O’Neill’s Senior Football Championship final: Robert Emmet’s Slaughtneil 0-7 Watty Graham’s Glen 1-12
ANY lingering debate over who’s the best Gaelic football team in Derry is over. For many, the debate probably ended last season after the way in which Watty Grahams, Glen swept aside Slaughtneil in the county final.
But Slaughtneil, who claimed five titles in seven years between 2014 and 2020, needed to know for sure.
Yesterday at Celtic Park, played under slate grey skies and in front of 6,285 supporters, they got their answer: Glen are the new dominant force in the Oak Leaf County, and given their age profile there is every chance they’ll pick up a few more over the coming seasons.
For two years running, Glen were different class. Last season they won their first-ever senior title on a 1-13 to 0-7 scoreline.
Yesterday, they were a point short of that tally and again kept the Emmet’s to a paltry seven points, allowing them just five from play.
Tactically, Glen were a puzzle Slaughtneil never came close to solving. Malachy O’Rourke’s men had more running in them too and retained their title with very little stress.
Glen’s march to victory suffered a little bit of turbulence in the third quarter – but they soon settled to out-score their south Derry rivals 1-3 to 0-1 in the final 10 minutes in a final that never quite caught fire.
After the final whistle, O’Rourke wore the kind of smile that nearly touched his eyes. For him, there was immense satisfaction in this victory.
Asked to compare last year’s triumph to this one, the Fermanagh native said: “It’s different in a way. Winning the first one last year, there was serious joy and serious emotion. This one is very satisfying.
“Over the last couple of weeks there was maybe a feeling that Slaughtneil weren’t ready for it last year, they didn’t play well rather than us playing well, and I think it was the boost that the boys needed to go out and put a really big performance.
“Slaughtneil have been a brilliant team and still are a brilliant team and a brilliant club and we just wanted to back it up today and I’m delighted we did.
“The fact that we won it last year, Slaughtneil probably felt primed for it this year to maybe take the title back. From the start, the boys showed great hunger and worked really hard for each other.
“And when we had the ball we were patient when we needed to be patient and we were able to take scores. Overall, I'm delighted with the performance.”
O’Rourke had every right to be too because everything from the theory outlined on the whiteboard to the pitch seemed to worked a treat.
All Slaughtneil’s threats were brilliantly nullified.
Brendan Rogers’s buccaneering runs from wing-back were limited, primarily by Emmet Bradley.
“I’d a bit of a role tracking Rogers there,” Bradley acknowledged afterwards, “and Conor [Glass] and I would share that role. That’s the best thing I can say about this group is they are totally selfless.
“There were times I wasn’t near Rodgers and somebody else would pick him up. We knew the threat he carried and the year he had with the county. He’s a phenomenal athlete, a phenomenal player. That was part of my role but I also tried to get ahead of the ball and get on the scoresheet. Look, it’s just what you can do for the team and making the job of the boys around you easier.”
Sweeper Chrissy McKaigue didn’t have any avenues to run into when Slaughtneil sorely needed to break lines, unlike his opposite number Michael Warnock who was afforded the freedom of Celtic Park and duly hit a point in each half.
Shane McGuigan was hemmed into his own half for huge swathes of yesterday’s one-sided final and had to wait 49 minutes to open his account from play.
Slaughtneil forwards Christopher Bradley, Se McGuigan and Cormac O’Doherty put the miles in but never troubled the Glen back-line.
This was another tactical masterclass from Glen, something we’ve come to expect from Malachy O’Rourke’s teams.
Glen ‘keeper Conlan Bradley also outshone his opposite number Antóin McMullan with the latter struggling with some of his restarts in the opening half.
Every sector of the field, you couldn't help but be impressed with Glen, from Bradley in goal to roving full-back Ryan Dougan to Cathal and Eunan Mulholland, Bradley, Conor Glass and Jack Doherty.
Glen had more diagonal runners, always receiving the ball with pace and purpose while also being adept at taking the sting out of the game when they needed to by holding possession.
In many ways, yesterday’s decider was a carbon copy of last year’s final meeting between the sides. Once Conor Glass opened the scoring on three minutes from a respectable distance, Glen were instantly in the groove.
They raced into a 0-5 to no score lead, Warnock and impressive duo Jack Doherty and Conleth McGuckian registering scores in that early period of dominance.
Slaughtneil’s performance in the opening half was pockmarked by a couple of efforts landing short and being turned over once too often when they belatedly entered enemy territory.
Padraig Cassidy offered some resistance by firing over a wonderful score with the outside of his right boot to leave the half-time score 0-7 to 0-2, slightly flattering to Slaughtneil too.
The same player led Slaughtneil’s charge in the second half. It was Cassidy’s brave run that set up Brian Cassidy with their only goal-scoring opportunity of the afternoon, but the Slaughtneil substitute fired narrowly wide on 52 minutes.
Had Cassidy rippled Glen’s net, Slaughtneil would have been within two points of the defending champions. But with that miss, Glen led 0-11 to 0-6 going down the home straight, and grabbed a goal of their own two minutes later.
Emmet Bradley’s speculative effort landed on top of a ruck of players on the edge of Slaughtneil’s square before Cathal Mulholland claimed the last touch to bundle the ball over the goal-line.
The six-time champions were well and truly gone at that point.
As far as final performances go, Glen couldn’t have asked for better as they eye the winners of the Tyrone championship (Errigal Ciaran or Carrickmore) in a mega Ulster showdown on November 13 at Celtic Park.
“The first thing you need in any group is that spirit and togetherness and boys willing to fight for each other,” said O’Rourke.
“If you don’t have that, nothing else is much good to you. There are a lot of good footballers in this group and a fair bit of pace as well. We go into another competition now. You’re guaranteed just one game and that’s the beauty and the cruelty of it. One bite at the cherry. But we’ll enjoy these celebrations and we’ll look at that later.”
When it was put to the Glen manager that the celebrations mightn’t last as long as last year’s, he replied: “I wouldn’t bet on it!”
Slaughtneil: A McMullan; C McAllister, C McKaigue, P McNeill; B Rodgers, K McKaigue, K Feeney (0-1); P Bradley (0-1), J McGuigan (0-1); R O Mianáin, Shane McGuigan (0-2, 0-1 free), P Cassidy (0-1); C Bradley (0-1 free), Se McGuigan, C O’Doherty Subs: B Cassidy for Se McGuigan (38), M McGrath for R Ó Mianáin (41), S Cassidy for J McGuigan (43)
Yellow card: J McGuigan (32)
Glen: C Bradley; C Mulholland (1-1), R Dougan, C Carville; T Flanagan, M Warnock (0-2), E Mulholland (0-1); C Glass (0-1), E Bradley (0-1 free); E Doherty (0-2), J Doherty (0-2), C Convery; P Gunning, A Doherty, C McGuckian (0-2) Subs: A McGonigle for A Doherty (51), J McDermott for E Doherty (54), C McCabe for D Tallon (61), S O’Hara for E Mulholland (61)
Referee: G Hegarty