Slaughtneil 1-18, Dunloy 0-14
Holders Slaughtneil will attempt to retain the Four Seasons Cup next weekend after a convincing seven point Ulster semi-final victory over Dunloy at a floodlit Athletic Grounds in Armagh on Sunday.
It was the third time the Emmet's had beaten the Antrim champions having met them in the 2019 final. Earlier in the day, Banagher had qualified for the Ulster Intermediate Hurling Championship so a Ulster hurling double is not out of the question for the Oak Leafy county.
The provincial competition wasn't held last season due to the pandemic but, in a repeat of the 2019 decider between the two clubs, this game followed in similar fashion with champions Slaughtneil overpowering their Antrim opponents with sheer will and class.
That Slaughtneil resolve also hinged on a huge Brendan Rogers switch into the middle of the field for the start of the second half. Having started on the '40', Rogers was a tour de force in the open field, firing in 1-03 in a devastating third quarter. Despite the Derry side leading at half time, that whirlwind start to the second half was the difference between the sides. Rogers' electric pace and hard running was sight to behold and now sees Slaughtneil play in their sixth final in eight seasons.
Dunloy started the game against the wind but found themselves two points to the good thanks to rasping points from Paul Shiels and Keelan Molloy. The stinging nature of the scores signalled a revenge mission but Cormac O’Doherty had other ideas and was on hand to shrug off a worrying shoulder injury in the build up to the game to steer his Emmets side into control of the semi-final with five first half frees. Using the wind to perfection at times, O’Doherty shot Slaughtneil into a 0-09 to 0-03 lead.
With Dunloy working so hard to get up the field against the elements and having denied Sé McGuigan a certain goal, Dunloy goalkeeper Ryan Elliott worked clever short puck-outs to great effect towards the end of the half. Eoin O’Neill landed a brace either side of a terrific Kevin Molloy effort to make it 0-09 to 0-06 at half-time, Cuchullain’s more happier with the three point game at the interval.
Conal Cunning narrowed the gap even further with the first of six second half placed balls but Rogers was about to take command. There was a hint of fortune about two of his late points. One was a re-take and the other looked as if the free should have gone the other way.
Having set up Brian Cassidy with an early score, Rogers demonstrated how devastating his running ability can be. Slaughtneil went on an unanswered 1-03 scoring run with Rogers pouncing for 1-02. Cassidy returned the favour minutes later to lay off to Rogers who followed up the play to find the back of the net and then nonchalantly clipped over the next score to leave a shell shocked Dunloy simply stunned.
In the final quarter Gregory O’Kane’s side were unable to sustain enough pressure to mount a comeback. They were outplayed in too many positions with Shane McGuigan and Meehaul McGrath on the flanks of the half back line pushing forward to put further pressure on a struggling Dunloy defence.
Cunning was accurate from frees but the Slaughtneil’s goal was largely untroubled bar a booming puck out at the death from Dunloy full back Conor McKinley when Oisín O’Doherty had to be at this best to tip it round the post after it skidded off the December turf.
Much to the delight of the Slaughtneil faithful McGrath capped off a fine performance with a brace to add to his first half point as the Derry side clipped over the match's final three scores., substitute Jack Cassidy also getting in on the act.
Michael McShane’s side will now face Down champions, Ballycran, this Sunday in Corrigan Park. Ballycran are the last side to defeat Slaughtneil way back in 2018. On this form Slaughtneil will be hard to stop. Free of football commitments Slaughtneil must have put in a power of work since they beat Kevn Lynch’s in the Derry final two months ago. They were fit and inventive. Dunloy the lighter side could not cope with power and direct running of the Derry champions who dismissed any opinions that their best days were behind them.
Slaughtneil: Oisín O'Doherty, Conor McAllister, Paul McNeill, Karl McKaigue; Sean Cassidy, Gerald Bradley, Meehaul McGrath (0-03); Shane McGuigan (0-01), Chrissy McKaigue (0-01); Mark McGuigan, Brendan Rodgers (1-04), Brian Cassidy (0-01); Jerome McGuigan, Cormac O'Doherty (0-07, 0-07f), Sé McGuigan.
Subs used: Jack Cassidy (0-01) or B Cassidy (60).
Dunloy: Ryan Elliott; Eamon Smyth, Conor McKinley, Conor Kinsella; Aaron Crawford, Ryan McGarry, Ronan Molloy; Seán Elliott (0-01), Keelan Molloy (0-01); Paul Shiels (0-02), Kevin Molloy (0-01), Eoin O'Neill (0-02), Nicky McKeague, Conal Cunning (0-06, 0-05f, 0-0165’), Deaglan Smith (0-01).
Subs used: Chrissy McMahon for McKeague (24), Shane Dooey for Smith(50)
Referee: James Connors