Hurling and camogie

Slaughtneil success would 'help put Ulster hurling back on the map': Cormac O'Doherty

Slaughtneil captain Cormac O’Doherty looks ahead to his side’s AIB All-Ireland club SHC semi-final against Ballygunner on Sunday, as the Ulster champions bid to reach an All-Ireland final for the first time. Picture by Sportsfi
Neil Loughran

SLAUGHTNEIL captain Cormac O’Doherty admits he would love to help “put Ulster hurling back on the map” by pulling off a major upset in Sunday’s All-Ireland club semi-final.

Munster kingpins Ballygunner have been installed as 1/10 favourites to progress when the clubs clash at Parnell Park, with a final against either reigning champions Ballyhale Shamrocks or Galway’s St Thomas’s up for grabs.

The Emmet’s proved they are able to mix it with anybody when pushing Ballyhale all the way in Newry two years ago and, having tuned into former Antrim star Terence McNaughton’s brilliant Laochra Gael programme last week, O’Doherty knows what it would mean to make that breakthrough.

“It would obviously be a massive achievement for us,” said the 25-year-old, speaking at AIB’s launch of the All-Ireland club hurling semi-finals yesterday.

“We know that Ulster hurling is still behind at club level and we are underdogs for a reason, but it's up to us to brace ourselves and be ready for that challenge and take it on.

“We've been here before, we know what it's about but we haven't managed to get across the line in an All-Ireland game yet so it's up to us to take that step.

“And to give Ulster hurling that opportunity to be back in the forefront of everybody's minds - [McNaughton's] TV interview last week brought it to everybody's attention… to back that up now, if we did happen to produce a massive performance on Sunday and cause a big upset, it would be massive for Ulster hurling and for Derry hurling.

“It would be that next step and it'd be good to put Ulster hurling back on the map.”

McNaughton’s club, Cushendall, was the last club from Ulster to make it to All-Ireland final day, losing out to Limerick’s Na Piarsaigh in 2016, while Loughgiel Shamrocks remain the only ones to have got their hands on the Tommy Moore Cup – in 1983 and 2012.

Sunday will be Slaughtneil’s fourth attempt at cracking the semi-final code, having come up short against Cuala (2017), Na Piarsaigh (2018) and Ballyhale two years ago thus far.

Michael McShane’s men have already accounted for familiar foes Dunloy and Ballycran in Ulster and, despite having been unable to defend their provincial crown last year as a consequence of the pandemic, O’Doherty believes they have steadily improved in the time between.

“There’s absolutely no guarantee we would’ve won Ulster last year.

“Everybody was in the same boat but what we’ve tried to focus on over the last few years is developing ourselves physically, technically and tactically.

“The two year gap allowed us to do that but, at the same time, we don’t know where we stand at this level because we’ve been out of it two years. We know it’s a big step up on Sunday from what we’ve faced this year.

“Not having the opportunity to do that last year could be detrimental, we haven’t been exposed to that level in a while, but we’ll soon find out on Sunday.

“At the end of the day it’s a Derry team coming up against a Waterford team. They would have a lot of players who have played on the biggest of days in September for Waterford, so it’s a massive task for us.

“Eight Waterford titles in-a-row, two of the last four Munster titles, you saw how they dismantled Kilmallock last week… we’re under no illusions how good this Ballygunner team is.

What the bookies price it as, that’s up to them, but we know ourselves it’s a massive challenge.”

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Hurling and camogie