Slaughtneil exorcise the ghost of the past to win the Ulster GAA Clubs SHC

Flicking through the channels over breakfast on Sunday morning, ‘the big day’, the BBC’s weather presenter, Sarah Keith-Lucas, spoke about how a high pressure system was settling across the country.  It would bring mild winter weather, a gentle breeze in parts with foggy patches.  She left out one crucial component, Slaughtneil. They brought their own form of high pressure and Ballycran’s barometer would get to measure that. We were after all, playing in the final of the Ulster GAA Clubs Championship 2021 and our opponents were the Kings of Derry. A side with a hurling reputation and travelling down through the Glenshane pass with a ghost of the past to exorcise.

Sporting pundits mentally tussled some time before the game as to whether it would have been better for Ballycran to have met Dunloy in the final. Perhaps they imagined Ballycran had their own ‘semi final of ’19 ghost’ to lay to rest. Like most of these discussions, they are though hypothetical and largely entertaining. But we might come back to that proposition later.

As the crowds filtered into Corrigan Park, the ground’s of St. John’s GAA Club just off the Whiterock road, a persistent veil of fog shrouded the hill top vista.  We were reminded of how out of season we were as the Pogues blasted out across the grounds with their timeless Christmas seasonal rendition of a ‘Fairytale of New York’.  Today though, no one was thinking about turkey and ham. Cran folks only had an appetite for a Four Seasons Cup.

Neighbouring Club, St. Galls, provided the Championship referee Colm McDonald.  Fresh from officiating the Ulster Schools GAA Mageean Cup, McDonald was eager to get proceedings underway in case the heavier fog conditions over Black Mountain rolled in.  It was McDonald that would do the rolling in, and at 1pm the Ulster Clubs Senior Hurling Championship got underway.

Ballycran started the game playing towards the south end of the pitch. Slaughtneil spilled a ball out of play near the half forward position at the stand side. Ballycran’s Stuart Martin cut the sliotar over the bar from a winter lie. Not a bad opening display of hurling skills for the nearby crowd.

Stuart Martin cuts in for the first score of the Championship (USHC – 1)

It would take over five minutes before Slaughtneil’s Shane McGuigan polished a sliotar from play over the bar and the supporters cheer from the stand announced a big following had travelled down to witness something good.

The next portion of play up to the water break felt reassuring for Ballycran supporters as Phelim Savage and Conor Woods dropped frees over the Slaughtneil bar, the latter for a hand pass infringement before Slaughtneil’s Chrissy McKaigue and Cormac O’Doherty would level the scores at 0-3 each. Conor Woods had the honour of nudging Ballycran one point ahead as McDonald called time for hydration. Ballycran 0-4 Slaughtneil 0-3.

Slaughtneil would use the next three quarters to build their game score slowly but surely. In the second quarter, no one seemed to be in a hurry to reach for the after burners.  There was a real danger of leaving a flank open, so Slaughtneil inched their way up the St. John’s scoreboard with six points, four from frees and two from play as Ballycran’s resident free taker, Phelim Savage took a score along with a Michael Hughes point that was snatched out of air after a determined attempt to find swinging space.  The half time score of Ballycran 0-6 Slaughtneil 0-9 had both sides running in with everything to play for in the second half.

As the second half unfolded, Slaughtneil’s ability to squeeze out any open ball opportunities was starting to become evident. Although both sides grappled hard for possession on the soft turf, Ballycran were only able to muster one point from another free as Slaughtneil welcomed three points, two frees from the sound technique of Cormac O’Doherty and Brendan Rodgers announced his intentions with a tidy point as another water break brought the game to a pivotal moment for both sides.  With a 5 point difference, Ballycran needed to halt the drift. With the final water break of the game called, the scores stood at Ballycran 0-7 Slaughtneil 0-12.

Cormac O’Doherty launches another sliotar with a solid repeating technique (USHC – 2)

Slaughtneil’s Jerome McGuigan kept his point tally incrementing with another easy floating ball only two minutes into the final quarter that many thought was a goal opportunity gone amiss, however a yellow card incident a couple of minutes later would signal a substitution for McGuigan as Jack Cassidy ran on as his replacement.  Just as Ballycran were pushing harder at the front line, a cleverly lobbed sliotar from just within Slaughtneil’s half found a keen Rodgers rushing out wide with antelope strides from a full forward position to take possession.

Slaughtneil’s Brendan Rodgers open up the defence for his goal scoring opportunity (USHC – 3)

Jerome McGuigan floats with delight as Rodgers’ goal practically seals the win (USHC – 4)

Side stepping Ballycran’s Gerard Hughes and remaining composed let alone standing after a heavy hit from Michael Ennis, Rodgers fired a scorching sliotar from his left side between Stephen Keith and the right upright for the games only goal.

Jerome McGuigan gets a yellow, paving the way for a substitution (USHC – 5)

One last point from substitute Jack Cassidy would bring Slaughtneil’s scoring tally to a close and closure for Gerard Hughes in a different way, as he picked up a second notable offence that left McDonald no option but to flash the red card.

Game over for Ballycran’s Gerard Hughes (USHC – 6)

Despite one man down, Ballycran’s persistence to remain in the game would yield another two points from frees by Phelim Savage and a feisty point from Ben Arthurs that felt like he had discovered the north west passage into Slaughtneil’s goal scoring area but it was all too late now.

Phelim Savage serves up one of his last frees (USHC – 7)

Colm McDonald brought this year’s Championship to an end, Ballycran 0-10 Slaughtneil 1-14. Congratulations to Slaughtneil, worthy recipients of the Four Seasons.

Slaughneil
Oisín O’Doherty, Karl McKaigue, Sean Cassidy, Paul McNeill; Conor McAllister, Shane McGuigan 0-1, Meehaul McGrath; Brendan Rodgers 1-1, Chrissy McKaigue 0-1; Mark McGuigan, Cormac O’Doherty 0-7 (6f), Brian Cassidy, Gerald Bradley, Jerome McGuigan 0-2, Sé McGuigan 0-1.

(Substitution Jack Cassidy 0-1 for Jerome McGuigan (54), Shea Cassidy for Brendan Rogers (56), Gareth O’Kane for Mark McGuigan (61))

Ballycran
Stephen Keith; Seán Ennis, Michael Ennis, Brad Watson, Gerard Hughes, Conor Woods 0-2 (2f) , Brett Nicholson, Michael Hughes 0-1, Phelim Savage 0-5 (5f), Liam Savage, Stuart Martin 0-1 (1 sideline), Niall Breen, James Clarke, Ben Arthurs 0-1, Christopher Egan.

(Substitution Cormac McAlister for Niall Breen (43) Scott Nicholson for Egan (47))

Hard luck to our lads, players, management and supporters too. These big journey’s are roller coasters for emotions, expectations and disappointments but as a famous Hollywood actor said, ‘We’ll be back’.

We’ll be back…  (USHC – 8)

Now what about those pundit thoughts? When you look at the scoreline, there’s the same differential as the Slaughtneil v Dunloy game, seven points. Maybe then, you could be forgiven thinking that Ballycran might of had an even chance  against the Cuchullians, even taking into account the long lay off? We’ll leave that discussion for you after the turkey and ham.  Merry Christmas to all our readers and as the season comes to a close, we hope you have enjoyed our humble attempt at bringing you a wider range of hurling and camogie into the comfort of your home at these – still strange – times.

From a slightly foggy Corrigan Park, we are happy to share our pitch side view of the game.

Black Mountain’s fog thankfully stayed on higher ground  (USHC – 9)

Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship 2021 (USHC – 10)

Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship 2021 (USHC – 11)

Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship 2021 (USHC – 12)

Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship 2021 (USHC – 13)

Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship 2021 (USHC – 14)

Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship 2021 (USHC – 15)

Saltwater Brig

Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship 2021 (USHC – 16)

Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship 2021 (USHC – 17)

Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship 2021 (USHC – 18)

Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship 2021 (USHC – 19)

Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship 2021 (USHC – 20)

Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship 2021 (USHC – 21)

Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship 2021 (USHC – 22)

Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship 2021 (USHC – 23)

Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship 2021 (USHC – 24)

Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship 2021 (USHC – 25)

Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship 2021 (USHC – 26)

Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship 2021 (USHC – 27)

Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship 2021 (USHC – 28)

Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship 2021 (USHC – 29)

Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship 2021 (USHC – 30)

Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship 2021 (USHC – 31)

Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship 2021 (USHC – 32)

Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship 2021 (USHC – 33)

Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship 2021 (USHC – 34)

Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship 2021 (USHC – 35)

Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship 2021 (USHC – 36)

Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship 2021 (USHC – 37)

Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship 2021 (USHC – 38)

Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship 2021 (USHC – 39)

Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship 2021 (USHC – 40)

Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship 2021 (USHC – 41)

Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship 2021 (USHC – 42)