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Loughgiel in good hands, says PJ O'Mullan

By Declan Bogue

While some of his most senior figures will be absent for this Sunday's Ulster club hurling final, Loughgiel Shamrocks manager PJ O'Mullan is also up against the clock as he struggles to be physically ready for the clash against Slaughtneil (Celtic Park, thrown-in 2.30pm).

Last Sunday, the Shamrocks conducted a low-key session but their manager could not be present. Laid up with a condition with his left ankle, he is also waiting on an operation in the new year on his right ankle. In the meantime, neither ankle is capable of weight-bearing.

"I am lying on my back with the foot up, remote control in one hand and the DVD controller in the other hand!" O'Mullan joked this week.

Inspirational coach Jim Nelson also has some health difficulties and has significantly scaled back his involvement with the Shamrocks this season, although he remains part of the extended management team. In his absence, O'Mullan has been taking control of collective training sessions.

Now that he is out of action, he has depended on experienced selectors Joe McGurk and Niall Gillen to assume responsibility.

"Basically we had our programme made out as to what we were doing on Saturday and Sunday," O'Mullan revealed.

"Joe is a very experienced coach and it was a programme we were following. We are out this week and I don't know if I can get out. I will try and make an appearance on Thursday night just to talk to the players but as far as training goes it will be Joe and Niall."

Loughgiel have a large management team with Dominic Casey also an important cog in the wheel and so while preparations have been disrupted, they know that the team are left in good hands.

"We have plenty of cover, Joe is a very experienced coach and he knows his stuff, what is going on and we have a plan we are working towards the next day. To be truthful we are just fine-tuning this week, we wouldn't have been doing an awful lot."

This is Slaughtneil's second time in the Ulster hurling final and it will be something of a strange evening for O'Mullan, who in recent times has travelled up to that end of Derry and led the club's camogie team to county titles.

"I have plenty of friends up there and for that one hour on Sunday the friendships are set to one side. I will be doing my best for our team and they will be doing their best for their team," he said.

A couple of years back, Loughgiel defeated Derry's Kevin Lynch's heavily when they met in the Ulster club competition, but the 2012 All-Ireland winners will be taking nothing for granted here.

Pointing out the gold-chip names that Slaughtneil have had to defeat en route to becoming Oak Leaf champions, O'Mullan explained: "It's a novel pairing and they are there on merit. I have seen them play a couple of times this year and went up to the Derry final. They have a lot of good players. They are very young, very hungry and talented. Very committed.

"They won a hard Derry Championship this year and they had to do it the hard way. They beat Swatragh, Kevin Lynch's and Ballinascreen which would be the top three hurling teams in Derry so they did it the hard way."

They also have the availability of Chrissy McKaigue. He played in the first test of the International Rules series against Australia in Cavan last Saturday and was one of manager Paul Earley's most impressive performers.

Slaughtneil coach Mickey Glover has said that he will not be forcing McKaigue to make any tough decisions. But when the International Rules squad for the second Australian test was named earlier this week and his name was not on it, it became clear that McKaigue was throwing everything behind the Robert Emmett's bid for glory.

And while there is caution from Loughgiel, they pride themselves on not underestimating any opposition.

"Like any other team, we respect the opposition but we come to try and play our own game," added O'Mullan.

They will be hampered in that regard by the loss of Joey Scullion, who is still out with a hand injury sustained in a league match against Portaferry, while Jonny Campbell is recovering from hernia surgery.

"Johnny is out for eight weeks, Joey is out for 10, but we have a strong panel and we just have to draft a couple of boys in who will do the job for us on Sunday."

And despite his personal discomfort, he expects to take part in their preparations; "Come hell or high water I hope to be along the line, even if I have to be in the stand, at least."

Belfast Telegraph


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