Slow starts in each half did the damage admits Slaughtneil boss Michael McShane
AIB All-Ireland Club Senior Hurling Championship semi-final: Robert Emmet's, Slaughtneil (Derry) 1-17 Ballygunner (Waterford) 2-19
THERE was no disguising Michael McShane's disappointment as he stood against the changing room wall at Parnell Park, the dust beginning to settle on Slaughtneil's All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Munster kingpins Ballygunner.
For the eight in-a-row Waterford champions, a first All-Ireland final awaits. This is the breakthrough McShane's men have been craving since finally climbing to the top of the pile in Ulster for the first time in 2016.
But just like against Cuala, then Na Piarsaigh the following year and Ballyhale Shamrocks in 2020, bridging that gap continues to elude the Emmet's.
Slow starts to both halves ultimately proved their undoing yesterday as goals from Billy O'Keefe provided the platform for Ballygunner to progress – though they had to battle all the way before securing a February 12/13 showdown against defending champions Ballyhale, who saw off St Thomas's in yesterday's other semi-final.
“Well look, it's very obvious we lost the game in the first five minutes of each half,” said Slaughtneil boss McShane.
“We went 1-2 down before we struck a ball in the first half, then conceded a goal and a point at the start of the second. It's inexplicable. I'm not going to point fingers at anybody, they were out of the blocks very quick, those two goals and three points were the difference at the end.
“We had to chase the game, we had to try and go for goals when we could've maybe been tagging on points in the last 10-12 minutes. Obviously we're very bitterly disappointed, we came here, we've given it everything we could do over the last 10 weeks of training.
“We're very proud to have won another Derry, another Ulster, but ultimately this was where we wanted to do be, and we wanted to win today. We've had enough of glorious performances that end in defeat – this is another one.”
And, as difficult as it was to swallow yesterday's defeat, the Ballycastle man has no doubt his Slaughtneil side is continuing to improve.
“If you look at it, we lost by five points today, we lost by five points in Newry [against Ballyhale two years ago]. Facts would tell you we're standing still but we're not standing still.
“This team has improved, that's a very good Ballygunner team, we knew what we were up against today. This team has got better, where does it go from here? That's not really a question for today.
“The players will have to digest this one and see where they are over the next few weeks and months. That Slaughtneil team have many, many more good years in them if they want it.
“I couldn't be more proud of them, they left everything out there for their club today.”
Ballygunner had blazed through Waterford and Munster before coming up against their toughest test in Dublin, and boss Daragh O'Sullivan admitted his free-scoring side had to “dig it out” against the Ulster champions.
“We knew coming up here what type of game it was going to be,” he said.
“Space is really at a premium. It was only when they came out the field in the last quarter that there was a lot of space but up to that there was no space and that's the way it was. Our fellas adapted very well to it.
“Listen, they're a formidable outfit, they're a savage club team and have been around a long number of years and I've no doubt they'll be back again next year because that's the level they're at and these are the places they strive to be, and fair play to them for that.”