ULSTER SENIOR HURLING CHAMPIONSHIP
SLAUGHTNEIL 1-14 BALLINASCREEN 4-15
Ballycran caused a seismic shock by dumping Slaughtneil out of the Ulster Senior Hurling Championship to reach their first provincial decider in 25 years.
The Down champions brought a real physicality and intensity to the game which the Slaughtneil men found difficult to match in a particularly flat display as the ‘miles on the clock’ appeared to take their toll on Mickey McShane’s men.
Ballycran led by two at the break thanks to goals from James Coyle and Niall Breen while Meehaul McGrath registered a major in return for the reigning champions.
Slaughtneil lost Cormac McKenna to a straight red in the second half which made an already tall order that little bit taller and further majors from James Coyle and substitute Christopher Egan sent the Mourne men well on their way.
In the end the result was long decided before Cormac O’Doherty landed his seventh pointed free as Ballycran set up an Ulster decider with newly crowned Antrim kingpins, Cushendall.
There was merely 53 seconds on the clock when Scott Nicholson burst through the heart of the Slaughtneil defence only to have his goal bound effort saved by Gareth O’Kane.
The move was then pulled back for an initial foul allowing Colum McManus the chance to open the scoring with a close range free.
Nicholson doubled the advantage minutes later, opening his account with a long range free after Sean Ennis had made a sterling interception inside his own half.
One of the most eye-catching features of the early proceedings was the sheer work rate and intensity of those in black and amber. So much so, many doubted they could keep it up as Gerald Bradley finally opened the Slaughtneil account after 12 minutes.
The response from Ballycran was pitch perfect as Gareth O’Kane made a goalkeeping howler to spill possession into the path of the grateful Coyle who pulled on the loose ball to rattle the net.
Sé McGuigan fired over after an inch perfect pass from Brendan Rogers but both sides would hit poor wides as Colum McManus landed yet another free. Chrissy McKaigue then took the captain’s role, attempting to inspire his comrades with a driving run before dispatching between the posts.
Ten minutes before the break, disaster would strike for Michael McShane’s men as a long high ball into the mixer fell to the path of Niall Breen who took no prisoners in rifling the ball into the back of the net.
McKaigue would hit a wide before Nicholson extended his team’s lead to six with another trademark free.
Mark McGuigan settled Slaughtneil once again with a score as they entered what would prove their best spell of the game, Meehaul McGrath picking out Brendan Rogers inside, the forward jinking and jiving before slotting over.
But for everything the Derry men threw at them, Ballycran had a response as demonstrated by Nicholson with a free from south of 75 yards.
Two minutes was all that remained of the first half when McGrath gave his side real hope for the second half getting in behind the down side’s defence and making no mistake in launching the ball into the roof of the net.
O’Doherty landed a free soon after to put a single point between them.
But Colum McManus had the last say, on the half as he landed yet another free to bring his side in at the interval two points to the good at 2-6 to 1-7
The Down champions began the second half exactly where they left off on the first, on the front foot, Conor Woods grabbing the first score of the second period after merely two minutes.
Slaughtneil responded with O’Doherty tapping over a free after Meehaul McGrath was fouled.
Scott Nicholson replied with a fine score, Ballycran’s first score from play after 34 minutes of hurling.
O’Doherty was at the forefront of the Slaughtneil charge as usual, deadly accurate from placed ball with every score vital to the cause.
Mark McGuigan would then find Brian Cassidy on the edge of the area, the latter turning and shooting over the bar.
Liam Savage replied for the Mourne men, trading scores with O’Doherty on free taking duties.
Nicholson continued to have a real say on the outcome, landing the next two scores of the game, first from play before his seventh point of the game from a long range placed ball.
Slaughtneil were struggling to get out of their own half and claim their own restarts such was the ferocity and hunger of Ballycran around the middle third. Colum McManus added another score before Slaughtneil were reduced to
14 men, McKenna dismissed on a straight red for a foul on Conor Woods.
McManus added another free before substitute Christopher Egan reacted quickest to a direct side line cut to rifle the net, their third major of the contest.
McManus and O’Doherty traded frees as nine separated the two sides with the hour almost up.
The reigning champions continued to search for an avenue back into the game to no avail as Sean Ennis drove out of defence sending the ball long and finding Coyle, the nippy corner forward making no mistake for his second goal of the contest to put 12 between them entering into injury time.
Brendan Rogers added a point before O’Doherty sent a free over the bar in the attempt of trying to find the back of the net.
The whistle sounded soon after, confirming what had already been known for some time, a historic win for Ballycran but a crushing defeat for Slaughtneil.
Slaughtneil: Gareth O’Kane, Ruairi McCartney, Sean Cassidy, Paul McNeil, Cormac McKenna, Christopher McKaigue (0-1), Karl McKaigue, Shane McGuigan, Mark McGuigan (0-1), Brendan Rogers (0-2), Gerald Bradley (0-1), Meehaul McGrath (1-0) Sé McGuigan (0-1), Brian Cassidy (0-1), Cormac O’Doherty (0-7f)
Subs: Conor McAlister for Meehaul McGrath (46), Séan Ó Caiside for Mark McGuigan (47)
Yellow Cards: Meehaul McGrath (26), Paul McNeil (56)
Red Cards: Cormac McKenna (51)
Ballycran: Stephen Keith, Michael Hughes, Patrick Hughes, Sean Ennis, Michael Taylor, Paudie Flynn, Brett Nicholson, Scott Nicholson (0-7 0-4 frees), Phelim Savage, Cormac McAlister, Conor Woods (0-1), Liam Savage (0-1), Niall Breen (1-0) Colum McManus (0-6f), James Coyle (2-0)
Subs: Christopher Egan (1-0) for Niall Breen (43), Gerard Hughes for Cormac McAlister (49)
Yellow Cards: Patrick Hughes (29), Paudie Flynn (33).
Referee: James Clarke (Cavan)