Banagher have impressed in their two championship games and raging hot favourites Slaughtneil’s manager, Michael McShane, will be warning his players about complacency when they step out at Owenbeg on Sunday in the county final.
History is beckoning for the Emmet’s as they attempt to make it four titles in a row. They came close once in the 60s when they won in 1966, ‘68 and ‘69 with Dungiven interrupting them in 1967,
In recent years the Emmett’s have dominated Derry hurling at most levels. A constant supply of under age players coming through has kept them fresh leaving them with a very strong panel of good players.
But they will not be taking Banagher for granted.
In the previous three years when they took home the Father Collins Cup, they have been pushed hard, twice by Kevin Lynch’s and once by Ballinascreen. Banagher defeated both to get to the decider.
When you score 7-59 against two respected teams and conceded just 0-21 it would be easy to get complacent. When your top scorer, Cormac O’Doherty, scores 2-24 in one and three quarter games, it is stunning. He has hit nine points more than they two teams they played put together. It would be easy to get complacent!
Banagher, on the other hand, go in with two stiff games under their belts and that’s obviously better preparation than runaway victories. They defeated Ballinascreeen by 3-15 to 1-9 but the game was closer than that. In the semi-final they saw off arch rivals Kevin Lynch’s by 1-16 to 0-14 in a game where they were never headed. They had a handsome early lead when Lynch’s stalwart Liam Og Hinphey received a red card and for a time it seemed to unsettle the winners more than the losers. Both sides missed penalties in that game but in the overall context the misses cancelled each other out.
Banagher have always been a good league team but have not reproduced that form in the championship. Manager Brian McGilligan, who won nine medals with the Kevin Lynch’s as an outstanding centre half-back, is determined to change that mindset in the Banagher players. He seems to have been doing quite well in that regard looking at how they have reached the final.
The Banagher team is laced with experienced and talented players and there is no good reason why they cannot push Slaughtneil to the limit if they go in with confidence and express themselves. They may not have the same finishing power as the champions but they are strong and fit with a good team balance.
The bulk of the Banagher team have played with Derry at senior level. Possibly more Slaughtneil players could have donned the red and white but with some playing senior county football and high profile club football, they are over committed and were unable to commit to the county cause. This year however, players like Meehaul McGrath, Mark McGuigan and Gareth O’Kane did their bit for the county.
Banagher must go back to 2005 for their last title and they will be anxious to close the gap. With their football game against Ballinderry cancelled due to the death of Ballinderry player, Conleth Gilligan’s father, it will be a benefit to the St. Mary’s. On the other side of the coin the footballers will play Ballinderry just five days after the hurling final but so far the dual players on both teams have handled the situation comfortably.
Slaughtneil have won the last seven under county 21 competitions while Banagher have been struggling at this level. The champions have over 20 players who could fit comfortably into their team. They have some top class forwards like O’Doherty, Brendan Rogers and Cormac McKenna. There is also Gerald Bradley, Mark McGuigan and Chrissy Mckaigue who wears number 15 but plays a free role.
Shane Farren has been the main source of scores for the St. Mary’s. Like his opposite number O’Doherty, Farren is a great free taker. Both managers will be warning their players not to give away cheap frees inside 70m.
Both teams also have excellent keepers, Oisin O’Doherty has kept a clean sheet in both games while Banagher’s Darrell McDermott - one of the best in the business - has conceded just one. He has been the Derry keeper for years.
If Banagher are to cause a surprise they must keep the game tight and not let the Emmett’s get an early lead. In recent games Slaughtneil have had the opposition beaten by half time.
Banagher manager Brian McGilligan stated after watching Slaughtneil score 1-29 against Swatragh; “The pick of the other teams in Derry would not beat that Slaughtneil side.” A bit of cuteness from a man who led Derry to two Ulster under 21 hurling titles one might say. His side will not be going to make up the numbers and it will be no easy ride for the holders.
There is sure to be a big crowd at Owenbeg foe this game. The two semi finals attracted a crowd of 1803 and this final could see an attendance of over 2,000.
Last year Slaughtneil had big win over Swatragh in the final. They went on to push Cushendall to extra time in the Ulster final and this year they will be hoping to go one better. They are everybody’s favourites to make it four in a row but they will be tested all the way by McGilligan’s physically strong and well organised outfit.