Slaughtneil set sights on All-Ireland after completing double treble
Ulster Club SFC Final: Robert Emmet's, Slaughtneil (Derry) 1-15 Cavan Gaels 0-10
Kenny Archer at the Athletic Grounds
ANOTHER treble completed, another treble in their sights – but with a twist. Slaughtneil had plenty of supporters on the pitch afterwards but the celebrations were mostly muted and it's clear that the team's sights are set higher than provincial glory too.
Having lost two of the last three All-Ireland Finals, the Emmet's will aim to get back to the big stage again, but this time to take the Andy Merrigan Cup back to Carntogher.
Their conquerors earlier this year, Dr Croke's of Killarney are gone, Cork's Nemo Rangers beating them in the Munster decider yesterday to set up a semi-final clash with Slaughtneil.
There was never really any doubt that the reigning Derry and Ulster champs would be in the All-Ireland last four, though, especially after their stunning start to the second half.
Another treble element was involved, trebling their half-time lead of three points (0-7 to 0-4) inside seven minutes to pull comfortably clear.
Star man Shane McGuigan bagged the only goal of the game in that spell of 1-3, capping off their scoring surge in the 37th minute by completing a classic counter-attack.
The number 11 calmly poked the ball low to the net after forward bursts from full-back Brendan Rogers and midfielder Padraig Cassidy had sent him in on goal.
Cavan Gaels acquitted themselves fairly well in their club's first provincial final for 40 years, the first for their county since 1995, but it was clear that Slaughtneil were the superior side.
The Gaels did reel off four points in a row after the goal, and might have made it a four-point game as it entered the final quarter but their half-time substitute Declan Meehan spurned a great chance, shooting short.
From then on, Slaughtneil took a tight grip of the game, only allowing their opponents one more score before the match entered added time, while adding four more themselves.
Even when Martin Dunne did register his fourth point on the hour, Slaughtneil responded in typical fashion, with a score of their own, Christopher 'Sammy' Bradley giving them the final say on the scoreboard.
One scenario summed up Slaughtneil's confidence and composure. Even when they lost former skipper Frank McEldowney to a black card in the 51st minute, there was no panic about being a man down, even though they tend to mark man-to-man, and 'Frank Twin' had been sticking to Cavan Gaels captain and playmaker Micheal Lyng.
Instead, they hand-passed the ball around, sitting on their six-point lead at that stage, and Peadar Kearney only got on the pitch three minutes later.
It was clear from before throw-in that exceptional things would have to happen if Cavan Gaels were to win – and some did.
Strange things were afoot, with Slaughtneil kicking as many wides in the opening 10 minutes as they did in their entire semi-final against Kilcar – and then some more.
The champs seemed able to cut open their challengers at will, but were wasteful for a while when they got a sight of the posts or the nets, with early efforts off target from 'Sammy' Bradley and Se McGuigan.
Significantly, though, the Gaels were profligate too, spurning the game's first real goal opportunity – a defensive fumble when Seanie Johnston's free fell short handed Paul O'Connor a sight of goal but the man who netted thrice in the replay against Derrygonnelly saw his low shot superbly saved by goalkeeper Antoin McMullan. Dunne converted the subsequent '45' but a goal would have put the Gaels ahead and really got their tails up.
Instead, Slaughtneil skipper Patsy Bradley physically drove his side on, with a big hit around halfway, but his midfield partner Padraig Cassidy dragged a shot wide after his own powerful run.
On the quarter hour, Cassidy turned provider, finding Gerald Bradley to flick on to Ronan Bradley but he shot wide with most of the goal to aim for.
Still, Slaughtneil pulled clear, with Shane McGuigan especially effective, first from frees, then from open play, as he personally opened up a five-point lead, 0-6 to 0-1.
Cavan Gaels couldn't score in either way, nor even come particularly close, with shots falling short and their first wide only coming in the 24th minute.
It looked like the 'no contest' some had suggested might materialise but the Cavan men had other ideas, especially their forwards with county experience.
Johnston – with another notable moment, a left-footed free - and Dunne helped them reduce the deficit to a surprisingly low three by the break. The latter got their first point from play just before the half-hour mark, wing-back Stephen Murray notching in similar fashion a minute later – but, as they usually do, Slaughtneil had scored in between, through Se McGuigan.
Even so, Mickey Moran and John Joe Kearney would not have been happy with that half-time scoreline. The south Derry men took their time coming out for the second half, but whatever was said was worth it and clearly well heeded.
Chrissy McKaigue, who'd spent plenty of the first period in the opposition half, sprinted through to score, then young Brian Cassidy added a nice point in the very same minute.
Patsy Bradley then won the kick-out and although Shane McGuigan's shot was blocked, Ronan Bradley's follow-up went over the bar.
Bish bash bosh – and then came the killer blow, the goal, one that summed up Slaughtneil.
The Gaels had moved O'Connor to midfield but he pushed up, trying to turn in a cross-field kick at the back post, but Patsy Bradley was there to hold him off.
Rogers raced clear with the ball, transferred it on to Padraig Cassidy, and he supplied Shane McGuigan to carry possession on before coolly beating Ciaran Flynn at his near post.
From then on it really was a matter of seeing out the game, even after that brief flurry of scores from the Gaels.
Despite missing three probable starting forwards – Cormac O'Doherty, Meehaul McGrath, and Paul Bradley – Slaughtneil somehow, in their unfussy way, broke another record, with the most scores ever (16) in an Ulster Club SFC win in normal time.
Indeed their tally of 18 has only been equalled once in a northern provincial decider, by Crossmaglen, when the Rangers beat Kilcoo by 3-9 to 1-9 five years ago.
Slaughtneil haven't come close to matching Cross' yet, but they certainly merit great praise.
There may have been a few doubles and trebles sunk around Slaughtneil last night (with the exception of most of their players) to mark the Ulster 'double treble' in camogie, hurling, and now football.
Now for an All-Ireland…
Slaughtneil: A McMullan; P McNeill, B Rogers, K McKaigue; F McEldowney, C McKaigue (0-1), K Feeney; Patsy Bradley (capt.), P Cassidy; R Bradley (0-2), Shane McGuigan (1-6, 0-2 frees), G Bradley; C Bradley (0-3, 0-1 free), Se McGuigan (0-1), B Cassidy (0-2).
Substitutes: B McGuigan for G Bradley (49); P Kearney for McEldowney (black card, 54); P McGuigan for R Bradley (56).
Black card: McEldowney (51).
Yellow cards: Shane McGuigan (39); B McGuigan (52).
Cavan Gaels: C Flynn; L Fortune, N Murray (0-1), K Meehan; S Murray (0-1), B Fortune, D Sexton; P Graham, R Maloney Derham; N Smith (0-1), M Lyng (capt.), L Murphy; P O'Connor, S Johnston (0-3 frees), M Dunne (0-4, 0-1 '45').
Substitute: D Meehan for Graham (h-t).
Yellow cards: Murray (18); Sexton (21); B Fortune (52).
Referee: Ciaran Branagan (Down).