GAA Football

Deep trouble powers Slaughtneil to title

Slaughtneil joint captains Shane McGuigan and Karl McKaigue with the cup after beating Magherafelt during the Derry Senior Football Championship Final at Bellaghy on Sunday. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
From Cahair O'Kane in Bellaghy

O’Neills Derry SFC final: Slaughtneil 0-11 Magherafelt 1-4

SLAUGHTNEIL’S attack had been lauded all year but it was their scoring power from deep that helped them win back the John McLaughlin Cup yesterday.

On a day when the two starting forward lines contributed just a single point from play between them, man-of-the-match Chrissy McKaigue landed two points while Brendan Rogers, Conor McAllister and 39-year-old Francis McEldowney lifted white flags as they took the crown from Magherafelt’s head.

In a game that went largely as expected in terms of style, with both teams loading bodies behind the ball and waiting for the gaps to appear, the cushion of the early lead that they created stayed with Slaughtneil all afternoon.

The contest never really caught fire properly, and it was only with the introduction of Cormac Murphy and his instant creation of a goal for Jared Monaghan that the holders came to life.

That was on 41 minutes and they had just two points to their name at that stage. They would finish with just 1-4, undoing the at-times brilliant work of their defensive unit in dragging Slaughtneil’s score down to 11 points having come in with an average-per-game of 2-17.

The first 15 minutes were a sight for sore eyes, but they were also pivotal.

In total there were just nine attacks in that spell. Slaughtneil had five of them, Magherafelt had four. But Conor McCluskey’s left-footed effort was the only Rossa score, while a Christopher Bradley free and two scores from McKaigue gave Slaughtneil a 0-3 to 0-1 lead.

With the game played on the terms of the team leading, it proved to be a hugely significant spell. Brian Cassidy twice carried into traffic and was turned over, but otherwise the Emmet’s were prepared to keep the ball for as long as was needed for Magherafelt’s defence to become impatient, and for the gap to be created.

These were the finest of margins. Danny Heavron kicked an early mark wide and his brother Shane dropped a free short from the 45’.

The game was already being played on Slaughtneil’s terms because of the lead, but Magherafelt defensively were justified by their shape. Shane McGuigan had to come very deep and it’s hard to remember a single ball kicked near the Slaughtneil forward line all evening.

It was a running game and on a pitch that was hosting its fourth game in 28 hours on a wet weekend, the weather had its impact even though the morning’s heavy rain had cleared off by the end of the intermediate final.

There was no grass left underfoot to stabilise a runner and with a referee who was allowing the game to go, carrying the ball into contact became a fool’s errand.

The match-ups that seemed so pivotal beforehand were not exactly as expected. Paul McNeill did a superb job on a deeper-than-usual Shane Heavron, with Brendan Rogers dominating against Emmett McGuckin, who played more at full-forward than at midfield.

Keelan Feeney was detailed to pick up Danny Heavron and stuck like glue to Magherafelt's talisman all day.

Conor McCluskey did very well on Christopher Bradley, Giuseppe Lupari kept Brian Cassidy scoreless and Darren O’Neill restricted Shane McGuigan to a single point from play.

But the supporting casts were so extensive that it became a lot less about the individual and a lot more about the collective.

And collectively, Slaughtneil just had the greater firepower.

It isn’t every day you see a corner-back take a mark right in front of his own dugout, settle with two toe-taps and fire the ball over the black spot from a silly angle. That was Conor McAllister, producing an effort that corner-backs would once have been collared for thinking about.

McKaigue’s two scores were different, one off a turnover that saw him take the right decision when Magherafelt managed to scramble and cover the goal that looked to be on for a second.

His second was a brilliant score from range, and with Conor Kearns brushing the post to leave one over at the other end, it was 0-4 to 0-2 at the interval. Five of the six scores had come from defenders and the other one was a free.

Neither side was likely to throw baby, bathwater and all away with such a scoreline but there was a sense that Slaughtneil were in a position of control, having dominated so much of the ball and been more efficient with their attacks (4/7 compared to 2/9).

Shane McGuigan profited off a slip on a Magherafelt kickout to kick the only point from play by a forward all day, and when Christopher Bradley then slid into the gap and fed Francis McEldowney, the gap was out to four.

It very nearly did when Adrian Cush’s side worked from their own kickout down the right wing and sent Patrick McLarnon in on goal, but on his weaker side he blazed high and wide.

Seconds later Brendan Rogers came like a speedboat down the centre of the Magherafelt defence and fisted Slaughtneil 0-7 to 0-2 ahead. At that point, it seemed the game had to change.

And it did. Cormac Murphy came in and within 30 seconds, he cut a gap down the middle and fed it over the top for Jared Monaghan, on one of his trademark well-timed runs, to blaze past Antoin McMullan and spark life into it.

There were 43 minutes gone before Magherafelt were given a scoreable free inside Slaughtneil’s 45’ and Shane Heavron hooked it over. The winners had only had one real scoreable free as well, but their second when Paul McNeill was chopped down allowed them to push 0-9 to 1-3 clear right on the second water break.

Conor Kearns, as he has done so often in the last two seasons, drove over a fine score after Shane McGuigan had landed a free just on the 45’.

By that stage Magherafelt had gone chasing higher up the pitch and their defence stayed on top of things, giving them the platform for a late assault.

And just as against Glen in the quarter-final, Slaughtneil survived a late double-chance. Cormac O’Doherty was robbed out wide and the lack of precision slowed up the Magherafelt charge on goal. Conor Kearns was bottled up and O’Doherty got back to block the shot, with Antoin McMullan stopping Antone McElhone’s follow-up.

Patsy Bradley took a vintage catch from the 45’ that was dropped in and when Slaughtneil broke to the other end, Sé McGuigan bustled through the tackle to feed Ronan Bradley for the fisted clincher.

Meehaul McGrath turned the last ball over and the Slaughtneil bench exploded on as if it was their first, but the scenes were naturally subdued as the players celebrated alone with the trophy.

But with the Derry camogie and hurling trophies back at Emmet Park already, the John McLaughlin Cup won’t be lonely this winter.

MATCH STATS
Slaughtneil: A McMullan; B Rogers (0-1); C McKaigue (0-2); K Feeney, P McNeill, C McAllister (0-1 mark), F McEldowney (0-1); P Bradley, P Cassidy; S Cassidy, C O’Doherty, M McGrath; C Bradley (0-3, 0-2 frees, 0-1 mark); Shane McGuigan (0-2, 0-1 free), B Cassidy
Subs: P Kearney for McAllister (HT), Sé McGuigan for B Cassidy (49), R Bradley (0-1) for S Cassidy (59), P McGuigan for O’Doherty (62)

Magherafelt: O Lynch; D O’Neill, G Lupari; S McErlain; C Kearns (0-2), R Ferris, C McCluskey (0-1), F Duffin, M McEvoy; J Monaghan (1-0), D Heavron; P McLarnon, S Heavron (0-1 free), J Young; E McGuckin
Subs: N Higgins for Young (40), C Murphy for McLarnon (40), P Quinn for O’Neill (49), D Martin for Lupari (53), A McElhone for Ferris (59)

Referee: B Cassidy (Bellaghy)

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