Slaughtneil beat Cavan Gaels 1-15 to 0-10 in Ulster Club Senior Football Championship
Perhaps a team can become blasé at winning things, but the lack of sheer jumping up and down excitement from the Slaughtneil players after they captured an implausible, tantalising, impossible ‘double-treble’, is a sure sign that they have an All-Ireland title in their sights.
The camogie contingent now have serious company as they wait for their All-Ireland semi-final in the last Saturday in January, and one can only imagine the additional workload of groundskeepers as they prepare an assault on All-Ireland titles across three codes.
If this was another step along the way, it was negotiated with the minimum of fuss. Cavan Gaels manager Jason O’Reilly had made plans to stop the reigning Ulster champions from building from the back and had detailed markers for Chrissy and Karl McKaigue, along with Brendan Rogers, but that trio proved the launchpad for everything exciting about this performance.
And it’s hard to beat a team that is simply so economical as Slaughtneil. In the Ulster semi-final, they hit only two wides against Kilcar on a windy night.
Here, they had 25 shots and scored 1-15. Cavan had 22 attempts and managed 0-10. They demonstrate the depth and clarity of the work that Mickey Moran has put in with this group.
An argument could have been made that Slaughtneil were vulnerable coming into this. Meehaul McGrath, Cormac O’Doherty and Paul Bradley are all nailed-on starters, all out through injury. When you reach into their reserves, for various reasons they were without the likes of Sean Cassidy and Conor McAlister.
And yet, Brian Cassidy made his first-ever senior football Championship start and weighed in with two points from play. Gerard Bradley returned to offer athleticism. Even Peader Kearney, whose last senior football game was in this fixture three seasons back, got his first minutes on the pitch since that.
They are a most wonderfully-balanced panel of footballers, who have put the finishing touches to what must rank - without a trace of hyperbole either - as one of the finest achievements in the history of the Association.
Cavan came with a plan, pushing up wing-back Levi Murphy to man-mark Chrissy McKaigue for example one of a number of tactical ploys, but nothing came off for them.
Once Brendan Rogers revved that enormous engine of his in the fifth minute, taking on Paul O’Connor and travelling 80 yards upfield only for Sé McGuigan to kick wide, the template was set. This is Gaelic football’s equivalent to playing out from the back - utterly fearless and trusting in your skills.
They quickly settled into a rhythm, Patsy Bradley turning over Robert Maloney-Derham and ending in a Ronan Bradley point for their third score of the afternoon, just prior to Padraig Cassidy streaking through and botching a decent goal chance on the quarter mark.
They were to add four more points to head in three points clear at half-time, with Cavan Gaels rueing the chance they had when Seanie Johnston’s tenth minute free fell short to Paul O’Connor and despite cutting across goal to give himself a better angle, has his shot foiled by Slaughtneil goalkeeper Antoin McMullan.
A trio of points followed after the break, but eight minutes into it came the hammer blow that just made the gap too big for Cavan Gaels, making their first appearance at this stage since 1977.
A Martin Dunne ball towards Paul O’Connor was prevented by Patsy Bradley and Rogers built the attack, sprinting deep into the Gaels’ defence, feeding Padraig Cassidy whose quick hands put Shane McGuigan through. The 20-year-old buried his close-range shot under Gaels’ goalkeeper Ciaran Flynn.
Nine points up. Game over.
Belfast Telegraph Digital