Slaughtneil to keep their foot on Glen's throat in Derry SFC semi-final
O’Neills Derry SFC semi-final: Glen v Slaughtneil (tomorrow, 4.30pm, Owenbeg)
THE question is not whether Glen can get closer than the 18 points that separated Slaughtneil from them in the league decider in August. The question is whether they can bring a big performance to a big game.
What transpired that night in Slaughtneil can only be categorised as a disaster for Glen. Having been unbeaten through the league to that point, barring an odd counter-punch from Alex Doherty, they brought very little to the table. The gap just kept widening.
The result couldn’t have been less reflective of their general standing. With a team that is still a good couple of years from its peak, this year’s league was – until that point - the latest of their incremental improvements.
They’ve been in the last two championship semi-finals, and while neither of them went to plan, it’s easily forgotten that they’re still at a relatively early stage in their development. At 25, Ciaran McFaul and Emmett Bradley will be the oldest players on their team tomorrow.
The sense that they would inevitably grow closer in time has been there since they won an incredible four Ulster minor club titles in a row between 2011 and 2015.
But the big games so far have gone past them at senior level. In the semi-final two years ago against Slaughtneil, they couldn’t shut the short kickout down at all and were simply overwhelmed. Last year’s game with Lavey was an even greater disappointment. They never really got their teeth into it.
That league defeat looked to be weighing on them when they found themselves two points down and then a man down after 20 minutes in their first round game with the Loup.
But they rebounded with a brilliant final 40 minutes to win, and then avenged that defeat by Lavey with an excellent display. The championship so far has been cathartic for them. Form has recovered, the minds are clear again, and that’s a huge factor.
Slaughtneil’s run has been clinical when it’s needed to be. There were very brief periods when Newbridge troubled them, but when they had to step it up, they did it without a problem.
Ballinderry had their nose out of joint for 25 minutes but they hit four unanswered scores before half-time to take control and they never ceded it again, eventually closing the game out with a Christopher Bradley goal.
It was a win built on a foundation of midfield domination, exactly as the league decider win over Glen was. They had Glen’s routines worked out and the ball just kept coming back at the Watties’ overworked full-back line.
Oisin Hegarty will be a welcome return in there after missing the Lavey game through suspension, while Ryan Dougan looks likely to pick up Shane McGuigan from full-back.
The game’s central battle will be that of county team-mates Padraig Cassidy and Ciaran McFaul. They are the two primary playmakers for their respective sides.
Glen will no doubt have zoomed in on the Emmet’s kickout routine. Rookie ‘keeper Séan Ó Casaide is deputising for the injured Antoin McMullan and if Glen squeeze him zonally rather than man-to-man, they could find some joy off it.
They’ll need a big game from Danny Tallon up front, and the same again from the in-form Alex Doherty, whose wondergoal turned the game against Lavey two weeks ago.
He, though, could find himself in against Brendan Rogers, whose form has been superb.
This is a real battle of the mind for Glen. Conquering the demons of poor performances on big days won’t necessarily see them to victory, but it will represent probably their most significant step forward as a senior outfit.
If they hit every note, they can beat Slaughtneil. But the Emmet’s will have their foot squeezed hard enough on Glen’s throat to see their way back into the final.