Hurling and camogie

Slaughtneil's Grainne Ni Chathain sticking to the routines

Slaughtneil joint-captains Grainne Ni Chaithain (left) and Siobhan Bradley celebrate after beating Ballinascreen in this year's Derry Final.
Picture Margaret McLaughlin
Seamas McAleenan

ROUTINES are a key elements in the successes of Slaughtneil; following routines for training, in training, ahead of matches, during matches. Trying to approach all challenges in the same way as a group, as individual players.

Gráinne Ní Chatháin has been joint-captain with Siobhán Bradley since last year and she and her team will meet Loughgiel for the fifth season in a row in the Ulster senior club final this Sunday. Their approach will be similar to the past.

“We don’t do anything different coming up to an Ulster final that we wouldn’t have done last month ahead of the Derry championship games. Everyone has their own routine outside training and we, management and players, are flexible enough to trust everyone to do what they have to do for match day.

“Players get nervous before games and that is OK as long as we learn to control those nerves and feelings so that we do what we need to do during the game. We try to stick to our plan, our own way of playing and not focus too much on opponents.”

It is something that has worked well for the girls who have not been beaten since Loughgiel took them out on a 1-14 to 1-9 score-line in Owenbeg in the 2015 Ulster final.

“Looking back on it that was part of our learning process. We had won our first ever Derry title in 2012 and that was a massive breakthrough for us – but we weren’t ready for Ulster and were well-beaten by Rossa in the Ulster final.”

Rossa were the only team from Ulster to win the All-Ireland club in February 2009 and still had a lot of those players around three years later. Experience delivered the result for the Belfast side.

However Slaughtneil lost the 2013 and 2014 county finals to Eoghan Rua from Coleraine and Gráinne, an Irish Language Development Officer with Carntogher Community Association, believes the second of those score-lines (2-21 to 1-10) was to provide the building blocks for their current run.

“Both defeats were disappointments but the second hit us hard and we knew serious work had to be done. We had to prepare better, had to put in more energy and work into training.

“That paid off in 2015 and we were more ready for Ulster. Eoghan Rua had won an Ulster and played in an All-Ireland. So while we lost to Loughgiel, there wasn’t a lot in it and we knew that we were close enough to that level.”

Twelve months later [in 2016] and the teams finished level, 1-8 each, in the Athletic Grounds with the Slaughtneil hurlers breaking new ground for a Derry side later that afternoon by winning the Ulster senior club title.

“When we drew that game, we had no doubt we could win the replay. It was all about everyone bringing their best standard, all their energy to the replay. We didn’t feel any pressure at all. There was no fear.”

A late goal from Mary Kelly secured a three points’ win in the replay and suddenly a pathway opened to All-Ireland success in Croke Park.

“We were thinking “God there is no reason why we couldn’t win the semi-final”. We just needed to raise the standard of training and preparation over the winter and make sure that we delivered our best games on the day. That was how we approached the semi-final and then the final was the same.”

Winning one All-Ireland was a huge achievement, but now they have three in a row and are celebrated all over the country. How do they maintain that focus to keep winning?

“We have good management and a good group of players who are all prepared to work very hard. We know that we had to raise standards even higher after the first win and we have tried to do that each year.

“Some players have moved on, others have come in. Younger players coming through really energise you. They lift you and also push you to greater effort at training and in matches.

“We got really good hard games with Swatragh and Ballinascreen this year in the championship and Swatragh beat us in the league. I think that is more an indication of the standard rising here in Derry than anything else. I think that it is a positive thing for the game and means we need to be well prepared all the time.”

Early season challenges with Loughgiel used to be the norm – but not any more.

“Well we have been involved in the All-Ireland pre-season and would ease off training and all going into the club league games after Easter. So challenge games would not be on our agenda.

“Both Loughgiel and ourselves would have ambitions at the start of the championship of meeting in the Ulster final and I don’t think either of us would want to play each other around July or early August. It just wouldn’t happen.

“They have given us a tough game each of the last four years. It will be the same on Sunday and we just need to approach the final the way we always do. The preparation is all done. We just need to make sure we stick to our game-plan and that each of us can produce the best we can for the team”.

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Hurling and camogie