No separating Loughgiel and Slaughtneil in absorbing tactical battle

Seamas McAleenan

2020 Ulster Senior Camogie Club Championship final: Slaughtneil (Derry) 0-9 Loughgiel (Antrim) 0-9

SLAUGHTNEIL and Loughgiel will have it all to do again after finishing level in another arm-wrestle in Quinn Park Ballymena yesterday afternoon.

The replay is likely to take place in Glen, Maghera this Saturday to deliver a winner to face the Leinster championships on December 12. But pitch availability and a throw-in time still have to be confirmed.

This was the pair’s sixth successive meeting in the final and the last one in 2019 saw Slaughtneil secure their biggest winning margin of four points. Apart from the opening nine minutes when Loughgiel raced into a four points’ lead, this 2020 final almost looked like going to the wire.

Mickey Glover had seen Slaughtneil survive plenty of those tight games at provincial and All-Ireland level and yet again the Emmet’s found a way to hold on to their title.

“The girls did it again; effort, composure, a few mistakes in the middle of the pitch and Loughgiel came up and closed the gap we had opened. But look, we expected nothing else from Loughgiel and I would say they were looking at something similar from us.”

There was the surprise inclusion at full-back of Louise Dougan, who hadn’t played in the recent Derry championship.

“Both teams are five, six years down the line and we cannot set up in the same way we have played other games against them. We had to move players about. Louise was one, Aoife Ní Chaiside in what is basically a sweeper role is another. It is the nature of the team developing and Loughgiel are doing the same.

“We have had a turn over of nine players since 2017, so we have had to adopt. A number of younger players have really moved forward and they are the life-blood of the current team.”

Loughgiel manager PJ O’Mullan knew it was going to be a “titanic struggle”.

“These two teams have played each other for five or six finals now and the outcome was never going to sorted until right at the end," he said

“I was a bit concerned about the time there. I though the referee blew it up a little short especially as I thought we were a bit in the ascendancy. But it is what it is and we go again next weekend.

“Nothing has been won or lost today. They are still Ulster champions, but I think the intensity of that game will bring both teams on. Róisín McCormick has only had a couple of training sessions since the Antrim final and we had a few covid cases as well where players missed up to a fortnight of training.

“We would hope that this game has brought us on. We will sit down later and watch the video and see what areas we can improve on.”

In the early stages, Loughgiel looked to have the edge and led by 0-4 to 0-1 after nine minutes with Racquel Murphy on target twice, after Emma McMullan had opened the scoring in the first minute. Caitrín Dobbin also picked off a score, while Annie Lynn had a couple of runs down the left wing.

However, Slaughtneil tightened the screw in defence and Offaly native Tina Bradley fired over two points to tuck Slaughtneil neatly in at 0-4 to 0-3 down at the water break. There was a challenge from the Loughgiel management that Murphy’s late effort from a narrow angle had dissected the posts, but both of Philip McDonnell’s umpire signalled wide.

The three-time All-Ireland champions stepped up a gear during the second quarter to lead 0-6 to 0-5 at the interval with Bradley adding two frees and the lively Therese Mellon slicing through for a score in the 18th minute.

Loughgiel drew level on the re-start with a 45 from Róisín McCormick before Bradley and Caitrín Dobbbin swopped scores close to the second water-break (0-7 each).

Although McCormick pointed a free to edge Loughgiel clear, Brídín McAllister and Therese Mellon responded immediately with points to put Slaughtneil in front entering the home straight.

However Caitrín Dobbin broke free in the 50th minute to pull the game level at 0-9 each and that is how it remained with both sides creating chances to add to their total, but failing in the execution.

Referee Philip McDonnell called full time perhaps a little prematurely on exactly 30 minutes, but I don’t think there were too many complaints from the sizeable attendance.

Slaughtneil as usual had crucial interventions from their experienced players while the likes of Orla McNeill, Clare McGrath and Céat McEldowney really closed down Loughgiel’s speedy forwards. However this was the day when younger players like Clíodhna Ní Mhianáin, Brídín McAllister and Olivia Rafferty came of age.

Loughgiel had a very good defensive formation with Lucia McNaughton’s role as sweeper a launching pad for wide ball into the corners of the attack where Caitrín Dobbin was very effective. The experienced Maeve Connolly and Emma McFadden were also prominent around the middle.

A draw was a fair result and it sets up an intriguing replay.

Loughgiel: M Coyle; C Campbell, K Lynn, M Lynn; A Boyle, L McNaughton, S Devlin; M Connolly capt., E McFadden; A Connolly, R McCormick 0-3 (0-1 free, 0-2 45s), E McMullan 0-1; R Murphy 0-2, C Dobbin 0-3, A Lynn

Subs: C Laverty for A Lynn (40), K McKillop for A Connolly (40)

Slaughtneil – J Bradley; O McNeill, J McMullan, E McGrath; B McAllister 0-1, C Ní Mhianáin, C McGrath; S Graham, C McEldowney; C Mulholland, T Bradley 0-5 (0-2 free, 0-1 45), A Ní Chaiside; O Rafferty 0-1, S Mellon, T Mellon 0-2.

Subs: E McGuigan for S Mellon (h-t), F Burke for C Mulholland (58).

REF – P McDonnell (Cavan)

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