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Slaughtneil still team to beat as Loughgiel look to break through psychological barrier in another provincial decider

Slaughtneil's Olivia Rafferty with Katie McKillop of Loughgiel during the Ulster Senior Camogie Club Championship Final 2020 replay at Glen Maghera on Saturday, December 4 2021
Picture: Margaret McLaughlin.
SEAMAS McALEENAN

Ulster Senior Club Camogie Championship final: Slaughtneil v Loughgiel (tomorrow, Lavey, 1pm)

SEVEN weeks ago Slaughtneil and Loughgiel met in the delayed 2020 Ulster club final in Ballymena. It ended in a draw, 0-9 each, necessitating a replay the following Saturday.

The intensity was still there in the second game, but a goal after 20 minutes from Tina Bradley gave Slaughtneil the platform to build a 1-12 to 0-8 victory that secured their fifth successive provincial title.

Was there a margin of seven points between the sides? Probably not, but then again when Slaughtneil get an edge on the scoreboard, they are experts at holding onto that advantage or, in this case, building on it.

The shape their subsequent All-Ireland semi-final took was so unlike what we have come to expect from a club that has taken three successive national crowns. Over the past five campaigns they had never fallen so far behind, never allowed a gap to open in the first half where they became the team changing their game plan to chase an opponent.

Oulart-The Ballagh actually replicated that super start to the semi-final a week later in the final and that was good enough for them to deny Sarsfield’s a second successive title.

Overall victory for the Wexford champions probably led to a reassessment of the Slaughtneil semi-final showing and, perhaps inside their panel, this has intensified their desire to get back and prove themselves on the national stage. To do that they must beat Loughgiel for the sixth year in a row.

Until that replay win on a heavy Glen, Maghera pitch, no more than a point or two has separated the two clubs in their previous meetings – although Slaughtneil always held the edge.

By this point there is a psychological barrier that Loughgiel must break down.

The eight in-a-row Antrim title-holders are every bit as skilful and talented as their Derry counterparts, but Slaughtneil are better at managing the small margins and getting themselves over the line.

In Ballymena at the end of November, Loughgiel went for goal on a couple of occasions when a point was always going to be a big score. Hindsight? Yes, but in a game of small margins those scores might have got them over the line.

In the replay, Loughgiel were defending well and Bradley’s effort at a point was brilliantly blocked down twice. However, the Offaly native reacted quickest, broke the cover and the goal changed the dynamic of the game. Small margins.

The teams that field in Lavey will not have changed much from before Chrismas.

The Shamrocks still have the same scoring forwards that need extra attention – Caitrin Dobbin, Róisín McCormick, Racquel McCarry. Between the draw and replay, Slaughtneil tweaked the match-ups after Dobbin had created problems the first day. None of the three made a huge impact the second day.

Indeed only Christine Laverty, a sub the first day and a starter in the replay, scored from open play – two points.

Likewise Sinéad Mellon didn’t cause any issues for Loughgiel in the drawn game before going off at half-time. In the replay she was player of the match and, along with Tina Bradley, the key forward, although both Olivia Rafferty and Therese Mellon in the corners made some useful plays.

Slaughtneil are the team to beat.

Ulster Junior B club semi-finals 2021

Sunday 16th January at 2pm

Clontibret: Clontibret v Castletara

Derrylaughan: Derrylaughan v Cullyhanna

NAOMH TREASA from Dungannon went all the way to a national title in this grade before Christmas.

In Ulster no more than a point or two separated them from their Armagh and Cavan opponents in the semi-final and final, while Clontibret reached the All-Ireland final in 2019.

Therefore although all four teams taking the field on SUNDAY did not play before Christmas in the 2020 version, they know they could actually go all the way if they get their act together on the day.

Castletara have been competitive for the past few years in Cavan and I would expect them to beat Clontibret. The other game could go either way. A tentative vote for Cullyhanna.

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