Slaughtneil hold edge over Dunloy in Ulster Hurling final

Ulster Senior Club Hurling FinalSlaughtneil v Dunloy(Armagh, Sun, 1.30pm)

Slaughtneil  celebrate their Derry Senior Hurling Championship win over Kevin Lynch’s . Photo: George Sweeney.  DER2239GS – 025
Slaughtneil celebrate their Derry Senior Hurling Championship win over Kevin Lynch’s . Photo: George Sweeney. DER2239GS – 025

When these teams – the titans of Ulster hurling – meet on Sunday, Antrim champions Dunloy will be hoping for a rare win over Slaughtneil after losing the three previous meetings in the last five years.

It will be Slaughtneil’s fifth Ulster final appearance in the last seven years, having won the title in 2016, 2017, 2019 and 2021. In each case they fell to the big guns of Munster and Leinster in the All Ireland semi finals but they still gave a good account of themselves.

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This year’s Ulster winners will play the Galway five in a row champions, St. Thomas, in the All Ireland semi final and there could be a possible pathway to the All Ireland final.

Slaughtneil have won the last Derry 10 titles and Dunloy have won the last four in Antrim so there is no argument as to who is the best in their respective counties. This will only be the second time that they have met in the final.

Two of their previous three meetings were in the semi final and on each occasion Slaughtneil finished stronger to win comfortably. The previous final meeting was in 2019 when the Derry champions won by 1-15 to 0-10.

Physically, the Derry men have been stronger than Dunloy who depend a lot on the speed of their attack where Conal Cunning is deadly accurate from frees. He scored 0-11 in their victory over Cushendall in the Antrim final when Dunloy came out on top by 1-20 to 2-11.

Midfield is an area that can decide the game. Antrim are very strong in this area with the experienced Paul Shiels and Antrim star Keelan Molloy facing up to Slaughtneil’s Shane McGuigan and Cormac O’Doherty.

McGuigan hit four points from play and O’Doherty converted nine frees in their semi-final demolition of Down champions, Portaferry. On that day it was Brian Cassidy who lit up the game scoring 1-7 from half forward as the Emmet’s outclassed Portaferry in a 2-24 to 0-11 victory.

The first signs of Slaughtneil becoming a force in Ulster hurling came in 2014 when they lost narrowly to Loughgiel by 3-14 to 1-15 at Celtic Park. The following year they took Cushendall to extra time but lost by 1-24 to 3-17. They finally got their first title in 2016, defeating Loughgiel by 2-14 to 1-13 and retained it in style the following year with a 2-21 to 1-12 success over Ballygalget of Down. They came a cropper in the 2018 semi final against Ballycran of Down. In 2019 they defeated Dunloy by a comfortable 1-15 to 0-10.

Covid put the 2020 championship in the back burner but after beating Dunloy in the semi final, the Emmet’s collected their fourth title last year by defeating Ballycran by 1-14 to 0-10.

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It’s been a long wait for Dunloy without a game after a six week gap from the Antrim final. That may give Slaughtneil a slight advantage in that they have had the Porftaferry game despite it not being a big test.

What is the most remarkable aspect of Slaughtneil’s rise in hurling is that 10 of their players are regulars on their football team that contested the last two county finals. In an era where the experts say it’s impossible to reach the top in both codes, Slaughtneil have bucked the trend.

On two occasions they have won both the Ulster club hurling and football titles in the one year and the camogie as well. Last year Chrisy McKaigue and Brendan Rogers were selected in the club hurling team of the year and McKaigue went on to win a football All Star award. Both Rogers and Shane McGuigan were also All Star football nominees this year.

With more stronger club teams in Antrim than in Derry, the Dunloy players will be used with stiffer tests. That said, they are very much ahead of the pack but occasionally have to battle it out for victory. They will strain every sinew to get the better of Slaughtneil in a game that looks to be closer than the last three meetings.

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Slaughtneil: (from) Oisin O’Doherty, Paul McNeill, Karl McKaigue, Chrissy McKaigue, Conor McAllister, Sean Cassidy, Meehaul McGrath, Shane McGuigan, Cormac O’Doherty capt, Peter McCullagh, Brian Cassidy, Ruairi O’Mianain, Brendan Rogers, Se McGuigan, Shea Cassidy, Gerald Bradley, Jerome McGuigan, Mark McGuigan, Eamon

Cassidy.

Dunloy: (from) Ryan Elliot, Phelim Duffin, Ryan McGarry, Oran Quinn, Aaron Crawford, Kevin Molloy, Eamon Smyth, Paul Shiels capt, Keelan Molloy, Gabriel McTaggart, Nigel Elliot, Eoin McFerran, Conal Cunning, Seaan Elliot. Chrissy Mcahon, Anton McGrath.