O’Neill’s Senior Football Championship:
Slaughtneil 0-10, Magherafelt 0-05
FIVE THOUSAND spectators piled through the turnstiles at Owenbeg on Sunday evening for what was billed as the game of the weekend.
Football logic dictates the ‘best time to catch the champions’ is the first round and the draw appeared to have served up a cracker with genuine contenders Magherafelt awaiting Slaughtneil.
What followed was the opposite entertainment; the opposite of the spectacle those fans had anticipated with scenes in the minutes leading up to the interval prompting ironic cheers - and even a few boos - when the referee sounded for half time.
Robert Emmet’s led by one and held the ball for over three minutes, midfielder Padraig Cassidy soloing the ball over 40 times along his own 45m line with Magherafelt reluctant to engage high up the field and instead opting to retreat into their defensive formation.
It meant the game never really got going with Slaughtneil outscoring their opponents 0-6 to 0-2 in the second half, Shane Heavron getting all but one of his sides points as his Slaughtneil counterpart, Shane McGuigan, kicked half of his side’s scores.
Inside the final 10 minutes, the champions lost Padraig Cassidy to second yellow card but it had no bearing on the game as, in trademark fashion, the Ulster champions played keep ball to ensure a quarter-final meeting against Eoghan Rua, Coleraine.
Ironically Magherafelt made a bright start, Antone McElhone hitting the first wide before a strong run from Guiseppe Lauri allowed him to set up John Young to fire over the opening score. That point, after only two minutes, would prove to be the Rossa’s last from play.
Slaughtneil had to wait until the seventh minute to open their account when Brian Cassidy curled over from out the left to restore the parity.
Sé McGuigan put his side into the lead from the next attack after Conor McAlister won a superb break from an opposition kick-out to set-up the attack.
Shane Heavron opened his account from a mid-range free to level once again before repeating the feat seconds later after Emmett McGuckin was fouled charging in on goal.
Slaughtneil hit the final two scores of the half to ensure their slender lead at the break, Shane McGuigan catching a wonderful mark out on the terrace side of Owenbeg before picking out Brian Cassidy who made no mistake.
McGuigan would point himself after a neat one-two with Cassidy ensuring his team would lead before the final three minutes saw farcical scenes.
Padraig Cassidy - soloing the ball upwards of forty times - strolled back and forth along his own 45m line as Slaughtneil played the ball around the back at walking pace. Magherafelt refused to engage and the crowd were soon letting both sides know what they thought.
The first score of the second half was arguably the score of the game with Shane McGuigan curling over with his left boot, the ball beginning well outside the left post before twisting its way inside the posts.
Seconds later Shane Heavron responded with free, a score which would prove Magherafelt’s last until injury time.
In between, Slaughtneil put the game to bed.
Strong play from Ronan Bradley allowed him to tee up Christopher Bradley who showed the deftest of touches to curl over.
The reigning champions lost Keelan Feeney to a black card but stuck to their task as Shane McGuigan nailed another three to put them three up with 15 minutes to play.
Just when the Magherafelt charge appeared to be crumbling, a driving run from half-back Conor McCluskey saw him bare down on goal only to drag his shot inches to the left of the post.
Jared Monaghan kicked another wide before Shane McGuigan put four between them and against Slaughtneil a four point lead is almost unassailable.
There were seven minutes left on the clock when Padraig Cassidy picked up his second booking but it mattered little in the context of the game.
In trademark fashion, Slaughtneil held the ball before working it up field after holding possession for almost four minutes, Shane McGuigan eventually breaking the sequence by fisting over the bar.
Three minutes of additional time were added with Magherafelt five behind. Shane Heavron registered his side’s first score in 28 minutes from a free before a rare score from Barry McGuigan rounded off the scoring.
There was still time for Slaughtneil keeper Antóin McMullan to be called into action in the final play of the game, the Emmet’s No. 1 making a brilliant reaction save to deny Conor McCluskey once again.
Slaughtneil then advance to the quarter-final in two weeks time where they will meet Coleraine in another eagerly anticptaed clash.
Let’s hope for better next time.
Slaughtneil: Antóin McMullan, Paul McNeill, Karl McKaigue, Conor McAlister, Francis McEldowney, Christopher McKaigue, Keelan Feeney, Patsy Bradley, Padraig Cassidy, Ronan Bradley, Sé McGuigan (0-1), Meehaul McGrath, Christopher Bradley (0-1), Brian Cassidy (0-2), Shane McGuigan (0-5 2f).
Subs: Paedar Kearney for Keelan Feeney (40), Cormac O’Doherty for Christopher Bradley (42), Barry McGuigan for Brian Cassidy, Brendan McEldowney (0-1) for Ronan Bradley.
Black cards: Keelan Feeney (40)
Yellow cards: Shane McGuigan (19), Padraig Cassidy (20)+(53), Paedar Kearney (61), Meehaul McGrath (63)
Red cards: Padraig Cassidy (53)
Magherafelt: Odhrán Lynch, Guiseppe Lauri, Darren O’Neill, Michael Kerr, Conor McCluskey, Joe Keenan, Michael McEvoy, Jared Monaghan, Fergal Duffin, Simon McErlain, Shane Heavron (0-4f), John Young (0-1), Antone McElhone, Emmett McGuckin, Conor Kearns.
Subs: Niall Higgins for Guiseppe Lauri (45), Cormac Murphy for Joe Keenan (54).
Black cards: None.
Yellow cards: Darren O’Neill (13), Michael Kerr (14),
Referee: Damian Harkin (Slaughtmanus)