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Ulster champions Slaughtneil dispose of St Kiernan's in London

 Slaughtneil’s Padraig Cassidy gets away from Liam O’Donoghue of St Kiernan’s during yesterday’s All-Ireland Club SFC quarter-final in Greenford
Cahair O'Kane in Greenford

Quarter-final: St Kiernan’s (London) 0-5 Robert Emmet’s, Slaughtneil (Derry) 2-11

A PITCH that stayed firm, a sky that stayed blue, a ball that stayed dry; this was everything but the typical December setting that would have suited an underdog like St Kiernan’s.

On a big day for London football, the gorgeous sun blazed down a less-agricultural-than-expected Greenford, where temporary fencing was installed to keep the crowd from edging on to the pitch.

There was still something innocent about it all, such as the mannerisms of the umpires at both ends, who didn’t bother with the exaggerated modern signals, favouring instead motions befitting 1960s club ground version.

The wide ball didn’t need the two arms to start above the head, for instance.

In the footballing sense, there was just nothing in the way of a leveller for the side from the English capital to park their hopes on.

When their impressive start provided just a single point from 12 minutes of domination, you could see the heart draining from them. And the legs were struggling by then. St Kiernan’s were a big physical side and presented the test to a few ribcages before it was over, with Shane McGuigan and Chrissy McKaigue both fouled repeatedly.

But they didn’t have the same level of athleticism Slaughtneil were able to boast. It was most magnificently displayed by Padraig Cassidy in setting up the Ulster champions’ first goal on 21 minutes.

Antoin McMullan – who took his run to 480 minutes without conceding a goal in this championship season – prodded the ball to his midfielder just inside the Slaughtneil 45. Cassidy carried the ball right through the heart of the home side’s defence before feeding Christopher Bradley, who coolly found the bottom corner with his left foot.

That made it 1-3 to 0-1 for Mickey Moran’s men. At that stage, it was a scoreline that flattered them. In a different era, St Kiernan’s might have troubled a visiting side properly.

They had a few lads that clearly knew their way around a size five, and their early willingness to kick the ball was promising. But they found the plan to be frustrated by Brendan Rogers and Paul McNeill in the Slaughtneil fullback line, while Karl McKaigue had their dangerman Adrian Moyles sewn up.

It took Slaughtneil a while to get their match-ups sorted and it almost cost them when pocket-rocket Keelan Feeney was isolated against the monstrous Tom Waters, who drifted to the far post looking for a long ball in.

He got it and, although Brendan Rogers got across to break the ball, it fell for Liam O’Donoghue.

It needed a brilliant hand in from Francis McEldowney to prevent the goal. That was in the early moments after Michael O’Donoghue had put St Kiernan’s ahead.

They held that 0-1 to no-core lead until the 12th minute, when Chrissy McKaigue took the ball at pace and fed Christopher Bradley to pop over from the right wing. Shane McGuigan kicked the Derry side into a lead that they were never to lose from a free after Patsy Bradley had been taken down by a high challenge.

By that stage, Chris Byrne’s side could find no way out. The Mayo man had highlighted the strength of Slaughtneil’s middle during the week and that was visible from a kick-out strategy that tried to use the wings.

Patsy Bradley read the plan and got involved in the aerial exchanges, while Padraig Cassidy was the primary thorn in the St Kiernan’s side throughout. The London champions won just two kick-outs in the first half, and just six in total.

They had a physicality throughout their side to be more unflinchingly direct than they were.

They wanted to kick but it was to smaller men in the corners. Slaughtneil did deal well with a couple of early testers towards the edge of the square but it was a tactic that might have brought more joy had they persisted.

Four minutes after the first goal, the game was effectively put to bed by Meehaul McGrath. He had a good first half and was loitering in front of Brendan Mulrooney when Karl McKaigue dropped an effort short from 25 yards.

McGrath got above the ’keeper to redirect the ball into the net.

Shane McGuigan and Cormac O’Doherty added scores before the break to make it 2-5 to 0-1 at the interval, with Slaughtneil having played against the breeze.

O’Doherty’s first half display was eye-catching as he continually offered the outlet for his side, who used him with the kick more than they have in other games. Everything stuck and the runners were coming past, which was the primary source of their scores as they built that match-winning lead.

The second period followed a similar pattern as the first, with a marginally more profitable start for St Kiernan’s quickly cancelled out when Slaughtneil clicked briefly into gear.

Good work by Teconnaught natives Mark Mulholland and Ciaran Carville drew early frees that Moyles – who was once on the books at Chelsea – converted from the ground.

But had to work so hard to earn those couple of scores and in the space of four minutes Slaughtneil hit four points to stretch the gap even wider.

Paul Bradley nailed a couple of superb long-range frees, and Shane McGuigan did likewise with one from the right wing, while Christopher Bradley also pointed to make it 2-9 to 0-3.

The cracks were widening for St Kiernan’s, whose discipline then started to waver.

Dara Quinn left a late hit on Paul McNeill that rightly earned him a black card 10 minutes into the second period, and they lost James Moran to a second booking in the closing moments.

By then Slaughtneil had run the bench, with Gerard Bradley getting some valuable gametime and veterans Padrig Kelly and Fergal McEldowney getting a run. Both had chances to widen the gap but the last five minutes were almost utterly free of incident.

Just the way Slaughtneil would have wanted it.

MATCH STATS
St Kiernan’s:
B Mulrooney; K Curran, I McGough, D Quinn; P Begley, S Curran, M Mulholland; J Moran, C Og Greene; T Waters, D Ryan, L O’Donoghue; A Moyles (0-3 frees), P Finn, M O’Donoghue (0-1) Subs: C Carville for Finn (25), T Moriarty for Ryan (25) Black card: D Quinn (40) replaced by J Kingston Yellow cards: D Ryan (2), K Curran (14), T Waters (22), J Moran (29, 50) Red card: J Moran (50)
Slaughtneil: A McMullan; Francis McEldowney, B Rogers, K McKaigue; P McNeill, C McKaigue, K Feeney; Patsy Bradley (0-1), P Cassidy; Shane McGuigan (0-4, 0-3 frees), Paul Bradley (0-3 frees), M McGrath (1-0); C Bradley (1-2), Sé McGuigan, C O’Doherty (0-1) Subs: G Bradley for Paul Bradley (52), S Cassidy for Patsy Bradley (52), P Kearney for Francis McEldowney (52), R Bradley for C Bradley (55), P Kelly for McGrath (55), Fergal McEldowney for O’Doherty (55) Yellow card: B Rogers (42)
Referee: R Hickey (Clare)

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