Slaughtneil 2-15, Bellaghy 1-06
Slaughtneil showed all their championship qualities with a fluent win over Bellaghy, the only team to reach the semi-final by the direct route.
Bellaghy started with a flourish but by half-time the holders had one foot in Sunday’s final where they will face surprise packets, Eoghan Rua, Coleraine.
Bellaghy could never match the winner’s team work, the Emmet’s used the big Owenbeg pitch to their advantage in front of bumper crowd of 4,200.
Their defenders came pushing up at every opportunity to put pressure on a none-too-secure Bellaghy defence who were always struggling with the pace and cohesion of the opposition.
Despite the defeat, Bellaghy actually shaded midfield where Fergal Doherty, backed up by the tall Peter Cassidy, got ample possession.
However when they did get the ball forward their small front men were swallowed up by the champions’ superb defence.
Such was Slaughtneil’s superiority that long before the end they were able to replace some of their better players with Sunday’s final in mind.
When they lost to Lavey in round one and had to go through the qualifiers many were predicting that they would not hold on to their crown.
As they have progressed they have improved and it is obvious that their managerial trio of Mickey Moran, John Joe Kearney and Eoin Bradley have their run well tuned.
Chrissy McKaigue, Karl McKaigue and Brendan Rogers were excellent in defence and while they did not dominate midfield, it was their fitness and work ethic that still won the middle third.
Barry McGuigan and Paul Bradley were quick to the breaking ball and they made full use of a deadly front three with Cormac O’Doherty virtually unplayable until he came off with a slight injury.
Slaughtneil were by no means flattered by the 13-point victory; it could have been more as the Bellaghy goal came late in the game from a penalty which Diarmuid Larkin dispatched in some style.
Eoghan Brown had been the only Bellaghy forward to trouble the tight marking Emmet’s full-back line but when the ball was played in he had little room to operate.
The game was too one sided to be a thriller but the skill and accuracy of Slaughtneil was worth watching.
On this form they will be strong favourites to retain their title but they will not underestimate Coleraine. The appearance of county minor star, Shane McGuigan, lit up the scene and having come off the bench in the second half hit two glorious points from play and one from a free.
Bellaghy, the record holders of the championship, will be very disappointed with their display. Surprisingly they went man-to-man against Slaughtneil and in most cases they were second best. One would have expected them to drop a man back and create more space for their small but speedy forwards yet their set up played into the hands of the much better organised winners.
After Bellaghy had missed a couple of early chances Slaughtneil hit gold in their first real attack after four minutes. Paul Bradley with a delightful pass found O’Doherty and the corned forward drilled the ball low past Brian Scullion. Bellaghy’s response was quick and encouraging. Within a minute, midfielders Cassidy and Doherty had pointed from long range. Then they were level in the sixth minute when Cassidy, after a solo run, put the teams level.
Padraig Kelly sent a free against an upright and, at the other end, a Ryan McElwee shot was cleared off the line. The champions were now beginning to win most of the loose ball and once again Paul Bradley played in O’Doherty this time for a point.
From there on it was more or less one way traffic. Another brilliant move saw Chrissy McKaigue and Padraig Kelly set up Chris Bradley for a 15th minute goal and a four point lead.
Se McGuigan and O’Doherty, who were tearing the Bellaghy defence apart, sent over points each for a 2-3 to 0-3 lead after 16 minutes. Full forward Se McGuigan was winning every ball that came his way and he tagged on two more points and the game was well and truly drifting away from Bellaghy.
Young midfielder Padraig Cassidy, who has been making a big impression this year, opened up a nine point gap before Eoghan Brown, from a free, broke a 16-minute scoring drought for Bellaghy. Five minutes from the interval Paul Bradley sent over a free after Padraig Cassidy was fouled. Soon Bellaghy were 10 behind after the outstanding O’Doherty had placed Ronan Bradley for a 2-8 to 0-4 lead. In the minute of added time at the end of the half Ruairi McElwee sent over a fine long range score but at that stage there was just going to be one winner.
Slaughtneil knew they had a final place in the bag and Bellaghy probably knew their race was run so in reality the last half hour was just a formality with Slaughtneil putting on something of an exhibition and giving their subs a run. In their first attack of the second period Frankie Donnelly’s effort came off a post and a foul on Eoghan Brown resulted in the full forward missing the simplest of chances.
Slaughtneil showed who was boss with two superb points from the busy Ronan Bradley and a well worked score from full back Brendan Rogers put 12-between the teams.
Chris Bradley added another as Bellaghy were flying the distress signal all over the field but to their credit they kept battling on.
Midway through the half minor star Shane McGuigan guided over a long range free while a wonderful Paul Bradley point in the 53rd minute had spectators streaming for the exit. Then came a scramble in they Slaughtneil goal area as Anton McMullan saved twice from sub Conan Doherty. Then came the surprising decision to award a penalty which was expertly sent to the net by Diarmuid Larkin to make the score 2-15 to 1-6.
Slaughtneil just opened up again and finished the game with a stunning point from teenage star Shane McGuigan whose display after coming off the bench will lay claims for a starting place in Sunday’s final.
After the final whistle Slaughtneil manager John Joe Kearney agreed that his side had played very well,
“It was an excellent performance. Maybe Bellaghy didn’t play up to what they could do but we were very good. First half, they played out of their skins. They knew Bellaghy were going to be a tough team. Bellaghy probably hadn’t started the league that well but as the year went on, they took a couple of scalps and we knew they were going to be up for a big game. We were lucky that everything went for us. You get nights like that. We just hope we get another one now.
“They pulled back three very good points, long-range points as well, and it made us realise it wasn’t going to be soft,” added Kearney, “We seemed to step up a notch. Breaks went for us. That’s the way football goes sometimes, we seemed to get the most of those breaks. We played some good open football and every one of the lads we used deserved credit. It was the players’ night – it was very little to do with the boys on the line.”
“We’re privileged in that we have a very strong bench, and we’re confident in any of the men going on. That’s a big plus for any management team, to know they’ve a good bench.”
Cormac O’Doherty had four different markers in 19 minutes – he terrorised them Bellaghy, as Kearney agreed, “Serious. He’s a serious wee man. He doesn’t drop a ball, he clamps it and he’s strong.”
Bellaghy played man to man and that suited Slaughtneil, “I think so, it did suit us,” added Kearney, “This playing against sweepers, one man back, two men back, is a disaster but we’ve got used to playing it;. We had it against Ballinascreen. I’m sure it wasn’t a very entertaining match, six points to three. But it was a result, and that’s what counts.”
Slaughtneil scorers: Cormac O’Doherty 1-2, Chris Bradley 1-2, Se McGuigan 0-3, Shane McGuigan 0-3, 0-1free, Paul Bradley 0-2, 0-1free, Ronan Bradley 0-2, Brendan Rogers and Padraig Cassidy 0-1 each.
Bellaghy scorers: Diarmuid Larkin 1-0 penalty, Peter Cassidy 0-2, Eoghan Brown 0-2 frees, Fergal Doherty and Ruairi McElwee 0-1 each.
Slaughtneil: Anton McMullan, Francis McEldowney, Brendan Rogers, Karl McKaigue, Paul McNeill, Chrissy McKaigue, Barry McGuigan, Patsy Bradley, Padraig Cassidy, Padraig Kelly, Paul Bradley, Ronan Bradley, Chris Bradley, Se McGuigan, Cormac O’Doherty. (Subs) Shane McGuigan for C O’Doherty (39); Fergal McEldowney for C Bradley (47); Meehaul McGrath for P Kelly (49); Sean Cassidy for P Bradley (53); Kevin O’Neill for Se McGuigan (57).
Bellaghy: Brian Scullion, Declan Brown, Eugene Scullion, Gerard O’Neill, Kevin Doherty, Michael McGoldrick, Conan Brown, Fergal Doherty, Peter Cassidy, Frankie Donnelly, Diarmuid Larkin, Joe Diver, Ruairi McElwee, Eoghan Brown, Ryan McElwee. (Subs) Niall Scullion for G O’Neill (13); Ryan McNally for C Brown H-T; Conor Doherty for J Diver (45)
Ciaran Glackin for F Donnelly (50)
Referee: Alan Nash (Doire Trasna).