Glen's day might finally have arrived
O'Neills Derry SFC final: Glen v Slaughtneil (tomorrow, 2pm, Celtic Park)
WHEN Glen won their first ever Derry league title in 1987, they were convinced that this was the team that would end their wait for a championship.
The early 1990s were no time to be trying to make a breakthrough. Lavey, Dungiven, Newbridge, Bellaghy, even the likes of Ballinascreen and Swatragh that didn't get across the line either, it was no place for find your way trying to feel about in the dark.
More than 30 years have passed and it seems as though they finally now have a team that will take them to the promised land.
Where many thought Glen would have faltered and lost bodies in the decade between their first Ulster minor title and this, their second senior final, they have not.
Their age profile could not be more perfect. It's a team that has stayed together and learned to win games, then big games, then bigger games.
The biggest hurdle is the one they meet tomorrow.
While they were many peoples' favourites to beat Magherafelt two years ago, it was a tag that was only loosely attached. The Rossas dealt with the day better and dictated the game, deserving their one-point win.
Two key elements of 2019 could bear weight tomorrow though. One is the experience of that final. There hasn't been much bunting or noise around Maghera this week. They'll know the what-to-do and the what-not-to-do of county final day a whole lot better for it.
Second is that they beat Slaughtneil in the semi-final that year. For while their next-door neighbours have owned all the glory and silverware of the last decade, Glen are not without a precedent to fall back on in terms of steeling their psyche.
All of this will be heartily swallowed at the breakfast tables down the Ranaghan Road this morning. Despite all that we know and have learned about them, Slaughtneil are almost being talked out of the game. That suits them right down to the ground.
And for the emphasis on Glen's 2019 victory, Paul Bradley got their house in order last year and saw his team absolutely dominate a five-point quarter-final win at Celtic Park.
That was built on a Shane McGuigan masterclass. Nine points, seven from play, he picked the game off.
Ryan Dougan had done a brilliant job on him the previous year, but created a monster in doing so. McGuigan's development of his right foot in between the two games was the difference between 2019 and 2020.
Slaughtneil would also look back to '19 and feel they bowed more than they ought to have. There were positional switches designed to curtail Glen that backfired by leaving their own defence badly out of sync.
Any attack would struggle to escape the man-marking clutches of a defence containing Karl McKaigue, Chrissy McKaigue, Paul McNeill and Brendan Rogers. Few clubs in Ireland can boast four inter-county defenders.
Yet they will be concerned by whether their defensive skills will be overly relevant. Glen's big threat comes very much from deep. Tiarnan Flanagan and Ethan Doherty on the wings, and Ciaran McFaul at six is the make-up of a half-back line that has done so much of the damage.
So what do Slaughtneil do? Do they take a huge gamble and put Chrissy McKaigue to 11 on McFaul, detailing him to do what he has a great track record in doing by standing on his man's toes all day and taking him out of the game?
Down the other end, Shane McGuigan is magic dust, capable of leaving a trail of influence on any game. Glen could do a whole lot right and Ryan Dougan might not do a whole lot wrong, as he didn't last year, but it might not matter.
Where Glen have pirouetted to the final, Slaughtneil have ploughed.
It is with the three-time Ulster champions that the greater potential for improvement exists, and that should worry Malachy O'Rourke.
But while Slaughtneil have been the best team around for much of the last decade, their neighbours have been the best team in Derry in 2021.
Glen by two.