GAA Football

Slaughtneil a different animal with a cause

Shane McGuigan was the star for Slaughtneil as they saw off a weakened Eoghan Rua on Saturday. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
From Cahair O'Kane at Greenlough

O’Neills Derry SFC Group B: Robert Emmet’s, Slaughtneil 2-12 Eoghan Rua, Coleraine 1-5

“People talk about Slaughtneil as the best team in Derry but to me, that’s not the case any more. We were for four years in a row, but credit to Magherafelt last year, Coleraine the previous year – the best team wins the championship, that’s the way it is in my eyes anyway.”
Slaughtneil manager Paul Bradley

SLAUGHTNEIL are a different animal when they have a cause.

Prior to the semi-final two years ago, they looked nigh-on unbeatable in Derry, chasing an historic five-in-a-row, having won three Ulster titles since 2014.

Then Eoghan Rua blindsided them and when Glen did the same last year, suddenly they’d gone two years without reaching a county final.

On Saturday, they looked like a side with something to prove. Just the way they like it.

Whatever about the absentees on the Eoghan Rua side, Slaughtneil’s first 15 minutes were the most impressive by any team in Derry so far this year.

In a little over three minutes, Shane McGuigan had taken Niall Holly for an incredible haul of four points from play. The first off the right, the next two brilliant off the left and the fourth a goal chance that he blazed over when the final pass was maybe a better option.

And while he only added another 1-1, with the goal from a penalty, the 22-year-old remained the centrepiece of a Slaughtneil attack whose only malfunction was some of the finishing.

It was fast, it was fluid and at it was frightening. The power and pace of the runs off the shoulder, the timing of the pass, the width they kept to stretch Eoghan Rua, but always with the option of running one up the main beam to McGuigan.

But as bald heads toasted under a sun so high and hot that there wasn’t a shadow about to box with, Eoghan Rua carried an air of resignation from the very beginning.

They were only able to name five subs, and their teamsheet listed 14 players unavailable. Among them were starters Barry McGoldrick, Ruairi Mooney, brothers Ciaran and Declan Mullan and Paul and Barry Daly, Gavin McWilliams and goalkeeper Ryan McGeough.

Slaughtneil sensed a weakness and went after it. They were 0-7 to 0-0 ahead in a little over 13 minutes and it took until the last kick before the water break for Eoghan Rua to register their first score.

Remarkably, there wasn’t another score at either end between the resumption of play and the half-time whistle.

The pace that Paul Bradley’s men were attacking the game at naturally slowed up a bit and they kicked five wides in the second quarter, starting to shoot from positions they shouldn’t have been shooting from as Coleraine dug in a bit.

There was almost a sense of fear among the north coast men that while they never really expected to win with that injury list, the last thing they wanted was to ship a bad beating.

Shane McGuigan was afforded a bit less space thereafter, although the fact that they never operated with an out-and-out sweeper yet allowed Chrissy McKaigue to fulfil that role at the other suggested they weren’t going to show any sort of hand.

This was, after all, their eighth championship meeting in 11 years and the first time that there has been more than a kick of a ball to separate them at the end.

“That wouldn’t really be Coleraine there, to me,” said Slaughtneil boss Bradley, who has lost Karl McKaigue, had Padraig Cassidy and Patsy Bradley on the bench and brought Christopher Bradley on.

“If you see Coleraine in a month’s time, you’ll get nothing soft with them.

“You can bet your bottom dollar, in a month’s time there’ll be a kick of a ball either way again.”

Whether Eoghan Rua boss Sean McGoldrick was lighting a fire under some of his sidelined stars (all of whom were injured with the exception of his suspended son Barry), his words after the game hinted that his team may not look that different come knockout football.

“It’s hard to know. Fellas who are injured now, they’re not physically fit and they’re certainly not match fit, so it creates problems.

“On paper, these fellas look to be strong options but the reality is that because they haven’t been able to train and play games, it’s a difficult decision to make as to who you play. We have a few younger players and we hope they can continue to learn.

“We’ll see, there’s a break for a couple of weeks so we’ll see who comes back against Kilrea. But it’s getting late now.

“You’ve one more game before knockout so the fellas who are injured aren’t going to have much chance to get up to physical fitness or match fitness.

“One of the problems you have is when it comes to knockout day, they all declare themselves fit, but whether they actually are is another question. I wouldn’t have much hope for them now at this stage.

“Apart from Barry Daly and our Barry [McGoldrick], I can’t see a lot of the other players getting in.”

Those he had at his disposal briefly threatened a surprise turnaround early in the second half, with Aidan and Shea McLaughlin showing up well for a stage.

The latter won a penalty which Colm McGoldrick slid home to make it 0-8 to 1-2, but within four minutes Slaughtneil had risen two green flags of their own.

They too were awarded a spot-kick that was fairly soft. Few ‘keepers would have reached Shane McGuigan’s effort, nudging the inside of the post’s base on its way in.

Two minutes later, Liam McGoldrick – doing nets as he nurses a knock – poked a short kickout between two bases and was punished as Brian Cassidy fed Sé McGuigan to empty the chamber into the contest.

Not that it ever really was that much of one.

This wasn’t the real Eoghan Rua, but even their very best would have struggled with a lot of what Slaughtneil brought.

MATCH STATS
Slaughtneil:
A McMullan; P McNeill, P Kearney; C McKaigue; F McEldowney, B Rogers, K Feeney; S Cassidy, P McGuigan; F Bradley, C O’Doherty (0-2), M McGrath (0-1); Sé McGuigan (1-0), Shane McGuigan (1-5), B Cassidy (0-3, 0-2 free)
Subs: C Bradley for Sé McGuigan (46), J McGuigan for F Bradley (46), B McGuigan for McEldowney (48), C McAllister for P Kearney (48), B McEldowney for McGrath (55)

Eoghan Rua: L McGoldrick; C Lagan, N Holly, A Rafferty; J Donnelly, SL McGoldrick (0-1), L Ferris, C Lenehan; D Donnelly (0-1), S McLaughlin; A McLaughlin (0-1), Colm McGoldrick (1-1, 1-0pen, 0-1 free), M McTaggart; D Mooney, Ciaran McGoldrick (0-1)
Subs: L McMullan for McTaggart (43), T Casey for D Donnelly (43), A Duffy for J Donnelly (50)

Referee: A Nash (Doire Trasna)

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