'We were the better hurlers - not the bullies' - victorious Slaughtneil boss Michael McShane
AIB Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship: Cuchullain’s Dunloy 0-10 Robert Emmet’s Slaughtneil 1-15
THREE Ulster titles in four years. Not bad for “thugs with hurling sticks”.
Slaughtneil hurling boss Michael McShane didn’t have to think too long about where yesterday’s emphatic Ulster Club Championship final victory over fancied Dunloy ranked.
“This is without doubt the sweetest Ulster victory we’ve had, and you saw that in the celebrations,” he said. “This is probably bigger than our first.”
Despite their dominance on the Ulster stage over the last few seasons, McShane insisted the Derry champions have never received the respect they deserve and revealed he felt “insulted” by a lot the pre-match chat.
“The drive that we got this week from people talking about how we weren’t a good enough hurling team, that we were going to have to come out and bully Dunloy, physically intimidate them and do all of those things, but we wouldn’t be able to out-hurl them.
“That insulted us because we were two times Ulster champions in the last three years. We had a bit of a blip last year [Ulster semi-final defeat to Ballycran].
“Don’t get me wrong, Dunloy are a superb team and we had to play at the top of our game to beat them today.
“But even after two [Ulster] Championships in three years we still weren’t being treated as a proper hurling team. We were going out to prove ourselves all over again. To you guys [the media] and everybody else.
Now in his fifth season with Slaughtneil, the Ballycastle man added: “Did you read some of the media this week and some of the things that were being said? In other words, we were only thugs with hurling sticks, not hurlers.
“You saw out there today who’s the best hurling team. Now, of course, you need physicality with it and a lot of people have talked about Dunloy being physically ready – and they were.
"But it’s not physicality won that game – it was the best hurlers won that game, and we are better hurlers.”
McShane’s claim that Slaughtneil were the better hurlers yesterday was irrefutable.
In a final that never really caught fire, the Derry men won by eight points but it could have been much more.
It was hard to recall Dunloy winning one aerial duel especially against Slaughtneil’s imperious half-back line.
Dunloy’s danger men Keelan Molloy, Conal Cunning and Nigel Elliott were simply denied any meaningful influence on yesterday’s clash, with Shane McGuigan the undoubted pick of Slaughtneil’s man-markers.
Up front, the Emmet’s men were far from clinical – and yet all six forwards bagged scores as did their midfielders.
Cormac O’Doherty buried a 49th minute penalty and with it Dunloy’s claim on the Four Seasons Cup.
“You tell me if there’s a better forward than Cormac O’Doherty in Ulster or a better defender than Shane McGuigan,” McShane said. “We’re good hurlers and not just bullies.”
“The perception was that we were ‘on the slide’ after the Ballycran defeat [last year]. The average age of that Slaughtneil team today was the same if not younger than Dunloy, but Dunloy were seen as this team coming through.
“We were seen as guys who were disappearing over the hill. People think just because you’ve been around for a while, you need to go away. We’re only starting.”
Dunloy boss Gregory O’Kane acknowledged that the Cuchullain’s men still have some road to travel before they can think of turning county titles into provincial currency.
“Slaughtneil is the benchmark for Ulster hurling because they are Ulster champions for three of the last four years. So that's what you have to match if you want to be Ulster champions,” said O'Kane.
Nigel Elliott’s second yellow card offence on the 40th minute certainly didn’t help the Antrim champions’ cause, and although they reduced Slaughtneil’s lead to 0-10 to 0-8 on 44 minutes, they never looked as though they had to belief to overtake them.
“When you are chasing the game and you go down to 14 players... But Nigel has pulled us out of many holes. In modern-day hurling, it was still a harsh red card. But decisions are made and you live by them.”
The winners of Leinster await Slaughtneil in the first week of January. But nobody was thinking about the All-Ireland series as the music and singing boomed from the winner’s enclosure.