Sport

Mellon masterclass steers Slaughtneil to fifth successive Ulster title triumph

A rainbow appears across the Glenshane Pass as Slaughtneil captains Tina Bradley and Louise Dougan lift the cup after the team beat Loughgiel during the Ulster Senior Camogie Club Championship Final 2020 replay at Glen Maghera on Saturday 4th December 2021. Picture Margaret McLaughlin.
SEAMAS McALEENAN

2020 Ulster senior club camogie final replay: Slaughtneil (Derry) 1-12 Loughgiel (Antrim) 0-8

JUST watching Slaughtneil going about their business in Saturday’s Ulster senior club replay to claim a fifth successive title, it seemed that they had unleashed a secret weapon in Sinéad Mellon after last week’s 0-9 each draw in Ballymena.

It wasn’t quite part of the plan, however, admitted coach Micky Glover.

“No, not all. Sinéad had to come off last Sunday with a head injury before the interval. She didn’t train with us at all because she had to follow the return to play protocol and it was only late on Thursday evening that she was passed fit to play in the game,” said Glover.

“So we hadn’t done anything special because we didn’t know whether or not Sinéad would be playing. But when the rest of the girls could see she was showing for ball out of defence and able to win that ball and turn her player, well, why wouldn’t you feed her?”

Mellon was on fire from the start, winning the first ball that came down her way. She was fouled, but continued on her way and posted a point. However, Dublin referee Gavin Donegan had already signalled a free and instead Tina Bradley claimed the opening score.

With Slaughtneil facing into the breeze coming down the Glenshane Pass and blowing towards the changing rooms in Glen’s pitch, Mellon wandered further out particularly during set plays. She won those balls and ran at the Loughgiel defence.

Eventually she finished with four points from play and she also won a number of frees which Tina Bradley converted. There was little surprise when she picked up the Player of the Match award before Bradley and Louise Dougan together lifted the Ulster senior club Cup on the team’s behalf for the fifth year in succession.

Those past successes make Slaughtneil difficult to beat. A team like Loughgiel can come close, but they have to take their chance when it presents itself. The three-time All-Ireland champions learn far too much about a team from a drawn game and can plan to better themselves in the replay.

Caitrin Dobbin had scored three points for Loughgiel in Ballymena and was the real threat up front. The brilliant Céat McEldowney picked her up on Saturday. No scores conceded and Dobbin was substituted before the end. Racquel Murphy also threatened last week. She caught a couple of long deliveries in the first half but was closed down immediately. Again no scores.

In fact Loughgiel only registered two points from play – both from Christine Laverty, probably their best forward on the day. Otherwise they relied on Róisín McCormick from frees.

Slaughtneil’s defence was immense and once the team got a goal ahead, there was never a doubt that they would hold out at the back. Further out Aoife Ní Chaiside played less as the sweeper, but more as a third midfielder, ever-present for the short pass out of defence before quickly moving the sliotar in favour of a forward that always seemed to have space in front of her.

Midfield became a battlefield with rucks galore and no ball easily won or delivered. It suited Slaughtneil’s game-plan and frustrated the Antrim champions.

After Bradley’s early point, Loughgiel responded with scores from Christine Laverty and Róisín McCormick. But Sinéad Mellon and then Bradley edged the champions ahead by the water-break.

In the 22nd minute, Loughgiel did everything right to twice block down Bradley in her attempt at a point, but the Offaly-native reacted quickly, side-stepped the next tackle and had a clear run through for the only goal.

Slaughtneil led by 1-3 to 0-4 at the change of ends and powered on for a 1-8 to 0-6 lead at the second water-break with the Mellon cousins, Sinéad and Therese, a handful for Loughgiel. Sinéad Mellon fired over two points with 10 minutes left. She found Cliona Mulholland for another point and Bradley completed the scoring with a late free.

Slaughtneil haven’t been toppled yet in Ulster, but the two games against Loughgiel will sharpen them ahead of this weekend’s All-Ireland semi-final against Oulart-the-Ballagh who also have been playing three weekends in a row.

Slaughtneil: J Bradley; O McNeill, L Dougan , E McGrath; B McAllister, C Ní Mhianáin, C McGrath; S Graham, Céat McEldowney; C Mulholland 0-1, T Bradley joint-capt 1-6 (4f), A Ní Chaiside; O Rafferty, S Mellon 0-4, T Mellon 0-1.

Subs: Carla McEldowney for C Mulholland (59), C Kearney for O Rafferty (59), C Burns for C Ní Mhianáin (62).

Loughgiel – M Coyle; C Campbell, K Lynn, K McKillop; A Boyle, L McNaughton, S Devlin; M Connolly capt., E McFadden; Christine Laverty 0-2, R McCormick 0-6(f), E McMullan; R Murphy, C Dobbin, C McKillop

Subs: A Connolly for R Murphy (48), A Lynn for C McKillop (HT), Ciara Laverty for C Dobbin (56), O Laverty for E McMullan (56)

REF – G Donegan (Dublin)

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