Slaughtneil beat Ballinascreen to win fourth consecutive Derry SFC title

Slaughtneil celebrate four title in-a-row after beating Ballinascreen at Celtic Park on Sunday Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
From Cahair O'Kane at Celtic Park

M&L Contracts Derry SFC final: Slaughtneil 4-12 Ballinascreen 1-11

FOR many years, Slaughtneil were burdened by history. First they were unable to win just once and then when they broke that barrier, they spent a decade as The Nearly Men.

Prior to 2014, they referred to the duck-breaking 2004 team as their ‘golden generation’. They won one and might have won more, but it seemed that the veterans of that side would all finish with a solitary county medal.

Now Patsy Bradley, Francis McEldowney, Paul Bradley and Barry McGuigan all have five each. A litany of others have four. The jingle of medals in the pocket they’ve talked about in Ballinderry and Bellaghy can now be heard loud and clear down on Ranaghan Road.

Yesterday felt like a zenith afternoon. Even after all they’ve achieved, some in Derry still don’t put Slaughtneil in the bracket of a great team. Surely any dispute that might have lingered was finally put to sleep.

“I think people have to give us credit now. Four-in-a-row, it speaks for itself. Nobody can take that away from us,” said Emmet’s assistant manager John Joe Kearney.

Ballinascreen were a game opponent, a side that despite the wider margin arguably played better yesterday than they had when they came up against Ballinderry in their previous decider in 2013.

The one thing they couldn’t afford to do was concede goals, but having been watertight all summer, they leaked two in each half.

The first of them from Chrissy McKaigue compounded a brilliant start from the reigning Ulster champions. 

They hit four unanswered points in the opening five minutes, the fourth of them a masterful Christopher Bradley effort.

Shane Mulgrew and Ronan Murphy – a natural defender who played centre-forward to try and limit McKaigue’s influence – brought the ’Screen response before they were hit with a goal that summed up Slaughtneil’s display.

With Carlus McWilliams operating higher up the park than expected, Slaughtneil had space in behind the opposition half-back to exploit, and how they exploited it.

Brendan Rogers steamed through and squared for McKaigue to cruise past Niall McGlade and hammer into the net from two yards.

The response from Liam Donnelly’s side was most creditable, though. Philip Bradley hit a superb score that was bettered by Brendan Herron, who was comfortably his side’s best player on the day.

The former Lamh Dhearg man led a response that saw the underdogs cut the gap right back to two points at 1-4 to 0-5. But after ‘Sammy’ Bradley landed a second score, the second Slaughtneil goal was a hammer blow.

Ballinascreen had won all of their own kick-outs before Paul McNeill picked off McGlade’s 22nd minute effort. McKaigue was steaming in support again and squared for Shane McGuigan, who coolly slipped on to his left and almost tore a hole in the top corner at the Brandywell End.

He finished with 2-4 in a man-of-the-match display, edging the award ahead of Christopher Bradley.

The latter hit another masterful effort over his shoulder and just like that, it was 2-6 to 0-5. There is perhaps no club team in Ireland better at protecting a lead, and Ballinascreen found that out between there and the end.

Brendan Herron and Benny Heron, who had a battle with county team-mate Brendan Rogers that was worth paying in for on its own, clipped points but Shane McGuigan and Meehaul McGrath hit straight back to leave it 2-8 to 0-7 at the break.

That gap might have been cut, though, had referee Dan Mullan awarded what looked like a clear penalty to ’Screen. Anton Kelly, normally a midfielder but placed at full-forward, was clambered over by Patsy Bradley as the ball came in, with neither man getting any kind of a touch. Kelly’s honesty in staying on his feet perhaps counted against him.

“I thought we got some raw decisions in the first half,” said Ballinascreen boss Liam Donnelly, who paid tribute to the winners.

“Big Anton Kelly should have had a penalty just before half-time, Patsy Bradley came out over his back, but we weren’t getting those calls. 

“If somebody ploughs into the middle of your back, anywhere else on the field it’s a free. We were very disappointed in some of the calls we didn’t get, but that’s the way it goes.”

Had they got it and the second half had started as it did, then it wouldn’t have mattered too much. Within 40 seconds Shane McGuigan was working the umpires again and from the kick-out – another rare poach by the Emmet’s – Christopher Bradley threaded through for the marauding Keelan Feeney to drive low through McGlade’s legs.

At 3-9 to 0-7, it really was over. ’Screen did get a penalty when Mickey McBride, who proved a handful at full-forward after coming on, was fouled by Francis McEldowney. But Benny Heron, who missed two spot kicks in the 2013 decider, was denied by a superb save from Antóin McMullan.

They got their goal on 39 minutes when McBride again won a long ball and squared for Anton Kelly to palm home, but within seconds the ball was in the Ballinascreen goal.

Cormac O’Doherty played the Andy Moran role to perfection all day, winning ball and popping it off to runners. On this occasion, he foraged for a bouncing ball in the ’Screen defence and got it to Sé McGuigan, who squared for his cousin Shane to drive home the final stake in the 40th minute.

The game petered out completely from there, with Philip Bradley sent off for a second booking at the death. Slaughtneil were handed a chance for a fifth goal in stoppage time when the superb Christopher Bradley was fouled, but his low penalty was also saved by McGlade.

It was the most minor of mercies offered by an otherwise ruthless winning machine, but one that will find out a bit more about itself in Newry in three weeks.

Slaughtneil: A McMullan; P McNeill, B Rogers, K McKaigue; F McEldowney, C McKaigue (1-0), K Feeney (1-0); Patsy Bradley, P Cassidy (0-1); Shane McGuigan (2-4, 0-1 free), Paul Bradley (0-1f), M McGrath (0-1); C O’Doherty, Sé McGuigan (0-1), C Bradley (0-3)

Subs: R Bradley (0-1) for O’Doherty (50), B McGuigan for McEldowney (53), P McGuigan for Patsy Bradley (54)

Yellow cards: B McGuigan (56), Shane McGuigan (56)

Ballinascreen: N McGlade; P McGlade, D McBride, E Gilmore; K Conway, M McShane, P Bradley (0-1); P Burns, A Kelly (1-0); C McWilliams, S Mulgrew (0-4 free), B Herron (0-2); B Heron (0-1), R Murphy (0-1), B Grant (0-1)

Subs: M McBride for Burns (26), M Bradley for Gilmore (26), G Conway for Murphy (50), JP Devlin for Kelly (54)

Yellow cards: D McBride (10), P Bradley (43 & 59), B Herron (49), K Conway (49)

Red card: P Bradley (59, second yellow)

Referee: D Mullan (Glenullin)

Attendance: 4,029


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