Hurling & Camogie

Ruthless Slaughtneil can quell Ballygalget attack and retain Ulster hurling title

ballygalgets gareth magic johnston pic seamus loughran
ballygalgets gareth magic johnston pic seamus loughran

Ulster Senior Hurling Club Championship final: Ballygalget (Down) v Slaughtneil (Derry) (Sunday, Athletic Grounds, 4pm)

BALLYGALGET may enter tomorrow’s provincial final with Slaughtneil with tradition on their side but it’s the Derry champions that have Ulster medals hanging out of their back pockets.

This will be the Down club’s 12th Ulster final and they are aiming for another success to add to the famous triumphs in 1975, 1998 and 2005.

Slaughtneil, by contrast, are looking for their second title at the fifth time of asking but they are, of course, the holders having become the first Derry side to lift the Four Seasons Cup after a pulsating final against Loughgiel last October.

It may be 12 years since ‘Galget were crowned kings of Ulster, but they do still have two survivors from that side on board, Gareth Johnson and Eoin Clarke.

The elite Ulster hurling scene may have a limited pick, but this will be the pair’s first outing against the Robert Emmet’s.

Johnson has never even went to watch Slaughtneil play, but he has nothing but admiration for their achievements in recent years as the bulk of their panel prepare for their sixth provincial final between hurling and football since 2013.

“For the last 10 years I have been playing football (with Loughinisland) on a Friday night and hurling on a Sunday,” he said.

“There has been times during championship season when I’ve played a hurling match and then raced to Newry to play a football match, so I have a fair idea what these boys are going through.

“It’s unbelievable how they make so many finals in hurling and football, it’s a fantastic achievement.”

The 11/2 available on Ballygalget suggests that Slaughtneil’s achievements are only going to grow at the Athletic Grounds.

Yet still, Paddy Monan’s side should not be dismissed out of hand. They would have been underdogs in their previous finals wins, against Ballycastle (twice) and Cushendall and that didn’t stop them.

Their ability to upset undoubtedly lies with a forward line that has plenty of sparkle about it.

Danny Toner has probably been Down’s stand-out forward over the last three or four seasons and he averaged over six points a game for his county this year.

Caolan Bailie is another player than can cause chaos if given an inch and in Johnson they have both a scavenger around the half-forward line and a potential target man on the edge of the square. Throw into the mix John McManus, Declan McManus and Mark Fisher, who likes to break late from around the middle, and it’s clear that the threat is there anyway.

That’s not even counting the in-form Cormac Coulter who hit 2-3 in the county final win over Portaferry and bagged another four points in the 2-26 to 0-8 Ulster semi-final cakewalk against Lisbellaw.

“You’ve Danny Toner, Caolan Bailie, our forwards my not be as strong as Slaughtneil, but if they all click…,” Johnson continued.

“It’s not always about nice hurling though. Dunloy are probably a nicer hurling team than Slaughtneil but sometimes you need that grit along with it.

“Slaughtneil are super fit, they tackle hard and they’ve top class players all over.”

The fear for Ballygalget is that Micheal McShane has more than enough options to select from to quell ‘Galget’s offensive threat.

The potential loss of Sean Cassidy, who is nursing a knee injury, would be a huge blow to their solidity in front of goalkeeper Oisin O’Doherty, but Karl McKaigue, Paul McNeill and Mehaul McGrath are all well capable of providing the necessary cover. McNeill’s suspension from his sending off in the footballer’s victory over Kilcoo last week does not come into play here.

“We scored 2-16 today. If we were lucky enough to score that against Slaughtneil, it still might not be enough to beat them,” Monan said after Ballygalget beat Lisbellaw last time out.

Not many teams manage to post tallies like that against the Oakleaf side. In fact, since their current winning run began in 2013, they have played 25 times in Derry, Ulster and the All-Ireland series and only two teams have managed a total of 22 points or more.

Those games were against Loughgiel (3-14) in the 2013 Ulster final and Cuala (3-21) in the 2016 All-Ireland semi-final. Loughgiel, again, and Cushendall have also managed it too, but both of those were after 80 minutes with the sides below the 22-point threshold at the end of an hours’ hurling.

The possibility of Slaughtneil reaching that tally is much more likely, and as they showed in the semi-final against Dunloy, when their attacking potential is unleashed, it’s nigh on impossible to stop.

After 15 minutes they trailed the Antrim champions 1-4 to 0-1, then the machine cranked into gear.

Gerald Bradley and Chrissy McKaigue were behind the wheels and all of a sudden a six-point deficit became a five-point lead. Game over.

Ballygalget can be game opponents if they make a similar fast break to Dunloy, but Slaughtneil can kill a contest stone dead in the blink of an eye.

History was made last year when they became the first Derry side to win this competition. A new chapter in this glory story should be written in Armagh.



Down SHC round-robin

Ballygalget 4-24 Ballycran 1-21; Ballygalget 1-22 Portaferry 0-24

Down SHC final: Ballygalget 2-13 Portaferry 2-12

Ulster Club SHC semi-final: Ballygalget 2-26 Lisbellaw 0-8


Derry SHC semi-final: Slaughtneil 1-21 Ballinascreen 1-8

Derry SHC final: Slaughtneil 2-18 Banagher 0-14

Ulster Club SHC semi-final: Slaughtneil 1-18 Dunloy 2-8