GAA Football

Hinphey sees "massive difference" in Slaughtneil

Despite Slaughtneil establishing themselves as the dominant force in Derry hurling, their recent meetings with Kevin Lynch's have been decided by paper-thin margins. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Cahair O'Kane

Derry SHC final: Kevin Lynch’s v Slaughtneil (Sunday, 4.30pm, Owenbeg)

TIME is running away on Kevin Hinphey, but there’s a bit of sand left yet.

He and brother Liam have been the backbone of Dungiven hurling for almost two decades now, but in last year’s Derry SHC semi-final against Slaughtneil, neither was involved.

Liam missed the game after his son Liam jnr, who suffers from a rare epileptic condition, was hospitalised after suffering a seizure. Kevin was sidelined with a knee injury that was initially diagnosed as a torn cruciate, only for his surgeon to discover different when he opened it up.

“I hurt the knee playing an over-35 football thing,” says the elder sibling.

“When I went for the scan, I was told the cruciate was wrecked but when I saw the specialist, he did a few tests, pulling at the leg and he said he thought he could feel something, but he wouldn’t know until he actually got in to see.

“He said the scan can sometimes not be totally conclusive. When he came back out, he said he didn’t do the reconstruction, it was a partial tear and there was 50 per cent of the cruciate still intact, so it was better to not do it.”

Liam will start tomorrow’s Derry final with Slaughtneil for sure, while Kevin’s dipped in and out of the side in recent weeks, coming off the bench in the semi-final.

He’s taken a background role in the management team but combined it will still playing a bit and could find himself in the full-forward line, a position unusual but not wholly unfamiliar. It’s eight years since a groin injury forced him in there for a county final replay, where he wreaked havoc on Lavey with a first half hat-trick.

That was the tail end of a period of domination by the Lynches, but they now find the shoe on the other foot. Victory for Slaughtneil would see them surpass the Dungiven side’s six-in-a-row from 1972-77 and, with two Ulster titles to their name too, Hinphey admits there’s little debate left about the best side ever to come out of the county.

“I’m sure anyone playing for Lavey in the ‘90s would argue their team was the best, I’m sure plenty of Dungiven boys would reckon our team [from the 2000s] was the best, everyone would argue their own case. But the fact that they’ve those couple of Ulster titles in their belt makes a fair argument for them.”

And yet had a late long-range free from Richie Mullan found its home between the posts last year in Ballinascreen, their semi-final meeting would have finished level.

Even going back to recent final meetings, there has been paper-thin margins separating the sides. Kevin Lynch’s biggest weapon against Slaughtneil has been their own self-belief.

“There’s a bit of other teams being beaten before they go out – and rightly so, they’re a serious team. We don’t fear them as such, but we definitely respect them.

“They’re hot favourites and probably favourites for Ulster at this stage too. Our lads will go and give it everything they have, they’re not going out beat the way some teams maybe are alright.”

But the veteran Kevin Lynch’s man admits that he sees a different edge to the Emmet’s than he did last year.

“A massive difference in them. Last year, I wouldn’t say they were glad to get beat or anything, but I’m sure they were glad of the season’s rest.

“They’d gone four years to an All-Ireland series and you just got the impression last year that they were a wee bit leggy.

“That was maybe as good a chance as anybody had of getting them. The Ballycran team that beat them, I don’t think they’d beat Slaughtneil this year.

“You want to be competitive at least. We were very competitive last year. There’s no doubt they’re in a better place and they’ll be a lot stronger this year. The big majority of our team’s 18, 19, 20 year-olds.”

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