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Slaughtneil's history-makers are inspired by a proud sense of community, says McGuigan

 

By Declan Bogue

At eight years of age, Shane McGuigan watched Slaughtneil win their very first Derry Championship. In 2014, he was the waterboy as the present crop began their run of success.

Now, at 21, he has three Derry and two Ulster titles to his name. And moreover, he was a critical part of the team that successfully completed a double-treble of provincial titles for his club - his 1-6 in Sunday's final victory over Cavan Gaels earning him the Man of the Match award and completing the clean sweep of camogie, hurling and football Ulster titles for the Robert Emmets for the second successive year.

Yet he wears the pressure of the task lightly when asked if the 'double-treble' had put this group under undue pressure in the weeks leading up to this point.

"It didn't to be honest," the dual player smiles. "Everyone said to us last year three provincial titles would never be done again. We knew we had a special group of players and that it could be done. Thankfully we got over the line there."

McGuigan echoed the sentiments of other Slaughtneil players when he dedicated the win to the special south Derry community they hail from.

"You play there for your family, your friends and the community," he said. "The work they have put in, not just for the likes of me, for the younger teams, everything in the club.

"When there are changing rooms that need opened at 7 o'clock at night, showers that need turned on, pitches are kept well, it's all we can do."

The defending champions had played all the football in the first half but still somehow Cavan remained on their tails.

After a prolonged half-time break - with referee Ciaran Branagan having to march down the tunnel to blow his whistle to get them with the Gaels already on the pitch for a good five minutes - they came out with a blistering start, racking up 1-3 without reply in eight minutes.

The goal was the last of those scores, resulting from a counter-attack led by Brendan Rogers, assisted by a lung-busting run from Padraig Cassidy, who played McGuigan in to finish.

Although he is just 21, he had the maturity to attempt to re-create the goal he set up for Christopher Bradley in the semi-final against Kilcar by squaring the ball across the goal.

"Paidi Tad (Cassidy) had made a 30-yard burst to take it off the shoulder and then I went off his shoulder," he recalled. "It was in my mind to pass it across and the 'keeper stood up well. I could just see the 'keeper was going to one side and then I hit it."

Perhaps because of the ease of the win, there was no outpouring of joy as there was after the 2014 final, or last year. When the team bus stopped at the Moy on their way home, they joined with the victorious Ulster Intermediate winners for a short time in a rare display of Derry-Tyrone kinship.

But already McGuigan and his team mates are looking further down the road and avenging the All-Ireland final defeat to Dr Crokes last March. They now meet Nemo Rangers of Cork, seven-times All-Ireland champions, and conquerors of Crokes in Sunday's Munster final.

"We have set the standard for ourselves now," added McGuigan. "We know Nemo are our opponents in the next game. We will take them seriously.

"They'll probably go into the game as favourites. They took out the reigning All-Ireland champions and we know we have a big game ahead of us. We'll analyse them well, go back to the drawing board."

Quizzed whether there was some relief that Crokes were out, he continued: "Nemo have some tradition behind them too. They're an exceptional team and we won't be taking them lightly. We'll give it a rattle and hopefully get over the line."

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