GAA Football

Coleraine bid to stop Slaughtneil drive for double-double

Eoghan Rua's Niall Holly, centre, will have a hammer-and-tongs duel with county team-mate Patsy Bradley in tomorrow's final
Andy Watters

Derry SFC final: Eoghan Rua Coleraine v Slaughtneil Robert Emmet’s (tomorrow, Celtic Park, 3pm)

SLAUGHTNEIL’S championship life hung by a thread over the first two rounds and Coleraine’s chances were dismissed after an early seven-point from Bellaghy.

But both sides have shown admirable powers of recovery and found form when it mattered most to pick their way through the potholes on their paths to tomorrow’s final.

In the early stages of their campaign Slaughtneil were without several of the players who spearheaded their run to St Patrick’s Day’s All-Ireland club final.

Francis McEldowney, Karl McKaigue, Patsy Bradley, Paul Bradley, Sé McGuigan and Christopher Bradley all nursed injuries and without them fully fit the Emmet’s lost their championship opener 3-7 to 1-11 against Lavey and scraped a draw in round two against Magherafelt.

But a steady stream of reinforcements since has transformed their form and, after winning the replay against Magherafelt, Slaughtneil saw off Foreglen and Ballinascreen (0-6 to 0-3) and thumped unbeaten Bellaghy in last weekend’s semi-finals.

It appears that the defending champions have rediscovered the form of last year and John Joe Kearney, part of manager Mickey Moran’s backroom team, feels it has come at just the right time

“After last year we had a lot of fairly serious injuries – hamstring, knee, groin problems,” he explained.

“We had players who would have been starting on our senior team on the 17th of March who played no football until about five weeks ago.

“Thank God in the last five weeks we’ve got them blended in. It was a matter of getting them all together again and that has happened, they have come together just at the right time.”

After shipping 19 points in that round two draw with Magherafelt, Slaughtneil’s defence has tightened up considerably and they have conceded 1-25 in four games since. Their four wins included a 0-6 to 0-3 war of attrition win over Ballinacreen at the quarter-final stage.

“That was a good one to get through,” Kearney reflected.

“It was a tough, tough match and any games we have had with Ballinascreen in the last few years have gone to the wire.”

Slaughtneil prepared for another struggle against Bellaghy in the semi-finals but, in the end, they emerged with a convincing 13-point success.

“The tough game is coming up now – Coleraine will be a formidable task,” said Kearney.

“They’re a dangerous side and we’ll not be underestimating them for one minute. They play a defensive sort of game and they run from defence. If the thing breaks down and they get turned over they just saunter back into defence.

“They are quite capable, they have a system and they are quite good at it so it’ll be a game of patience and hard work.”

Given their league form, some might not have agreed that Coleraine would represent a “formidable task” for Slaughtneil but their 0-15 to 1-8 win over Ballinderry made doubters change their tune and confirmed that they are real contenders again this year.

The Eoghan Rua club won their inaugural Derry title five years ago and two-thirds of tomorrow’s side took part in that triumph.

Manager Sean McGoldrick’s sons - Sean Leo, Colm, Barry, Ciaran and Liam - his nephew Niall Holly and Declan and Ciaran Mullan have all represented their county, so there is experience and pedigree in the ranks.

McGoldrick’s one injury doubt is half-back Mark McTaggart but the rest of the squad is fit and keen to build on the success of last weekend.

“There was a euphoric feeling after last Sunday but we have to keep our feet on the ground because we haven’t won anything, we’re just in the semi-final,” he said.

After a round two loss to Bellaghy, Coleraine’s performances improved steadily in wins over Banagher, Kilrea and then Ballinderry. The return of Ciaran McGoldrick, who had surgery on ruptured ankle tendons in February, has been a massive plus.

“Ciaran has been a big help,” said Sean.

“Since that game with Bellaghy we’ve been fortunate enough with the draw and we’ve improved as we’ve went along.”

He added: “I saw Slaughtneil in the semi-final and they’re playing very well. For a team that has been on the road given their All-Ireland campaign last year they looked very fresh and very fit – they look like a serious team, a better team than they did last year so we’ll be up against it.

“Hopefully on the day (we can cause an upset) if things go well for us. There’s a bit of a buzz around the club at the minute and it’s nice to get back to the final - we probably thought in 2010 we’d be back a bit sooner than five years later.

“We’ve waited a while for it but maybe it’s not a bad thing? Maybe players appreciate it more rather than it happening on a regular basis.”

The battle of Patsy Bradley and Holly in midfield is one of several critical match-ups in tomorrow’s final.

Liam McGoldrick will marshal the Coleraine defence against the likes of Cormac O’Doherty and Paul and Christopher Bradley while at the other end, McKaigue brothers Karl and Chrissy, have to blunt a Coleraine attack spearheaded by Colm and Ciaran McGoldrick, Stephen Coyles and Garvan McWilliams.

Slaughtneil were missing several regulars when they beat Coleraine in the league and, though the championship is whole new ball game, it’s hard to see past them now they’re at full strength.

Coleraine have been underdogs before and won and with the quality in the side they’ll always have a chance, but the Emmet’s start as favourites to complete a historic double-double of Derry hurling and football championships.

Paths to the final

Eoghan Rua Coleraine

Round one: Coleraine 0-15 Glenullin 0-12

Round two: Coleraine 0-12 Bellaghy 3-10

Quarter-final qualifier: Coleraine 1-11 Banagher 0-5

Quarter-final: Coleraine 2-8 Kilrea 0-9

Semi-final: Coleraine 0-15 Ballinderry 1-8

Slaughtneil Robert Emmet’s

Round one: Slaughtneil 1-11 Lavey 3-7

Round two: Slaughtneil 1-16 O’Donovan Rossa, Magherafelt 0-19

Round two replay: Slaughtneil 0-15 O’Donovan Rossa, Magherafelt 0-9

Quarter-final qualifier: Slaughtneil 0-14 Foreglen 0-7

Quarter-final: Slaughtneil 0-6 Ballinascreen 0-3

Semi-final Slaughtneil 2-16 Bellaghy 1-6

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