Unfinished business driving another Slaughtneil charge says Brendan Rogers
THEY’VE achieved everything there is to achieve in Derry and Ulster, but when you ask Brendan Rogers if there is a sense of unfinished business about Slaughtneil, his face momentarily hardens.
Sunday saw the Emmet’s pick up their fourth straight county title, all of which have been added to by county hurling titles in the same year.
They are the reigning provincial champions in both codes, and camogie as well, but have lost two All-Ireland football finals in the last three years.
When those defeats are raised as being the reason behind their unending stream of trophies, the beaming smile that adorns it seemingly from dusk til dawn is replaced by a more solemn look: “Yes. The Corofin game was a day you don't want to remember and maybe it's a day we did reflect on to keep us grounded.
“We feel we let last year go by us and even in the Cuala [hurling] game, we didn't do ourselves justice.
“What happened with the football the first year, we want to right that wrong and prove we are not as bad a team as maybe it looked that day.
“We are not a poor hurling team, we are not a poor football team and just because we come from a small area doesn't mean we can't keep it going.
“That is where we aim to be all the time, trying to better ourselves and hopefully one day get up those Hogan steps.”
There is a long road ahead of them but on the evidence of their displays in Derry this year, it is one that they are once more equipped to go down.
Mickey Moran’s side were comfortable 10-point victors over Ballinascreen in Celtic Park at the weekend, having overcome neighbours Glen with an equal degree of comfort in the semi-final.
Their early round wins over Swatragh and Ballinderry were slightly more pressurised affairs but they have acquired a dominance of the Oak Leaf scene that no team has built in almost 60 years.
It has been a long run now though, with no break for the dual players since the start of the 2016 season almost 18 months ago.
The last time they went in to defend the Ulster title following their first success in 2014, they were ousted by Scotstown before recovering to reclaim it last autumn.
With a trip to Newry in three weeks’ time to face either the Kilcoo side they edged in last year’s decider, or an emerging Burren, will provide a stern challenge.
And that’s before you look at their hurlers having to meet Dunloy before that in their Ulster semi-final.
“You can never plan how fresh your legs are going to be in two or three games times because you don't know where you will be at.
“Hopefully we can try and mimic what we did last year. We weren't too bad at the end of it and had no real injuries so maybe if we continue a bit of form like that we could possibly go the whole way again.”
The freshness is one thing but there was a look about the Emmet’s that suggested a further step up in athleticism made since the All-Ireland final defeat by Dr Crokes back in March.
Their relentless wing-to-wing runs on kickouts and the constant bombing support runs from both their full- and half-back lines simply overwhelmed Ballinascreen, whose defence had been watertight in their run to the final.
“You can say you are born with natural athleticism and things like that but the boys definitely do the work. We don't have any mad regimes of running 20km every training session or anything but when you are there you make the most of it and do the work you are told to do.
“Even if it is a simple kicking drill, you make the effort. Even in training matches we try to make it as difficult as we can and i suppose that just carries on.
“If you putting in the hard work it will just keep building and building without you even realising and maybe we have got fitter without actually realising it because of the work we've done.
“You have to be at that level because teams are always progressing, always moving on. Look at Dublin, they are always progressing. You can never say, 'We are fit' and just leave it at that. You have to keeping building at it. You can never think you are fit enough.”