Priceless attacking commodities carry Slaughtneil to safety
O’Neills Derry SFC semi-final: Slaughtneil 1-13 Lavey 2-6 (AET)
SLAUGHTNEIL’S money-can’t-buy commodities were enough to squeeze them into another Derry football final and leave Lavey knowing where they must improve to take that step.
When Eamon McGill’s big toe poked home a dramatic equalising goal with effectively the last kick of normal time, the crowd that were still in Owenbeg found a sense that Lavey’s young legs would carry them through the extra 20 minutes.
Hundreds of empty seats in the packed stand had appeared as Slaughtneil, playing against 14 men, moved five points clear with five minutes to play.
But Matthew Downey’s free, Niall Toner’s point and then McGill’s goal forced Slaughtneil to call on their reserves of conditioning.
That was one major difference. Lavey’s legs might have been younger but rather than fresher, they found that the base of work just isn’t there yet.
Considering 14 of the team that finished the game are under 24, that’s just a natural flaw of youth. Slaughtneil have been playing these big games for seven years now. They’re far from an ageing force and even those that are tipping on had the grit to just keep ploughing.
Patsy Bradley rolled back the years with a series of brilliant fetches at midfield, but where the holders really hurt Jude Donnelly’s side was through Shane McGuigan and Christopher Bradley.
The pair are almost unmarkable at club level. Conor Mulholland was manful on McGuigan and Eamon McGill practically double-marked him from in front, but as the game stretched, McGuigan came into his own.
Bradley was the firestarter, hitting a series of sublime scores, the pick of which were the game’s first and last scores, one off either foot from unfavourable positions.
Lavey are a unit full of frightening pace and when they ran at Slaughtneil from deep, it caused bother in the first half. Hugh McGurk started and finished a move that led to his side’s first goal, playing a one-two with Toner before rounding Antoin McMullan to make it 1-2 to 0-3.
Patsy Bradley’s black card right on half-time was threatening to turn this into an exact replica of their group-stage meeting, where the same happened. But Lavey didn’t push up and allowed Slaughtneil to keep the ball for the first six minutes of the second half.
“Slaughtneil probably killed the time very well at that point,” admitted Jude Donnelly afterwards.
“Maybe in hindsight we should have pushed out a wee bit sooner. A point or two at that stage of the game was crucial, to be honest.”
Lavey had claims for a penalty just before half-time when Cailean O’Boyle’s leaning back into Chrissy McKaigue was aided by a tug backwards from the Derry defender. It was 50-50 and referee Gavin Hegarty let it go.
He had no option when Shane McGuigan went through at the other end after 48 minutes. Meehaul McGrath, outstanding on the night, saw McGuigan in behind and launched a brilliant diagonal ball. Conor Mulholland was caught the wrong side and in his desperation he lunged into a tackle that led to a penalty and a second booking.
McGuigan rolled home the penalty to make it 1-8 to 1-4 and three yellow cards in two minutes after the goal suggested Lavey had hit the wall.
But they regrouped and produced a rousing comeback that culminated in McGill’s goal. The entire 30 players were in Slaughtneil’s square as Enda Downey went low with a 20-metre free. It stopped dead in the sandy goalmouth and by the time Antoin McMullan and his helpers got their hands down to it, McGill had poked it into the net.
But McGuigan and Bradley were just too much to cope with in a tiring game.
McGuigan hit the two first-half points and Bradley the two in the second period as Lavey failed to score. Their young legs, unused to 80 minutes at this pace, were cramping all over the place. Four men succumbed in extra-time.
That will all come in time. The bigger challenge, for them in the long-term and Glen in the short, is to find a scoring forward that can replicate even half of what McGuigan and Bradley are capable of.
Slaughtneil: A McMullan; P McNeill, C McKaigue, K McKaigue; F McGuigan (0-1), B Rogers, K Feeney; P Bradley, P Cassidy; G Bradley, C Bradley (0-6, 0-3 frees, 0-1 45’), M McGrath; Sé McGuigan, Shane McGuigan (1-6, 1-0pen, 0-3 frees), B Cassidy
Subs: R Bradley for Sé McGuigan (47), S Cassidy for G Bradley (60), M McGuigan for B Cassidy (65)
Yellow cards: M McGrath (56), P Cassidy (57), R Bradley (76)
Black card: P Bradley (30-40)
Lavey: J Scullion; S Downey, C Mulholland, A Toner; E McGill (1-0); H McGurk (1-0), O Downey, J McGurk; K O’Neill, D Hughes; M Downey (0-4 frees), N Toner (0-1), F Bradley; E Downey, C O’Boyle
Subs: L Murphy for O’Boyle (37), J Duggan for O’Neill (44), C Downey for J McGurk (58), K O’Neill (start of ET), J McGurk for O Downey (65), C O’Boyle for H McGurk (70), P Rafferty for M Downey (72)
Yellow cards: C Mulholland (30, 48), K O’Neill (41), D Hughes (52), N Toner (53), F Bradley (53)
Red card: C Mulholland (48)
Black card: J McGurk (79-FT)
Referee: G Hegarty (Séan Dolan’s)