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Slaughtneil's success is built on a culture of ambition

Gaelic games

By Declan Bogue

The only home-grown manager involved in this weekend's Ulster senior semi-finals, Slaughtneil's John Joe Kearney, has backed Chrissy McKaigue's assertion that the Derry club's astonishing success is player-driven.

Kearney is co-manager alongside Mickey Moran, and they face Killyclogher in tomorrow's clash at the Athletic Grounds, two weeks after the club's hurlers became the first Derry side to win the Ulster title at the same venue.

After that historic triumph, McKaigue said that the culture within the club is one of ultimate ambition from the players, facilitated by management.

Kearney expanded on that, saying: "That's how it is working around Slaughtneil anyway. There are a group of boys who are driven. They are focused on what they are doing.

"We have in-house discussions where the floor is open to players. It will be hosted by management but we will listen to the players. They both work together. It is not the closed shop of the management telling the players what to do and that's it. It is very much player-driven."

Few management teams would be comfortable saying such things, feeling it might relinquish control of the group, but such are the levels of harmony around Carntogher, that Kearney wholeheartedly agrees.

He continued: "Chrissy thinks like a professional. He is an authority and he takes everything very serious.

"He and Karl would be the first two men there, even on a night that they would not be training with the footballers, if they have a night off because it is a hurling week they would be at the field to see what is going on anyway.

"But all the players are like that.

"Football-wise and hurling-wise we are lucky we have a young group. Our average age of the starting fifteen in championship games is 24 years of age. There are two or three lads who have only come out of minor football last year."

He added: "It's a young side. On the bench, there are another dozen players who are not far off the mark, pushing hard for a place and would have no problem with it if you had an injury or a black card, to put somebody straight in.

"The last number of weeks we have been playing in-house games, A versus B teams, and the B teams were giving just as good as they were getting."

When they look at Sunday's opposition, they now Killyclogher will have the goods on them. One of their backroom team, John McElholm, spent a couple of years as Slaughtneil manager, while Killyclogher player Eoghan Bradley spent two seasons as strength and conditioning coach to the Emmets.

"Ulster football is a small world," acknowledges Kearney, "and now you have the advantage of having DVDs. It's not hard to check up on how teams perform and what way they are setting up.

"I'm sure we have looked at them the same way Killyclogher have looked at us. Eoghan Bradley was with us for a period of time. Teams look at a lot of DVDs now, to do their best to combat certain players."

When Kearney was coming through the ranks, he played on an amalgamation side with Swatragh at minor level - called after the parish name of Granahans - as both clubs were struggling for numbers.

Now, they stand two games away from a clean sweep of provincial wins in football, hurling and camogie. It is a magnificent feat for such a small, dual-code community.

"In some respects, that should be an incentive to the lads," he added.

"They could be making history in the whole of Ireland, to win at three codes in the one year. That has never been done."

  • Slaughtneil v Killyclogher, Ulster Club SFC semi-final: Athletic Grounds, Sunday, 2.30 pm

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