Slaughtneil 1-14, Ballycran 0-10.
For the fourth time in the last six years Slaughtneil Emmet’s are Ulster Senior Hurling champions after an ultimately comfortable victory over Down champions, Ballycran at Corrigan Park, Belfast on Sunday.
The Derry men made their usual slow start but gradually grew into the game and from being two points behind after 10 minutes they led by three at half time. At one stage they were 10 in
front but as the clock ticked down they were content to hold the Ards men at arm's length. Their defence, as it was against Dunloy a week earlier, was superb never allowing the Down
champions even the glimpse of a goal chance.
With Gerald Bradley dropping back from midfield to guard his defenders, Ballycran depended largely on frees for their scores. They started brightly but once Slaughtneil found their rhythm there was just going to be the one winner.
While Bradley excelled in his sweeper role, there were other players who stood tall on the day like Shane McGuigan who was excellent in the half back line while Karl McKaigue, along with Meehaul McGrath, locked the door on Ballycran attacks meaning there was no way through for the Down men.
And when you need a goal, Brendan Rogers was the go-to man again. As he did against Dunloy the dual star finished brilliantly in the 51st minute from a Karl McKaigue pass to kill the game dead as a contest. Big full forward Jerome McGuigan was also in top form scoring two fine points and distributing the ball cleverly while Cormac O’Doherty converted some brilliant frees even if he was off key with another two.
Now it's a well deserved break over Christmas and then back to training for an All Ireland semi final for Michael McShane’s well drilled and disciplined outfit. They may have a bit of a worry
over Rogers though who went off injured in the closing stages after, on his way to scoring the goal, was on the end of two heavy challenges.
There was a certain hint of revenge in the victory for the Emmett’s. Back in 2018 with a team jaded by football and hurling week after week they succumbed to Ballycran by an eight points. It was seven weeks since Ballycran claimed their county title but rustiness was not apparent in the opening sequence of play. Centre forward Stuart Martin superbly cut over a sideline in front of their vocal following in the opening minute.
That long lay off allowed them to fly into tackles and Slaughtneil looked flat early on. Phelim Savage and Conor Woods found the range with free as the underdogs momentum was showing with a lead at the first water break stage.
However McGuigan, Bradley and Chrissy McKaigue showed leadership to respond with excellent points against the run of play for the holders. McKaigue was picked up by cornerback Michael Hughes all afternoon in an intriguing battle and Slaughtneil's ability to stay in the game bore fruit in the second quarter when they lifted the tempo to take a commanding lead into half time.
Cormac O’Doherty fired over four points in that period from frees. The distance he struck them highlighted his side';s determination. Hughes did land Ballycran’s only point from play at
the end of the first half to make it a three point game 0-09 to 0-06. However, Jamie Fowler’s side would rue their wide count come the second half. Slaughtneil played with ruthlessness endeavour upon the resumption, O’Doherty again on hand to profit and push the game beyond Ballycran with two more frees.
Phelim Savage did respond but Michael McShane’s side were in complete control at this stage. In reaching the final, Rogers was the star performer in the middle of the field but this time he drifted into the edge of the square from midfield and shone again. Firing over a wonderful score before the second half water break and then sealing the game with a decisive goal.
Isolated one on one inside, Rogers burned his marker Gerard Hughes before shrugging off a heavy hit from a covering Michael Ennis to bury to the back of the net. With 10 minutes to play the goal made it 1-13 to 0-07 and Slaughtneil could savour every minute of their fourth title.
Ballycran, to their credit, rolled up their sleeves to landed the game's final three scores, Ben Arthurs with the pick of them after Gerard Hughes was sent off for a second yellow card. Emmet's captain O’Doherty was masterful again with his placing taking said in his speech that: "This is the start of something special."
With the Four Seasons Cup already in the bag before Christmas, Slaughtneil will take on either Ballygunner (Waterford) or Killmallock (Limerick) in the All-Ireland series in January. That will be a huge step up for them but they'll love the challenge.
Slaughtneil: Oisín O'Doherty, Karl McKaigue, Sean Cassidy, Paul McNeill; Conor McAllister, Shane McGuigan (0-01), Meehaul McGrath; Brendan Rodgers (1-01), Chrissy McKaigue (0-01); Mark McGuigan, Cormac O'Doherty (0-07, 6f), Brian Cassidy; Gerald Bradley; Jerome McGuigan (0-02), Sé McGuigan (0-01). Subs Used: Jack Cassidy (0-01) for J McGuigan (54), Shea Cassidy for Rogers (56), Gareth O’Kane for M McGuigan (61)
Ballycran: Stephen Keith; Seán Ennis, Michael Ennis, Brad Watson, Gerard Hughes, Conor Woods (0-02, 0-02f), Brett Nicholson; Michael Hughes (0-01), Phelim Savage (0-05, 0-05f); Liam Savage, Stuart Martin (0-01, 0-01s/l), Niall Breen; James Clarke, Ben Arthurs (0-01), Christopher Egan. Subs Used: Cormac McAlister for Breen (43) Scott Nicholson for Egan (47).
Referee: Colm McDonald