Slaughtneil, Ballyhale have carried off the greatest honour the club scene has to offer on three occasions in the past decade.

But the experience, resilience and character which the Derry outfit has garnered over recent years in particular is now likely to stand to them, according to O'Doherty.

"It's going to be a huge task but this is where we want to be," says O'Doherty, "The fact that the club semi-finals have been brought forward to the first week-end of January puts added pressure on the competing teams but the key element is that we cannot wait to get back into action."

"While we are happy to have achieved what we have in both Derry and Ulster, you naturally want to move on and become All-Ireland champions."

O'Doherty's scoring prowess - he landed 0-16 in the Derry championship final - is one of the reasons why Slaughtneil find themselves 60 minutes-plus away from an All-Ireland final appearance.

But the player himself is under no illusions just how difficult it will be to rack up scores against a Ballyhale Shamrocks side noted for its defensive frugality.

"We might have won the Ulster title again but going in against the likes of Ballyhale is a different proposition altogether," stresses 23-year-old accountant O'Doherty.

"They are a team with a great tradition. They have scoring power and they are accustomed to winning matches by big margins which means we have to be on our guard from the outset."

O'Doherty scored the only goal of the game in the Ulster final against Dunloy which helped his side to come out on top by 1-15 to 0-10 but manager McShane feels the side is capable of playing much better than they did on that occasion.

"I thought we were a bit below-par in the game to tell the truth," says McShane, "We did not control it in the way in which we can but we got the scores in the end which brought us over the line."

"There is no doubt though that Ballyhale will be waiting for us. They have grown accustomed to playing against quality sides and we know that we have to give it everything from the first whistle. You cannot afford to allow a team like Ballyhale to get off the leash otherwise they will take control of the game and punish you."

"We have met some decent sides lately but Ballyhale are on a different level.

"Henry Shefflin has seen and done it all in hurling and we won't bring anything to the table with which he is not familiar. When you are going in against people like T J Reid and Colin Fennelly who can score for fun when they want to, you just have to have your guard up."

Meanwhile, in the other senior club hurling championship semi-final shock Tipperary champions Borris-Ileagh will meet Galway side St Thomas' which has captured the imagination of fans everywhere because Borris-Illeagh have been underdogs in every county and provincial match they have played to date.

That they have upset the odds on an ongoing basis has earned the team fresh respect and manager John Kelly holds no fears as he prepares to send his side in against a St Thomas's side which has acquired considerable experience at All-Ireland club level.

When the sides go head-to-head at the LIT Gaelic Grounds on Sunday (4pm), they will each lean on a battery of experience to bolster their chances of reaching the decider.

David Burke, Conor Cooney and Eanna Burke can fire up the St Thomas side, while Borris-Ileigh will look to Tipperary All-Ireland winner Brendan Maher to once again prove an inspirational force.

It was in the shock Munster championship final defeat of Waterford champions Ballygunner that Maher stepped up to the mark to sweep over two late points which gave Borris-Ileagh their 1-12 to 1-11 victory.

It was a significant achievement by the side given that they had trailed their opponents for the greater part of the contest before Maher emerged as their hero.

He will certainly carry a big burden of responsibility once again on Sunday.

Belfast Telegraph

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