Outsiders Ballycran dethrone Slaughtneil with four-goal salvo in Ulster Club Hurling Championship semi-final
Ulster Senior Club Hurling Championship semi-final: Slaughtneil (Derry) 1-14 Ballycran 4-15 (Down)
ONE more trip to the well proved to be beyond Slaughtneil as underdogs Ballycran deservedly dethroned the back-to-back Ulster champions at Corrigan Park yesterday.
From the first whistle, the Down champions – 9/1 outsiders with some bookmakers – were a split second sharper and, after holding a two-point lead at the interval, they powered home down the stretch to win by 10 points and book their place in the final against Antrim champions Cushendall.
Without taking anything away from Ballycran, Slaughtneil did look jaded. With no football to occupy them it appeared that the scene was set for the Emmet’s to make a breakthrough at national level but, as manager Michael McShane admitted, four years of slogging their guts out finally caught up with them.
The Down champions led from the first minute and manager Gary Savage (an Ulster Championship winner when Ballycran beat Cushendall 25 years ago) said his players were determined to “step up” after being written off.
“We knew we had this in us,” he said.
“It was just believing in ourselves and for the whole 60 minutes they showed what they’re about. It wasn’t bad for 9-1 outsiders, when you’re not given a chance you step up to the plate and our boys stepped up today.
“People said they didn’t have the balls to win anything but they proved they have the balls to do whatever they put their minds to.
“They have skill coming out of their ears, the likes of Conor Woods, Scott Nicholson, Liam and Phelim Savage and the subs like Chris Egan, Gerard Hughes…”
Savage’s men gave an early indication of their goal threat when James Coyle ran onto an accurate pass from Scott Nicholson and smashed in a shot.
Gareth O’Kane saved but referee James Clarke brought play back for a foul and Colm McManus opened the scoring with the first of his five frees.
Slaughtneil trailed from there on in and every ball was a battle as the determined underdogs from the Ards threw themselves into the fray.
Scott Nicholson added a free from the halfway line and his dugout roared their approval when the puck out was captured as Ballycran took control in midfield.
Gerald Bradley’s point got Slaughtneil up and going but O’Kane dallied and James Coyle nipped in to whip the sliothar into the net and send Ballycran 1-2 to 0-1 ahead.
Cormac O’Doherty, Se McGuigan and Chrissy McKaigue (who was well marked by Phelim Savage) all registered points for the now former Ulster champions.
But Ballycran won another Slaughtneil puck out and, when the sliothar was dropped in, McManus broke it down and Niall Breen pulled it straight into the bottom corner of the Slaughtneil net.
Mark McGuigan and Brendan Rodgers cancelled out two frees from Scott Nicholson as Slaughtneil gathered themselves for their best spell of the game just before half-time.
Rodgers whipped over a cross and Meehaul McGrath ended up in the back of the Ballycran net as he dived in to flick it home.
He missed that one but made amends a couple of minutes later when he beat Stephen Keith with a shot from the right to leave it 2-5 to 1-6.
O’Doherty’s free closed the gap to a point but McManus widened it to two with the last puck of the half which ended with Ballycran 2-6 to 1-7 ahead.
Despite the underdogs’ plucky first half display there was a feeling around Corrigan Park that Slaughtneil’s quality would see them through.
Ballycran were lined out on the field by the time the Emmet’s – with their ears undoubtedly ringing from McShane’s words of encouragement – trotted out for the second half.
The expected Slaughtneil revival never came because Ballycran didn’t allow it.
Conor Woods, a calm head and a physical presence in the middle third, stroked over classy score (Ballycran’s first from play) to extend the lead and Nicholson had time and space to add another before Andrew Bell sent the Mournemen five ahead.
Brian Cassidy’s point and an O’Doherty free were all that Slaughtneil could muster as Scott Nicholson and Liam Savage kept them at arm’s length.
The game became scrappy and physical as Slaughtneil searched for a way back into it but Ballycran matched them hit for hit and they came out of their sticky patch with three scores on-the-trot, two from man of the match contender Nicholson and another from McManus.
Things went from bad to worse for the unravelling Derry champions when Cormac McKenna was sent off for striking Woods and when McManus slotted over the free Ballycran had a foot in the final.
“We’ve time to get this back,” roared Slaughtneil boss McShane.
And there was time – eight minutes of it – but Ballycran were in no mood to be denied.
Christopher Egan planted a first time shot into one corner and Coyle cracked his second goal of the game into the other to build the Down men an impregnable position.
Slaughtneil threw everything forward but Ballycran defended with guts and skill to keep them at bay until the final whistle.
As the shadows lengthened at Corrigan Park youngsters in black and amber dipped into the team huddle and roared with delight as the jubilant Down men looked forward to another battle on November 11.
Ballycran: S Keith; M Hughes, P Hughes, S Ennis; M Taylor, P Flynn, B Nicholson; S Nicholson (0-7, 0-4 frees), P Savage; C McAllister, C Woods (0-1), L Savage (0-1); N Breen (1-0), C McManus (0-5 frees), J Coyle (2-0)
Subs: C Egan (1-0) for Breen (43), G Hughes for McAllister (49)
Yellow cards: P Hughes (29), P Flynn (33)
Slaughtneil: G O’Kane; R McCartney, S Cassidy, P McNeill; C McKenna, C McKaigue (0-1), K McKaigue; Shane McGuigan, C O’Doherty (0-6 frees); M McGuigan (0-1), B Rodgers (0-2), G Bradley (0-1); M McGrath (1-0), Se McGuigan (0-1), B Cassidy (0-1)
Subs: C McAllister for McGrath (46), S O Caiside for M McGuigan (48)
Yellow cards: Se McGuigan (27), M McGrath (41), P McNeill (57)
Red card: C McKenna (51)
Referee: J Clarke (Cavan)