Slaughtneil have learned lessons from Cuala experience insists Michael McShane
SLAUGHTNEIL’S hurlers have learned some valuable lessons from last February’s defeat to All-Ireland Club champions Cuala as they launch another bid to scale the mountain next year.
Lying in wait on February 10, 2018 are 2016 Tom Moore Cup winners Na Piarsaigh and Slaughtneil – whose footballers are also in All-Ireland semi-final action a fortnight later – have taken stock and altered their preparations slightly.
This time last year the Emmet’s took a break over the Christmas period before working towards that last four showdown with Cuala, only to suffer a 13-point defeat in Armagh.
Instead of taking a step back this time around, Slaughtneil have continued to tick over.
Tomorrow they play their first challenge game against 2016 All-Ireland champions Tipperary in Dublin, and boss Michael McShane insists the experience of their last campaign can only be of benefit.
He said: “The dual players had a couple of weeks off after the Ulster football final and then we were back and at it. We’re not killing ourselves, we’re just getting a bit of hurling done but it’s not easy getting pitches that are in decent condition.
“We’re doing a bit of gym work as well, but there hasn’t been a big break over Christmas. We did that last year and we thought this year it would be better just to keep going.
“February the 10th sounds like a long way away but it’s not really. Once you get the New Year over, you’re only four or five weeks away.”
Continuing, the Ballycastle man added: “We’re a more experienced team, and a more experienced management team going into this year’s semi-final, so that’ll stand to us hopefully.
“If you’re not learning, you’re not living so we have looked back at our preparations last year, of course. It was a very unique position that we were in, there was no template for going into All-Ireland semi-finals with two teams.
“Because we had to balance both codes, there were some things we got wrong and we’re looking to improve on that this year.
“It’s a difficult position we’re in because it is very hard to get the amount of work done that you want to get done when you have the two codes going at it, and at the same time you don’t want to be killing the lads.
“Last year we learnt a very harsh lesson because the step up to the level of Cuala was bigger than we expected.
“Now we know the type of level we need to be getting to because we’re up against a very strong team in Na Piarsaigh.”
The Derry champions will have Meehaul McGrath available for both games following his recovery from the broken jaw that kept him out of the Ulster final win over Cavan Gaels.
“He’ll be grand,” confirmed McShane.
“If we were playing an All-Ireland semi-final this weekend I would probably risk him, but we’re just trying to follow the medical advice.
“He’s been back training without any contact and I’d say he’ll be back in full contact within the next fortnight.”
Na Piarsaigh, conquerors of Cushendall in that 2016 decider, are undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with but – like many observers – McShane believes defending champions Cuala remain the team to beat after another impressive campaign.
“Cuala are a very, very good team and it’ll take a mighty performance by someone to beat them this year.
“They’ve rattled through this season the same as last year – they did enough to win Dublin and then, through the Leinster Championship, they’ve got stronger and stronger.
“They’re the reigning champions so there’s no doubt they’re the team to beat, but Na Piarsaigh are back revitalised wanting to win this again.
“We’re all there on merit and we’ll all be there giving it our very best but Cuala are the benchmark for everybody at the minute, and anybody who can reach that benchmark and pass it will be All-Ireland champions I would think.”