Superb Slaughtneil dismiss Ballinderry to set up County final showdown with Magherafelt

Christopher 'Sammy' Bradley hit 1-04 as Slaughtneil stormed into the Derry County Final.Christopher 'Sammy' Bradley hit 1-04 as Slaughtneil stormed into the Derry County Final.
Christopher 'Sammy' Bradley hit 1-04 as Slaughtneil stormed into the Derry County Final.
O'Neill's Derry Senior Football Championship

Slaughtneil 3-15, Ballinderry 1-05

There's emphatic and then there's Slaughtneil.

Paul Bradley's team were always favourites going into this semi-final against old foes, Ballinderry, but even by their own very high standards of recent years, this was a breath-taking display.

Pace, power, speed, intensity and a ruthless efficiency in front of the posts - this had a bit of everything and provided the latest ominous sign that the COVID enforced break from football and hurling did the Slaughtneil players the power of good. They've returned fresh, hungrier than ever, and ready to reclaim the county crown they last won in 2017.

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Standing in their way, of course, is the considerable challenge of reigning champions, Magherafelt, who will not relinquish the John McLaughlin Cup easily but a 16 point victory over the Shamrocks is quite a way to announce your arrival in the county final.

The Emmet's have so many options all over the pitch, Ballinderry simply couldn't cope. Slow up Shane McGuigan and 'Sammy' Bradley steps forward with a brilliant 1-04, his latest superb performance in an outstanding championship campaign. And if it isn't 'Sammy', then it's Brian Cassidy, Padraig Cassidy, Chrissy McKaigue.... the list can run and run.

McGuigan is brilliant even when his name isn't appearing first in the Slaughtneil scoring list and it was no different in Bellaghy. Upon realising Ballindery's plan to double mark him, McGuigan cleverly took his two 'shadows' out the field to leave ample room for Bradley and Cassidy to wreak havoc inside.

And while the front men often hog the headlines, Conor McAllister and Paul McNeil were probably the most influential players on the pitch. McAllister was a constant outlet for a kick-out Ballinderry conceded at their peril and covered every inch of the pitch while McNeil was excellent at the back and still had the presence of mind to sprint the length of the pitch and help himself to a goal.

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Ballinderry's decision to use Ryan Bell back in a wing half-back position, obviously hoping the deeper position might allow him to get on the ball and run from deep more, didn't work but it's difficult to imagine any tactic employed by the Shamrocks would have altered a match that looked over by the end of the first quarter.

In a game where Ballinderry required a quick start, Slaughtneil had the ball in the back of the Shamrocks net before 75 seconds had elapsed, Sean Cassidy reacting quickest to punch home a dropping ball that had struck the Ballinderry upright.

That goal set the tone and from there, Slaughtneil barely paused from breath, building a 1-06 to 0-1 lead by the 15th minute thanks to points from Christopher Bradley (2), Chrissy, McGuigan (2), McKaigue and Sean Cassidy.

Ballinderry were shell shocked but Slaughtneil kept turning the screw with their second goal on 23 minutes a move of counter-attacking beauty. Ballinderry had committed men forward for possibly the first time in the match with only keeper Ben McKinless still inside the Shamrocks half but they could find no way through the Slaughtneil rearguard. The Slaughtneil defensive pressure finally told with Patsy Bradley winning turnover ball close to the touchline. In a flash the ball was switched to McGuigan who found a brilliant pass to send Christopher Bradley racing clear.

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With defenders closing, most forwards would have settled for a point but Bradley spotted the one player quick enough to keep up with the break and lobbed an exquisite pass to Paul McNeil who rounded McKinless and tapped home despite the keeper's attempts to slow him down.

It meant the sides turned around at 2-08 to 0-3 and Slaughtneil were already in cruise control.

Ballinderry deserve credit for an improved second half, the introduction of Glen McOscar at full forward at least giving the Shamrocks an attacking focal point to play off. Indeed it was McOscar's presence and aerial ability that won his side a 36th minute penalty after Francis McEldowney hauled him down. Sean Graham expertly tucked the spot kick away for 1-04 to 2-08 but hopes of a revival were fleeting.

Slaughtneil simply went through the gears again with Brian Cassidy pointing from wide on the right before Chrissy McKaigue could have hit the net but instead opted to fist over the bar. The fatal blow arrived on 42 minutes when Sean Cassidy's long ball forward was misjudged by Raymond Wilson, allowing Christopher Bradley to skip away and finish low into the net past the past's McKinless' right hand for 3-10 to 1-04.

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Both sides ran their benches with a late injury for Ryan Bell compounding a miserable evening for Ballinderry but they are not the first to fail against Slaughtneil in this mood and they won't be the last.

The half-time withdrawal of Keelan Feeney was probably the only blot on the Slaughtneil copybook and while i's unlikely to be anywhere near as comfortable next Sunday in the final which is expected to be back in Bellagh, few would bet against Slaughtneil on this showing .

Slaughtneil scorers: Christopher Bradley (1-4, 2f), Sean Cassidy (1-1), Paul McNeil (1-0), Shane McGuigan (0-5, 1f), Chrissy McKaigue (0-3), Brian Cassidy (0-2),

Ballinderry scorers: Sean Graham (1-1, 1pen, 1f), Ryan Bell (0-2, 2f), Conor O'Neill (0-1, 1f), Shea Coleman (0-1)

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Slaughtneil: Antoin McMullan, Paul McNeil, Brendan Rogers, Conor McAllister, Francis McEldowney, Chrissy McKaigue, Keelan Feeney, Patsy Bradley, Padraig Cassidy, Sean Cassidy, Cormac O'Doherty, Meehaul McGrath, Christopher Bradley, Shane McGuigan, Brian Cassidy. (Subs) Peadar Kearney for K Feeney, HT; Se McGuigan for C O'Doherty, 43mins; Paudie McGuigan for F McEldowney, 43mins; Ronan Bradley for M McGrath, 50mins;

Ballinderry: Ben McKinless, Eamon Wilson, Gareth McKinless, Declan Bell, Raymond Wilson, Ryan Scott, Darren Lawn, Conor Nevin, Daniel Bateson, Ryan O'Neil, Ryan Bell, Conor O'Neill, Raymond Wilkinson, Sean Graham, Kevin McGuckin. (Subs) Aaron Mullan for D Lawn, HT; Glen McOscar for D Bell; Oisin Mullan for R Wilkinson; Caolan Mallaghan for R Bell (inj), 52mins;

Referee: Dan Mullan (Glenullin)

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