After their facile victory over Swatragh in the Derry Senior Hurling championship final Slaughtneil senior hurlers this weekend set out to become the first Derry club to win the senior provincial crown, having come up just short last year in the decider against Antrim kingpins, Cushendall.
Sunday’s opponents Ballycran will be a step up from Swatragh, however, having recently won their first Down SHC title since 2011. The Down champions scored 1-4 in the last 10 minutes to clinch victory over Ballygalget in the Down SHC decider.
Stephen McAree’s side sealed their first Down crown in four years with the final score reading 1-15 to 0-16.
“Ballycran are a very good team and I know them well from managing Ballycastle this last three years and coming up against them quite a few times,” said the Emmet’s manager Michael McShane,
“They’ve always competed really well in the Antrim leagues. I think they’re sitting second there at the minute and they won it last year.
“They surprisingly haven’t won the Down championship for the last three years but they got over the line this year so that monkey will be off their backs. They are very sharp up front and very tough defensively. It’s going to be a real battle, a real 50/50 game.”
Asked if this Slaughtneil side have ambitions to go one step further than last year’s heroics, and the coach was emphatic.
“Absolutely. I didn’t need to wait to the county final to know that. When I sat down with the lads at the start of the year we had a very open discussion.
“I realised there and then that these guys have serious ambitions to succeed at everything they do and you can see that in the football and hurling. The good thing about these guys is that they realise they are living at a time where they’ve got to make the best of it.
“They were very close to winning Ulster last year. They know they are good enough to win it. They know if they go out and perform to the best of their ability they are as good as anybody in the competition. They want to be the first Derry team to win an Ulster.
“They won their first Ulster in the football last year. And they set out this year to do the same in the hurling, but we’re under no illusion about how difficult that’s going to be. We’ll need the performance but we’ll need a lot of luck.
“It helps that they are all very good hurlers and natural hurlers. And fitness isn’t an issue. They’re coming back flying fit. We knew this could happen, that at the end of the year we could get into a log jam of fixtures if everybody was being successful.
“So we did an awful lot of hurling and an awful lot of stick work through April, May, June time, which wouldn’t have been done before. That would have been a time of year where there traditionally wouldn’t have been a lot of hurling done. We wanted to make sure we were at a nice high level and all we had to do was top up when the dual players came back in.
That county final where Slaughtneil obliterated Swatragh, threw down a serious gauntlet to their fellow Ulster contenders.
“I suppose we did but I don’t think anybody who will be competing in Ulster would be taking us lightly anyway after the performance we put in against Cushendall last year and coming so close to beating them.
“Again, people probably will look at that result and think Slaughtneil are going to be very dangerous opponents but it was a bit of a freak game. We got a brilliant start, Swatragh heads went down and then we really put the foot on the gas and pushed on.
“But it will be a whole different story this Sunday. We’re going up to a new level. It will be a very, very competitive game. There will be no 33 points in it. A one-point victory will do me,” stated McShane.