Slaughtneil 1-15, Cavan Gaels 0-10
SLAUGHTNEIL completed an incredible second successive treble of Ulster senior club GAA titles after a dominant victory over Cavan Gaels in the football decider at the Athletic Grounds in Armagh.
It was another remarkable showing from the seemingly unstoppable Derry champions who continue to re-write the GAA history books as they joined the club's hurling and camogie teams by securing consecutive provincial titles - an incredible and unique feat!
Mickey Moran's men now march into the All-Ireland semi-finals where they meet Kerry side, Nemo Rangers, who dethroned Dr Crokes in the Munster Final, as they bid to make up for last year's heartbreak in the final.
Slaughtneil were overwhelming favourites going into Sunday's final as they went in search of a third provincial crown in four seasons and they really should've been out of sight in the opening half against the Gaels who were made a return to the Ulster final for the first time in 40 years.
Indeed the south Derry men were uncharacteristically wasteful in the first half as they led 0-7 to 0-04 at the break, allowing Cavan Gaels to grow in confidence and keep on their coat-tails, until the superb Shane McGuigan found the back of the net at the start of the second half after the Derry men hit three unanswered points and, in truth, their lead was never really threatened.
The Emmets had registered their first point of the afternoon after just 60 seconds as McGuigan comfortably sent over a close range free to get the favourites up and running - his first of an impressive 1-06 tally on the day!
However, the Derry side wasted three excellent scoring chances in the following seven minutes as Christopher 'Sammy' Bradley sent the ball wide from a promising position. It was a let-off for Cavan Gaels and after a fantastic run by Brendan Rodgers, he offloaded to Bradley who shot wide after a move which started in their own full back line.
Shane McGuigan then attempted to lob the Cavan Gaels keeper but didn't connect well and keeper got a telling hand to put it behind for a 45. Slaughtneil did get back on the scoreboard on nine minutes when Christopher Bradley bought five yards and put the ball over the bar with his right boot - the Derry men's first point from play as they led 0-02 to 0-00.
The Derry champions' early dominance wasn't manifesting itself on the scoreboard and they were fortunate on 10 minutes when Paul O'Connor created a decent goal chance but Antoin McMullan blocked well with his feet. From the resultant 45, Martin Dunne registered Cavan Gaels' first score from range to half the deficit at 0-02 to 0-01.
Again Slaughtneil should've done better when Sammy Bradley's diagonal ball from a free found Padraig Cassidy who somehow chipped it wide of the post when it seemed easier to score.
Ronan Bradley then scored to restore Slaughtneil's two point advantage as they led 0-03 to 0-01 on 14 minutes after superb work from skipper, Patsy Bradley.
Cavan Gaels were struggling to get a foothold but they were fortunate not to lose further ground as the Emmets missed a gilt-edged goal scoring opportunity on 17 minutes as Ronan Bradley worked a neat one-two with Cassidy and, with just the keeper to beat, he drilled his shot wide of the net.
Shane McGuigan added another point from a free before capitalising on a misplaced pass and added another from play as Slaughtneil stepped it up a gear to take the scores to 0-05 to 0-01.
Despite their complacency in front of the posts Slaughtneil held a commanding lead at the midway point and that was increased to five when Chrissy McKaigue ran 70 metres unopposed and offloaded it to Shane McGuigan who fired it over the bar for 0-06 to 0-01.
There was some respite for the Gaels as they won a free and Sean Johnston sent it over with his weaker left foot to cut the lead to four points. Martin Dunne added another for the Cavan men - their first from play - despite McMullan getting a faint touch to bring the scores to 0-06 to 0-03.
Again Slaughtneil responded with a great move as Karl McKaigue found Shane McGuigan who sent it over the bar for 0-07 to 0-03. Stephen Murray, from 13 metres, pointed after a quick counter attack by Cavan Gaels who trailed by three points at the half-time interval and they will have been delighted to remain in touch despite Slaughtneil's dominance.
Slaughtneil began the second half in clinical fashion as they raced ahead with three consecutive points in the opening three minutes, kick started by an outstanding individual point from Chrissy McKaigue who ran 50 metres unchallenged before firing over the bar to give his side a four point lead at 0-08 to 0-04.
Brian Cassidy then popped it over from 23 metres 60 seconds later and Ronan Bradley added another comfortable point to take the Derry men into double figures at 0-10 to 0-04.
Slaughtneil again punished Cavan Gaels for a poor pass as Shane McGuigan found the net after a sweeping move seven minutes into the second half and the game looked all but over at 1-10 to 0-04.
It gave Slaughtneil the safety blanket they needed as Sean Johnston reduced the arrears from a free on 39 minutes and Martin Dunne added another from play as Slaughtneil's lead was cut to seven points. It was three unanswered scores for Cavan Gaels as they fought back with another Johnston free to take the scores to 1-10 to 0-07 - but it was encouraging signs.
And that lead was cut to five points after a superb point from distance from Niall Smyth on 45 minutes as the Gaels found another gear - a fourth consecutive point.
But Shane McGuigan hit back to stop the slide with a fantastic score. Brian Cassidy added another to take the scores to 1-12 to 0-9 and Patsy Bradley sent over a free as the Emmets stretched their lead with time quickly running out.
Shane McGuigan's shot sailed over the bar with four minutes to go to take the scores to 1-14 to 0-09 before Martin Dunne hit back with his fourth point from play. But Slaughtneill and Christopher Bradley weren't done yet, however, as the prolific full forward hit another score to take it to an impressive 1-15 to 0-10 as the double treble beckoned.
An historic win and a magnificent achievement as Slaughtneil dominated Ulster once more!
SLAUGHTNEIL: A McMullan; P McNeill, K McKaigue, B Rogers; F McEldowney, C McKaigue (0-1), K Feeney; P Bradley (capt), P Cassidy; R Bradley (0-2), Shane McGuigan (1-6, two frees), Gerald Bradley; Chris Bradley (0-3, one free), Se McGuigan (0-1), Brian Cassidy (0-2). Subs: B McGuigan for G Bradley (48 mins), P Kearney for McEldowney (52 mins, black card), P McGuigan for R Bradley (56 mins).
CAVAN GAELS: C Flynn; L Fortune, N Murray (0-1), K Meehan; S Murray (0-1), B Fortune, D Sexton; P Graham, R Maloney Derham; N Smith, M Lyng (capt), L Murphy; P O’Connor, S Johnston (0-3, all frees), M Dunne (0-4, one 45m). Subs: D Meehan for (half time).
Referee: Ciaran Branagan (Down).