Slaughtneil better equipped for All-Ireland charge than last years says boss Michael McShane
DESPITE injury concerns over a couple of his key men, Slaughtneil boss Michael McShane believes the back-to-back Ulster champions are a much improved team from last year’s All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Cuala.
The Emmet’s are back at the same stage on Saturday, this time against Munster kingpins Na Piarsaigh, and McShane is sweating on the fitness of midfielder Sean Cassidy and corner-forward Se McGuigan.
Both came off towards the end of their final challenge match, and face a race against time to line out at Parnell Park against the 2016 All-Ireland champions.
Such is the strength of the Slaughtneil panel, however, that McShane is confident he has the players at his disposal to step in and make a difference.
He said: “When you go into this level you have to have a big panel and you have to have confidence in the guys who are coming in. It’s up to them to come in and step up to the plate.”
The 13-point defeat to Cuala was a wake-up call, an indication of the gap between where Slaughtneil had come from and where they want to be.
Lessons have been learnt as a consequence and while the winter before that loss to the eventual champions had been spent focusing on fitness work, this time around there has been a greater emphasis on hurling.
A series of challenge games against high quality opposition has sharpened their stick work, and McShane is in no doubt that Slaughtneil go into Saturday’s semi-final in a much better place than 12 months previous.
“Last year we didn’t get enough hurling done and we weren’t ready for the intensity of the All-Ireland semi-final, the intensity that Cuala brought to it,” said the Ballycastle man, whose side are rated 1/50 underdogs.
“This year we’ve done a lot more hurling, we didn’t take as long a break after the Ulster football final. We got a lot more challenge games played which will hopefully have us ready for the intensity and physicality that we weren’t ready for last year.
“As a management team we learnt a lot from last year, so did the players. We have the All-Ireland semi-final from last year in the locker and the experience from that. I would like to think we’ll not be caught on the hop the way we were.
“Twenty minutes into the game last year the game was over – Cuala had put 10 points between us and them and that was game over at that stage.”
McShane expects Na Piarsaigh to adopt the same approach on Saturday.
“Their mindset will be to go and finish it early and maybe freewheel into the final.
It’s our job to make sure we’re ready for that and don’t let it happen.
“This is the level you aspire to be at whether you’re a player or a manager, this is where you want to be testing yourself and we’re really looking forward to it.”
The Slaughtneil boss watched the Limerick champions topple Ballygunner in the Munster final and has touched base with contacts in Cushendall – beaten All-Ireland finalists against Na Piarsaigh two years ago.
And he is under no illusion about the size of the challenge the Emmet’s face.
“They’re a phenomenal team,” added McShane.
“Any team that wins four Munster club titles in seven years, All-Ireland champions two years ago, that tells you all you need to know about their pedigree. They’re every bit as big a hurdle, if not bigger, as Cuala were last year.
“But look, we have great belief in our own ability. We’re double Ulster champions, a lot of our guys have played in two All-Ireland football finals, this is their fourth All-Ireland football or hurling campaign.
“Big match experience is not something we’re going to be lacking.”