GAA Football

Slaughtneil run out of steam as Nemo Rangers reach All-Ireland club final

Luke Connolly celebrates scoring Nemo Rangers's goal Picture by Philip Walsh

AIB All-Ireland Club SFC semi-final: Nemo Rangers (Cork) 2-19 Slaughtneil (Derry) 1-14 (AET)

THERE comes a day when the well just runs dry on every team.

Slaughtneil looked like a side running on empty for a lot of Saturday’s enthralling All-Ireland semi-final, which saw Nemo Rangers qualify for their 12th decider and their first in a decade.

That Mickey Moran’s side summoned the strength to even get it to extra-time given the way the third quarter went on them was testament, but hindsight allows the knowledge that they had to win it in 60 minutes because they hadn’t another 20 in the tank.

The evidence is stark. For 30 minutes, Cormac O’Doherty gave Aidan O’Reilly the complete runaround. Won every ball. It looked certain that Slaughtneil would get a goal off his unselfishness at some point.

But as the game wore on, O'Reilly came stronger and stronger, driving Nemo forward.

It was seldom we saw Brendan Rogers or Chrissy McKaigue or Keelan Feeney break a tackle and find open road. Padraig Cassidy did more of it but too often in the wrong areas, too close to his own goal.

That was all testament to the incredible high-pressing workrate of the Munster champions. It was hard to envisage any team fronting right up to Slaughtneil and enjoying such success.

The lack of spring in the Emmet’s legs was perhaps something of a leveller but that takes nothing from Larry Kavanagh’s side. The sight of Patsy Bradley being hounded into overcarrying by three men 30 yards from his own goal at the end of the first period of extra-time summed up the Cork side’s thirst for work.

A big slice of the problem for Slaughtneil was that they didn’t make the most of their obvious superiority in the first half.

Nemo didn’t score until the 20th minute, shortly after Francis McEldowney had gone through on goal but cut into traffic instead of the open space. When the ball fell loose, Shane McGuigan completely missed his kick.

Christopher Bradley, who had a magnificent game, was a little wild when he found space in on goal, lashing high over the bar with his left foot. And just before half-time, Meehaul McGrath looked to have breached the gap only to be harshly pinged for charging.

You sensed the goal would come eventually and that, when it did, that would be the end of that. Mickey Moran’s men ended the first period 0-7 to 0-4 in front and while they were fairly economical in terms of their point-scoring chances, it wasn’t a margin that reflected the game’s pattern.

The Slaughtneil defence was winning five of the six individual battles at that end, and it was hard to see where the turnaround was coming from.

One sign was in their creation of three half goal chances, which were spurned by last-ditch tackles from McGrath and McEldowney, and a much-needed foul by Padraig Cassidy that went unpunished by Maurice Deegan.

Nemo’s shot selection was rash and it was only the calming head of Tomás Ó Sé that helped stem the flow.

He barely touched the ball half a dozen times in the first half and yet every time he did, something came off it. His craft to find space and then throw Shane McGuigan a dummy before fisting over to make it 0-4 to 0-3 was the first reminder of the Kerry man’s class.

Slaughtneil responded with three scores on the bounce, two from ‘Sammy’ Bradley and the third from Brian Cassidy, who acquitted himself well in place of Sé McGuigan.

Bradley’s early second half free made it 0-8 to 0-4 but in the next nine minutes, the whole game and the All-Ireland series itself would be spun on its head.

Conor Horgan, Tomás Ó Sé, Barry O’Driscoll, Paul Kerrigan and Jack Horgan all pointed in a sensational spell by Nemo that left them a point up.

And then Ó Sé broke forward again to feed Conor Horgan. When his shot fell short, Luke Connolly managed to spoon it into the air for himself and meet it on the volley to strike only a second goal against Slaughtneil in 11 Ulster and All-Ireland games.

Christopher Bradley settled Slaughtneil down with a superb free that drew a huge roar from a now nervous Derry contingent. And his influence grew, racing back to stop a certain Nemo goal with an interception on his own 13’ before popping up 90 seconds later to cut the arrears back to two.

Sé McGuigan sent a shot into the sky on 49 minutes and when Michéal Martin punched the ball square at Shane McGuigan, it fell for O’Doherty to swivel and volley Slaughtneil 1-10 to 1-9 ahead.

Nemo’s gander was up too and two frees from O’Driscoll – who grew into the game once Francis McEldowney went off – put them straight back in front. From there it was incredibly tense. Sé McGuigan fisted Slaughtneil level with a minute to go and O’Doherty had a chance to put them ahead but dropped it short.

The seven-times champions countered the length of the field and sub Jack Donovan put them ahead with his first touch. There looked no way back for Slaughtneil but Patsy Bradley showing for a short free out of corner-forward allowed them to build a chance to win a closer free. Karl McKaigue was fouled and Christopher Bradley held his nerve with the last kick of normal time.

Nemo’s heads were down as they headed for the changing room only to be called by the referee, but as it turned out, they had the legs. They had persistently pressed Slaughtneil everywhere and forced a deconstruction of the Emmet’s kickout that no team has been able to do in recent years.

Luke Connolly, who had gotten better as it went on, hit the first two scores and when Barry O’Driscoll scored off an intercepted restart, the three-point gap looked far bigger than the four Slaughtneil had faced in normal time.

They got very ragged and the tiredness was cruelly obvious as Nemo added four more unanswered points before half-time to lead by 1-19 to 1-12.

Somehow Slaughtneil mustered the energy to dominate the second period and cause problems with a more direct approach towards Sé McGuigan, who had initially come on at wing-forward.

But all they could manage was two frees from Bradley and they ended up outscored again when Nemo broke at the last to walk in a second goal for Connolly that wrote the final act of a mesmerising script.

And while there will be more chapters for Slaughtneil, it looks like the end of the Mickey Moran era. It has been an extraordinary four years, but a very tiring four years for all.

The well was simply dry.

: A McMullan; P McNeill, B Rogers, K McKaigue; F McEldowney, C McKaigue, K Feeney; Patsy Bradley, P Cassidy; Shane McGuigan (0-2), R Bradley, M McGrath; C Bradley (0-8, 0-5f), C O’Doherty (1-0), B Cassidy (0-2)

Subs: B McGuigan for F McEldowney (46), Sé McGuigan (0-1) for McGrath (48), G Bradley for R Bradley (65), C McAllister for Feeney (69), P McGuigan for O’Doherty (70)

Yellow cards: M McGrath (37), F McEldowney (44)

Nemo Rangers: M Martin; K O’Donovan, A O’Reilly, A Cronin; T Ó Sé (0-2), S Cronin (0-1), K Fulignati; A O’Donovan, J Horgan (0-1); B O’Driscoll (0-5, 0-4f), P Kerrigan (0-3), C O’Brien; L Connolly (2-5, 0-3f), P Gumley, C Dalton

Subs: C Horgan (0-1) for Gumley (21), J Donovan for J Horgan (58), M Dorgan for O’Brien (60), C Kiely for Dalton (77), R Donovan for Martin (77), A Greaney for Connolly (80)

Yellow cards: A Cronin (42), K O’Donovan (43), L Connolly (54), A O’Donovan (60), M Dorgan (68)

Referee: M Deegan (Laois)

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