No stopping Slaughtneil as they defeat tough Kilcoo to complete Ulster Club Senior treble

From Neil Loughran at The Athletic Grounds

AIB Ulster Club Senior Football Championship final: Eoghan Rua, Kilcoo (Down) 0-9 Robert Emmet’s, Slaughtneil (Derry) 0-12

IT was always going to take something special to top 2014 for Slaughtneil. Winning a first county title in a decade, conquering Ulster and going all the way to an All-Ireland final - most clubs would dine out on that for years.

But then, as they have proved time and time again, Slaughtneil are not most clubs.

Remember that first Derry championship in a decade? They’ve since added two more to complete the hat-trick.

Slaughtneil’s hurlers, many of whom also play football, are undisputed county kingpins after racking up four in-a-row. Last month they made the historic breakthrough at provincial level, as did the camogs a week later.

It has been an era of unprecented success.

Any kids born in the parish around the turn of the decade must believe winning is just what Slaughtneil do. Yet for the older generations, the wonder of watching as maroon-clad men and women hoisting trophies aloft will never lose its appeal.

Completing the clean sweep of Ulster titles yesterday was far from a fait accompli, however. Kilcoo had their eyes fixed firmly on creating a little bit of history of their own by bringing the Seamus McFerran Cup back to the village for the first time.

And boy did they mean business. The Magpies tackled like dogs, they chased until they could chase no more.

But it wasn’t enough to stop Slaughtneil’s code crackers winning a second Ulster football title in three years after an absorbing final at Armagh’s Athletic Grounds.

Despite always being in the game, Kilcoo never held the lead, and may look back ruefully on some wayward shooting at crucial moments.

Fittingly for Slaughtneil, three was the difference in the end in a year when that particular number crops up time and time again.

They had inspirational performances from the likes of Karl McKaigue and Shane McGuigan, while 22-year-old Brendan Rogers – wearing number three - stood head and shoulders above all else, delivering a display of poise, pace and power that belied his tender years.

Slaughtneil came quickly out of the blocks, storming into a 0-3 to 0-1 lead thanks to points from Shane McGuigan and Paul Bradley, but it was Kilcoo who were slowly but surely setting the tone in the early stages.

As the Emmet’s hurlers had done on their own day of destiny against Loughgiel at the same venue back on October 23, the Magpies tackled with intent and hunted down Slaughtneil’s danger men in packs.

Young guns Ceilum Doherty and Ryan Johnston produced terrific scores to draw them level at 0-3 each, only for Rogers to bound forward – leaving Paul Devlin in his wake – before cutting back onto his left and slotting over.

The normally reliable Devlin had a rare off day, kicking two frees into Antoin McMullan’s hands and another wide as the Down champions took the game to their opponents.

A Darragh O’Hanlon free brought Kilcoo level but again it was Rogers who carried the fight in brutish fashion, storming down the right before fisting over.

Daryll Branagan tied it up at five apiece, but that was to be Kilcoo’s final score of the half.

In the final five minutes, Slaughtneil did their best impression of a wily veteran boxer coming on strong towards the end of a round to impress the judges and knock the stuffing out of their opponents.

Christopher Bradley fired over from distance after watching in horror as his 45 bounced back off Aidan Branagan 20 yards in front of him, before Chrissy McKaigue strode forward to fist over.

Shane McGuigan bagged another point when a goal was on, before Cormac O’Doherty completed the scoring, profiting from a poor Niall Kane kick-out to send Slaughtneil in 0-9 to 0-5 at the break.

Slaughtneil celebrate their Ulster SFC final win over Kilcoo on Sunday
Picture by Philip Walsh  

Anybody who was thinking Kilcoo’s goose was cooked after that late rally clearly know nothing about the club or the men who represent it. The Magpies are made of stern stuff, and roared back in the second half, scoring the first three points inside the opening seven minutes to reduce the deficit to the minimum.

Doherty, an O’Hanlon free and a well-worked Martin Devlin score did the damage as the momentum looked to have swung towards the Down men.

Slaughtneil, though, were in mood to allow Kilcoo a foothold.

Shane McGuigan grabbed their first point of the half 19 minutes after they had left the changing rooms. The cheer that went up from the crowd told you this was a turning point in an already topsy-turvy game.

As the clock ticked down heading in the final 10 minutes, holding on to the most slender of leads, lesser teams would have lost their heads trying to hold on. Not Slaughtneil.

They just recycled the ball - pass, move, pass move, repeat to fade until an opportunity arose, such as Shane McGuigan’s free which made it 0-11 to 0-9 with seven minutes on the clock.

Kilcoo boss Paul McIver 

Despite dominating possession during this period, Kilcoo still posed a threat and the Emmet’s were indebted to Antoin McMullan as he pulled off a vital save in the 57th minute, the Slaughtneil custodian diving low to his left to keep out Eugene Branagan’s goalbound effort.

From this point, there was no looking back. Neutrals’ hopes for a blood and thunder finish were misplaced as Slaughtneil used all their know-how to snuffed the life out of the game in the dying moments.

When the ball left Paul Bradley’s boot in the 64th minute, up went the roar from the Slaughtneil support. They knew it was over. That Bradley’s free from way out on the left drifted over the bar was almost an irrelevance, the party had already begun.

Three senior teams in Ulster, three titles – no other club has ever come close to such an achievement.

2014 was one to remember alright, but 2016 is going to take some serious beating.

Kilcoo: N Kane; E Branagan, D O’Hanlon (0-2, frees), N Branagan; D Branagan (0-1), Aidan Branagan, Aaron Branagan; J McClean, JJ McLoughlin; C Doherty (0-3), A Morgan, R Johnston (0-2); M Devlin, P Devlin (0-1, free), C Laverty. Subs: D Kane for JJ McLoughlin (46), D Ward for P Devlin (50), D McEvoy for M Devlin (57), N McEvoy for Aidan Branagan (61)

Black card: J McClean replaced by F McGreevy (40)

Yellow cards: Aaron Branagan (11), JJ  McLoughlin (27), D Branagan (52)

Slaughtneil: A McMullan; F McEldowney, B Rogers (0-2), K McKaigue; P McNeill, C McKaigue (0-1), K Feeney; Patsy Bradley, P Cassidy; Shane McGuigan (0-5, 0-2 frees), Paul Bradley (0-2, frees), M McGrath; C Bradley (0-1), Se McGuigan, C O’Doherty (0-1). Subs: R Bradley for M McGrath (40), G Bradley for S McGuigan (46), B Cassidy for C O’Doherty (57)

Yellow card: R Bradley (42), K Feeney (61)

Ref: S Hurson (Tyrone)

Att: 9,125

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