Superb Slaughtneil stun favourites St Vincent's, Dublin to reach All-Ireland Club Senior Football Championship decider
AIB All-Ireland Club Senior Football Championship: Robert Emmet’s, Slaughtneil (Derry) 0-12 St Vincent’s (Dublin) 0-10
THIS was yet another glorious chapter in the seemingly never-ending story of one of the greatest human co-operatives known to man - Robert Emmet's of Slaughtneil.
On Saturday afternoon, Mickey Moran's side dismissed the bookmakers odds and swept aside Dublin kingpins St Vincent’s to reach their second All-Ireland final in three seasons and will face Dr Croke's of Kerry on St Patrick's Day.
The south Derry men shook off their first half nerves to produce a stunning second half display that will live long in the memory.
Slaughtneil, more than any other club in Ireland, prides itself on their collective effort and willpower to overwhelm opponents.
Each player sees himself as a mere spoke on the Emmett’s wheel.
But it would be a travesty – or perhaps downright rude – not to highlight the wonderful individual display Chrissy McKaigue delivered in Newry on Saturday afternoon.
The Slaughtneil centre-back was magnificent.
McKaigue was the closest thing to what perfection looks like on a football field.
It’s still only February but we won’t see a better individual performance than McKaigue’s for the rest of 2017.
Not only did he nullify the daunting threat of Diarmuid Connolly, arguably the best footballer in the country, he demoralised him.
The Dublin star may have hit a sublime point in the 11th minute – but he was put under house arrest for the remainder of Saturday’s absorbing All-Ireland semi-final.
Connolly was constantly on the back foot, as McKaigue drifted past him to split St Vincent’s posts four times. Each score was so crucial to the outcome of this contest.
And yet, ironically, McKaigue had expressed some concerns about marking Connolly during a team meeting the night before the semi-final.
“He was a wee bit concerned about marking Diarmuid Connolly,” revealed Slaughtneil assistant manager John Joe Kearney afterwards.
“We had a get-together on Friday night and I knew by the vibes of him that he was worried.
“I had a word with him, a one-to-one last night, and told him for the first time in three years I had been involved with the team I’d experienced a bit of negativity from him as regards what he had to do.
“I said: 'Why should you worry about Diarmuid Connolly? Let Diarmuid Connolly worry about you. You get an opening - you go for it. Put him on the back foot.'
“He had a great game today.”
In a game of fine margins, McKaigue's first of four points from play came in the 13th minute to narrow the Dubliners' lead 0-3 to 0-2.
He thundered over from distance in the 37th minute to level the game [0-6 to 0-6].
And just when the Ulster champions began turning the screw midway through the second half, McKaigue popped up with another crucial score to edge his side in front [0-8 to 0-7].
Connolly simply couldn’t contain McKaigue’s runs from deep – and in the 46th minute Slaughtneil’s number six jinked past him and put the Derry men 0-11 to 0-8 ahead.
Man-of-the-match McKaigue said: “Throughout my career I’ve been given the task of marking the marquee forward a lot of the time.
"Sometimes it goes alright, sometimes you break even, sometimes they just get the better of you. That’s just the nature of playing against quality opposition.
"Today went well enough, but on another day Diarmuid Connolly could give you all the trouble you want.”
It was also a memorable day for Christopher ‘Sammy’ Bradley who showed tremendous courage throughout, buzzing around and always showing for the ball.
His second of three scores just before half-time raised the roof of the main stand in Pairc Esler as Slaughtneil began reeling in St Vincent’s.
With Connolly detained in his own half for most of Saturday’s tie, Enda Varley stepped up to the plate and looked as though he could be St Vincent’s game-winner.
The Mayo man was in the groove right from the start and had four points against his name before the break as the Dublin side led 0-6 to 0-5 at the interval.
After a tentative first half display, Slaughtneil owned the second period, out-scoring their opponents 0-7 to 0-4.
Free-taker Paul Bradley earned his stripes too. After fluffing a handy free wide of St Vincent’s posts in the opening period, he showed nerves of steel to convert two tricky placed balls at either end of the second half.
In the 59th minute, St Vincent’s midfielder Shane Carthy made it a one-point game but Paul Bradley made no mistake from a difficult distance to grab the last score of the day.
St Vincent’s manager Tommy Conroy admitted afterwards that “something was missing” in his side’s performance and acknowledged the inspirational role Chrissy McKaigue played in deciding Saturday’s semi-final.
“In fairness, Chrissy McKaigue punished us,” said Conroy.
“He hit scores from play and it’s a credit to him and what he was doing. Even with that, though, there were just areas of our game – the passes weren’t sticking, we were getting the basics wrong.
“We brought it back to a point and had a chance near the end. But there was just something lacking in us today.
“In fairness, Slaughtneil worked really, really hard and stuck to what they had to do. We just weren’t right for some reason.
“We thought we’d done everything well [in our preparation], we just didn’t take the chances. We scored 10 points, which is not big enough to win a game like that.”
Karl McKaigue kept former Dublin ace Tomas Quinn on a tight leash throughout, wing-back Paul McNeill had a brilliant game for the Emmet’s club while teenager Shane McGuigan showed his big-game temperament by hitting three points (0-2 frees) at critical times.
After destroying Corofin in their semi-final, Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper’s Dr Crokes will go into next month’s decider as favourites.
But Slaughtneil wear the underdog tag so well and, more importantly, they know this terrain from a couple of seasons ago. They won’t fear it like last time.
Robert Emmet's, Slaughtneil (Derry): A McMullan; F McEldowney, B Rodgers, K McKaigue; P McNeill, C McKaigue (0-4), K Feeney; Patsy Bradley, P Cassidy; Shane McGuigan (0-3, 0-2 frees), Paul Bradley (0-2 frees), M McGrath; C Bradley (0-3), Se McGuigan, C O’Doherty
Subs: R Bradley for Se McGuigan (54)
Yellow card: M McGrath (45), C McKaigue (50)
Black card: K McKaigue replaced by B McGuigan (63)
St Vincent’s (Dublin): M Savage; M Concarr, J Curley, C Wilson; B Egan, G Brennan, Cameron Diamond; N Mullins (0-1), S Carthy (0-1); G Burke (0-2), D Connolly (0-1), Cormac Diamond; R Trainor, E Varley (0-5, 0-2 frees), T Quinn
Subs: A Martin for R Trainor (46), K Golden for Cameron Diamond (58), F Breathnach for N Mullins (59)
Yellow cards: E Varley (30), M Concarr (40), D Connolly (47), Cameron Diamond (54), G Brennan (55)
Black cards: Cormac Diamond replaced by J Feeney (51) B Egan replaced by J McCusker (62)
Referee: P Neilan (Roscommon)