Brendan Rogers excited by Slaughtneil future after being named on hurling team of the season
SLAUGHTNEIL showed they can mix it with anyone when they went toe-to-toe with eventual All-Ireland champions Ballyhale Shamrocks in January – and Brendan Rogers admits he is excited about what the future holds for the Emmet’s.
It took time for the disappointment of that narrow defeat to subside but, a couple of months on, the 25-year-old can see the huge strides made as they bid to close the gap on the biggest stage.
And even though they have yet to break through the glass ceiling and reach an All-Ireland decider, Rogers feels the 2019/20 campaign – which saw Slaughtneil return to the Ulster throne - has left them with plenty to build upon.
“Probably it was our best year,” he said.
“We haven’t got any further than we have in previous years but our style of play has changed dramatically and that’s what made us play what we thought would be a better brand of hurling at the All-Ireland stage.
“It paid off in the sense we were very competitive – we knew we could be, but that style of play let us do what we do best and apply more work-rate, hunger… it wasn’t just the days of old when you hit it up to the forward line and hope that does the business. Those days are long gone.
“Everybody was happier with how the year went, albeit we didn’t get to the final. That was the biggest positive.”
Rogers and club-mate Chrissy McKaigue will be at Croke Park tonight after being named on the AIB Club Players’ team of the season – a second such honour for Rogers after his 2018 selection, the same year McKaigue was picked for the football equivalent.
Seeing his name alongside the likes of TJ Reid and Brendan Maher is reward for the hard work put in throughout the year, and Rogers hopes Slaughtneil’s performances have set a new bar for everybody at the club.
“It’s nice – it makes it feel that your training was worth it,” he said of his team of the season selection.
“There was a lot of hard yards put in on and off the pitch to get to that level, and it gives you a feeling that it was worthwhile in some way or another.
“It’s nice to get recognised at that level and to be pitched along with some of the greatest hurlers of all time probably. Not many get that so you have to be appreciative.
“We know we have so much potential to improve and us setting that bar gives us a new level we can aspire to individually and as a collective - it gives you that wee bit of excitement knowing we can get to that level.
“Everybody knows they have things to improve on, and they’re willing to improve. Chatting to guys after, even last week, they’re so excited to get training again.
“Sometimes when you lose like that it gives you that wee bit more to go again. You need to lose one to win one… I think we’ve lost enough of them now.”
Defeat to Ballyhale was their third at the All-Ireland semi stage, although Slaughtneil have been faced with tough opposition on each occasion after being paired with Dublin’s Cuala and Limerick champions Na Piarsaigh before meeting the Kilkenny kingpins.
That they were able to focus solely on hurling following the footballers’ exit from the Derry championship was undoubtedly a huge benefit as the year wore on.
Matching those standards is the challenge that lies ahead and Rogers hopes that, just as they did after years of disappointments and near misses in Ulster, the breakthrough at All-Ireland level can come one day.
“It’s that element of when you’re knocking on the door, you might get through at some stage. You’re never guaranteed to get back there, that’s the hard part, but all being well we can keep knocking on the door and hopefully get our chance.”
Manager Michael McShane is back for another crack too, and Rogers believes the Ballycastle man can help Slaughtneil continue their upward trajectory.
“We’re absolutely delighted to keep Mickey on,” he said.
“His professionalism, his thinking about how to improve us has been second to none, the backroom team he’s brought together over the years has been first class - different training methods, different styles, different environments around training, that helped give us that edge.
“Having that understanding of getting the right people around you is a skill people don’t always appreciate. To keep maintaining that year on year is a great testament to Mickey and how he’s gone about things.
“We’re hoping this year there’s another trick up his sleeve that we can use.”