Slaughtneil still have plenty left in the tank insists Brendan Rogers
SLAUGHTNEIL intend to prove the doubters wrong by showing they still have plenty more in the tank against familiar foes Dunloy on Sunday, according to stalwart Brendan Rogers.
That Ulster Club SHC semi-final meeting with the Antrim champions comes five weeks after a Slaughtneil footballers were well beaten by parish rivals Glen in the Derry decider.
The nature of that defeat sparked some suggestions that battling on two fronts for so many years had taken a toll, with several of the same players likely to run out at the Athletic Grounds this weekend.
However, Rogers was quick to dismiss that notion, and insists the break between the county football final and Sunday’s date with Dunloy has been of major benefit to Michael McShane’s men.
“There’s not too many clubs would get to a county final, get beat and say they had a bad year… we’re at the mercy of our own standards in that respect,” he said.
“There was disappointment over the Glen game, because we didn’t perform the way we prepared to. That was the real annoyance. But that has probably refreshed the hurling, not that it necessarily needed it.
“It’s one of the few years where we’ve had a real prolonged period of the same code in terms of preparation for an Ulster championship game, so it’s been quite refreshing how much more focused you can be, and how refined the preparation can be.
“We all knew this was our chance to put things right after the Glen game. We now have an opportunity, without having to wait a year, to show we’re not what some people might think we are.
“There’s this perception - I don’t know where it came from - but for a long time now we’ve been an old team. People have maybe equated being on the road for a long time with being an old team, where if you looked at the average age of our team, it’s not old at all.
“With the hurlers, there’s maybe two or three guys who started in the county final are over 30. I’m 27… a few people thought I was over 30 too because this will be my ninth year on the bounce.
“Over that time we’ve had so many good runs. It’s probably natural enough when a team has been successful and they lose, that people maybe come out with that sort of thing, but the team certainly doesn’t feel old, or like there’s a load of miles on the clock.”
Dunloy, on the other hand, have been considered the emerging force in Antrim and Ulster hurling for some time – but have been unable to get past the formidable Emmet’s in either of their two previous meetings.
Slaughtneil clipped the Cuchullains’ wings in 2017, before proving too strong and savvy for Gregory O’Kane’s men in the last Ulster club final two years ago.
Those defeats are sure to have fired Dunloy bellies in the time between, although – having waited so long for their own breakthrough – Slaughtneil know all too well what it’s like to be the hunter as well as the hunted.
Having conquered Derry, tough days against Loughgiel and Cushendall followed on the provincial stage before, in 2016, they finally got their hands on the Four Seasons Cup.
“We’ve been in that position, trying to get over Antrim champion as it was at that time.
“That’ll probably be their motivation, they have to be hell-bent on beating us as their next opponent, and I suppose as the ones that have held them back from success in recent years.
“It’s not something we’re overly worried about because it’s not a controllable for us. If I was in Dunloy’s shoes that would be one factor to motivate me but there’s ways and means of motivation for everybody.
“We won the last title so it’s ours to keep too.”
And while Dunloy’s development as a team was clear to see in their Antrim final destruction of O’Donovan Rossa, Rogers has no doubt that this Slaughtneil side is also continuing on an upward trajectory.
“You could say they’ve improved, there’s a lot of boys now featuring regularly on the Antrim senior team, in big games, getting a lot of time together. I’m sure they learned lessons from our games, but we came away from those Dunloy games learning a lot of lessons too.
“We haven’t been caught up in the narrative that Dunloy have improved and we haven’t. We’re trying to learn and stay fresh and dynamic in terms of how modern hurling’s played, so it’ll be very interesting to see how both teams have learned and developed.”