'We know how people perceive us' - Magherafelt assistant Paul Quinn on trying to dethrone Slaughtneil
TO this day it remains the nearest miss that anyone’s had on Slaughtneil in their four-in-a-row journey in Derry.
It’s going back three years almost to the day. Magherafelt had them on the ropes, a point up in injury-time when Fergal Duffin went through on goal. He went low and was denied by Antoin McMullan.
Slaughtneil came down and equalised but even still there was another chance. Emmett McGuckin, with a man square, went to fist the winner only to put it wide.
And then in extra-time, they were one up again when Paul Bradley kept his nerve to land a brilliant 45-metre free with the last kick. Slaughtneil got out with a draw, won the replay and have barely taken so much as a backwards glance at anyone in the county since.
Donaghmore native Paul Quinn, assistant to fellow clubman and former Tyrone star Adrian Cush, admits that their team has everything to prove.
“That’s what we keep saying to our fellas, that we don’t have any proven championship players at the minute, because they haven’t won any championship matches really of note. In ten years they haven’t beaten a so-called big team in Derry in a championship match.”
Magherafelt have indeed failed to kick on from that performance in 2015. They lost to Ballinascreen in the quarter-final the following year, and Coleraine in the first round last summer.
The Rossas, despite regular periods of underage success, haven’t won a senior championship since 1978, and you have to go back to the four they picked up between 1939 and 1949 for any more.
Yet they’ve consistently been at the head of the league in Derry in recent seasons, finishing second this year to an Emmet’s side that won 13 and drew two of its games.
Magherafelt have introduced a handful of last year’s Derry minors, who also helped St Mary’s Magherafelt win a first ever MacRory Cup.
Odhran Lynch, Conor McCluskey, Simon McErlain, Giuseppe Lupari and Cormac Murphy (who misses this game through injury) are all likely to feature in Owenbeg on Sunday evening.
They have been without cruciate victim Danny Heavron, who has only recently returned to straight-line running, while defender Peter Quinn hasn’t played all year, though they have had Joe Keenan and Conan O’Brien back to offset that and add a dash of experience.
Slaughtneil could be without Brendan Rogers, who picked up an injury in a recent hurling league game, but Emmett McGuckin is a major doubt for the Rossas as well.
The reigning champions are aiming to become the first team in history to win the John McLaughlin Cup five years running, and Quinn feels the challenge Magherafelt face is similar to the one Tyrone faced at the weekend.
“You’d compare it a lot to Tyrone and Dublin. Dublin’s going for four-in-a-row, Slaughtneil’s going for five-in-a-row.
“I remember listening to Mickey Harte earlier in the year about Tyrone and Dublin last year, and he knew how people perceived them because of that, and they couldn’t change it until they did something different.
“That’s the same as Magherafelt. We know how people perceive us in championship football, and that’s not going to change until we do something different.
“We have a massive challenge to do something different this Sunday.”
The one chink of light is that it’s been in the opening round that Slaughtneil have struggled most over the past few years.
They lost to Lavey in 2015 before meeting Magherafelt in that back door game, and Swatragh had them eating at their fingernails for a stage last year before the Emmet’s finished strongly.
“I’ve heard that right from the draw was made,” says Quinn.
“Well, we’ll see. They haven’t lost a game all year – not a league game, the Kerlin Cup or anything, and that’s despite missing different players.
“‘Sammy’ Bradley went to America and they still won. They’ve been missing a couple of key defenders and they’re still winning their last league games. It doesn’t seem to matter what they’re hit with, they still win.
“We’ll have to give it our best shot and try to rattle them at times. It’d be a massive shock.
“I see we’re 25/1 with the bookies [to win the championship], even though we finished second in the league. That tells you what everybody thinks of us.”