Slaughtneil begin Derry defence with bizarre win against Magherafelt

Slaughtneil's Shane McGuigan who notched five points in the Derry Champions' defeat of Magherafelt yesterday evening 
Cahair O'Kane at Owenbeg

O’Neills Derry SFC round one: Slaughtneil 0-10 Magherafelt 0-5

THEY came in their thousands, drawn in by the air of a potential upset, but they left with an imprint on their minds of one of the most bizarre incidents ever seen on a football pitch.

The final few minutes of the first half were played out in a stalemate, with Slaughtneil midfielder Padraig Cassidy walking back and forward across the pitch soloing the ball to himself.

He kept it for as long as two minutes as Magherafelt dropped their entire team back behind the halfway line and refused to come out. Slaughtneil, smartly, refused to get drawn in, and the result was the stand erupting in a cacophony of boos.

The Rossas came with a very definite gameplan and its success depends on how you choose to measure it. They were within touching distance until the final few minutes, and they made themselves hard to play against. But they scored just a single point from play and didn’t make anywhere near enough of both the wind in the first half, and the fact that they dominated on Slaughtneil’s kickouts.

They managed to frustrate the Emmet’s attack to a point but Brian Cassidy and Shane McGuigan, with a few cameos from Christopher Bradley and Sé McGuigan, had enough cut about them to keep the champions ticking over.

McGuigan was the chief torment over the 60 minutes, though it was Cassidy who made the most of his late inclusion early on. He hadn’t been due to start but a calf muscle injury suffered by Gerald Bradley in the warm-up meant a late change, and it was the spritely Cassidy who was the focal point in the first quarter.

Slaughtneil spent the first period playing into a gale, and occasional sheets of rain on top, but they looked wholly comfortable with the pattern of the game in that spell.

Francis McEldowney’s presence right in front of Emmett McGuckin was an unusual one for the winners, perhaps a bow to the suspicion that McKaigue carried a knock into the game and was doing the job normally earmarked for the injured Brendan Rogers.

As it happened, there wasn’t really any job to do. Magherafelt hardly kicked a single ball in their direction, opting for the patient approach. But their issue was that their running game hadn’t got enough zip about it, with only the boundless Fergal Duffin standing out.

He was a key figure in their domination of Slaughtneil’s restarts in the first half, on which they pushed up to great effect. The usual pop to the wings wasn’t on for Antoin McMullan, who was forced to kick 50-50 ball that Magherafelt broke and gobbled up.

But when they got the ball, they didn’t do anything with it.

The league game, by all reports, had followed a similar pattern and Slaughtneil were perhaps a shade more defensive than they’d normally be, knowing that if Magherafelt were going to mirror them, chances are that Slaughtneil would be better at it.

John Young put Magherafelt into the lead inside two minutes but they never scored again from play after it. The white shirts just held the centre of the goal and the Rossas seemed desperate to get their shooters on the ball, with other players repeatedly passing up openings to have a shot.

The underdogs led 0-3 to 0-2 after ten minutes, with Shane Heavron landing two frees after Brian Cassidy and Sé McGuigan had raised white flags from play into the wind.

Cassidy profited from good work from Conor McAllister, who had an excellent first half in deputising for Rogers, constantly taking up the invitation to drive into open space.

Shane McGuigan’s quick thinking allowed him to buy a few yards off a quickly taken free and his effort from 25 yards put Slaughtneil into a 0-4 to 0-3 half-time lead, but that really should have been cancelled out when Heavron blazed a 13-metre free wide from almost right in front of the posts.

That was the last action beyond Cassidy’s solo efforts, and it was notable how significant a chunk of the huge crowd had vacated Owenbeg by the midway point of the second half.

The first score of the second half highlighted the difference in the sides. Guiseppe Lupari was turned over 50 yards from the Slaughtneil goal and, spying the opportunity, they drilled the kick inside. Shane McGuigan came off it and kicked another one of his five for the night.

Heavron pulled it back to 0-5 to 0-4 with another free on 32 minutes, but Magherafelt didn’t score again until he dropped his fourth of the night over some 29 minutes later, with the game gone.

Christopher Bradley, who along with Cormac O’Doherty had been in America for a portion of the summer, dropped a big score before going off with a knock that had hampered him from the early moments.

At 0-7 to 0-4, Magherafelt had their one real chance. Conor McCluskey drifted in but pulled his shot, with Sé McGuigan getting a touch on a ball that might just have been going wide anyway.

Even a second yellow card for Padraig Cassidy made no impact on the game, and ironically it was only when goalkeeper Odhran Lynch decided to join the attack in stoppage time that Magherafelt threatened to spring something.

He helped create space to draw the free for their final score, and then was on the edge of the square when they finally turfed a ball in. It fell to McCluskey again, but his shot was smothered by McMullan and then poked clear to the sound of the final whistle.

All but a few minutes of the game will be forgotten by this time next week, but those minutes before half-time perhaps indicated for once and for all that it’s time for the game to change.

A McMullan; P McNeill, K McKaigue, C McAllister; F McEldowney, C McKaigue, K Feeney; Patsy Bradley, P Cassidy; R Bradley, Sé McGuigan (0-1), M McGrath; C Bradley (0-1), B Cassidy (0-2), Shane McGuigan (0-5, 0-2f)
Subs: C O’Doherty for C Bradley (42), B McGuigan for Cassidy (54), B McEldowney for R Bradley (58)
Black card replacement: P Kearney for Feeney (40)

Magherafelt: O Lynch; G Lupari, D O’Neill, M Kerr; C McCluskey, J Keenan, M McEvoy; J Monaghan, F Duffin; S McErlain, S Heavron (0-4f), J Young (0-1); A McElhone, E McGuckin, C Kearns
Subs: N Higgins for Lupari (45), C Murphy for Keenan (54)

Referee: D Harkin (Slaughtmanus)

Attendance: 4,941

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