HURLING ULSTER CLUB SENIOR CHAMPIONSHIP SEMI-FINAL
Slaughtneil (Derry) v Middletown (Armagh)
Sunday, Athletic Grounds, 12.45pm
IN the lead-up to the Derry Senior Hurling Championship final, Kevin Lynch’s stalwart Kevin Hinphey stated bluntly that he sees a massive difference in Slaughtneil this year.
They had a rest over the winter months for once, and Slaughtneil boss Michael McShane concurs that it’s done them no harm whatsoever as they look ahead to Sunday’s Ulster Championship semi-final against Middletown.
They lost at the same stage this time last year to Ballycran, but they’ve regrouped and overcame Kevin Lynch’s by 1-23 to 2-12 to claim their seventh Derry Championship title in-a-row.
McShane said: “I would agree with Kevin [Hinphey]. Maybe it’s strange to say that there’s a benefit to losing, but we got the winter off and lads were able to get away from the pitch and live their lives a bit.
“It refreshed them and this year I see a renewed hunger and desire to get back to winning ways. I think that’s been evident in the way that they’re been playing, and they’ve training harder than they’ve ever done.”
There was always a chance that things could go stale, but one of the reasons for Slaughtneil’s rejuvenation has been the introduction to a few younger faces to the starting lineup.
Stalwarts like Cormac O’Doherty, who scored 16 points, Brendan Rogers, chipping in with 1-2, and Chrissy McKaigue were also in top form as they retained their county crown.
“We had three lads making their Derry Championship debut, Morgan McEldowney, Michael McEldowney and Jerome McGuigan.
“That’s been the great success for us this year. We’ve expanded our panel and it’s stronger than ever. Those three lads hadn’t played in the senior team before and they’re not there simply because others are missing. They’ve earned the right to be there. They’re very capable and for me as a manager it’s been very satisfying to see them step up to the plate.”
For the second year running, the Emmett’s fell short in the Derry Senior Football Championship, losing out to Glen in the semi-final. It was a pretty stomachchurning defeat, but the hurling has served as a pick-meup for this ambitious crop of players.
McShane said: “There was obviously a lot of disappointment in the camp for a few days afterwards which is only natural. I suppose they’d been hoping that their renewed hunger would lead them to success in the football, the same as they have done in the hurling.
“But the beauty of being of a dual club is that once they had that kick in the teeth against Glen, they’ve had the luxury of being able to refocus on an Ulster Hurling campaign.
“They haven’t had too much time to dwell on it or feel sorry for themselves.”
Slaughtneil defeated Middletown by 3-16 to 1-12 in the Ulster Senior Hurling Championship semi-final two years ago before going on to win the trophy outright for the first time with a historic victory over Loughgiel. McShane accepts they’ll be favourites, but Armagh champions Middletown have nothing to lose.
“We played them three years ago in the semi-final down in Newry and we’d a very tough battle with them.
“They’re a big physical team and very good in the air. I accept that we’ll be going in as favourites but we don’t worry too much about that.
“We know they’ll be a big hurdle for us and they’re are only focus. We’ve done a bit of homework and hopefully we can expose a few of the weaknesses and go on and win the game.”
Slaughtneil’s three-in-a-row bid was mercilessly derailed by a rampant Ballycran in last year’s semi-final, but McShane says they aren’t motivated by the desire to prove a point to the rest of the province.
“Not really, we’ve no point to prove to anybody but ourselves. We’re obviously disappointed at how things panned out last year, losing the semifinal, especially in the manner that we did.
“It was about coming back this year and regrouping and refocusing and going back at it again, Everything that we planned to do so far this year has worked out for us and now we’ve another big game to look forward to.”