No Bones About It

Declan Bonner

Superb Slaughtneil an inspiration and example for others to follow

Paudie McGuigan, Slaughtneil, celebrates at the final whistle after victory over Austin Stacks.

Paudie McGuigan, Slaughtneil, celebrates at the final whistle after victory over Austin Stacks.

SLAUGHTNEIL’S story can serve as an example to all the the so-called bigger clubs of Ulster.

The Derry club will take to the biggest club stage in the GAA on St Patrick’s Day when they play Corofin in the All-Ireland club final.

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When it comes to playing numbers and population, Slaughtneil have punched above their weight, but they’re in the All-Ireland final on merit.

Twelve months ago, it would have been hard to imagine Slaughtneil reaching an All-Ireland club final, but they have battled against the odds and it isn’t beyond them to go the whole way and win the Andy Merrigan Cup next month now.

Club football in Derry has always been strong and maybe their county team has suffered as a result because of the club scene being so intense and competitive.

When you think of all the old traditions of the GAA, Slaughtneil are real pillars who carry out playing for the parish and fighting for the jersey to the very last. They are totally and utterly ruthless and their players would do anything for each other.

Former Donegal manager Mickey Moran is the man who has guided Slaughtneil to the All-Ireland final. It’s an absolutely unbelievable achievement for them to have won Ulster, but now to stand within an hour of being All-Ireland club champions is probably beyond even their wildest dreams.

They overcame Austin Stacks on Sunday in a fantastic game of football. What a dream year it has been for Cormac O’Doherty. Sunday was his only third start for the club’s senior team and he scored the winning point. It’s a day that club players all over the country dream about and O’Doherty must have be thinking back to his days in the school yard with his friends.

Sunday was so intense and none of the neutrals would’ve been disappointed if the game had ended in a draw.

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Slaughtneil have always had good players, but their players have all come out and said that Moran was the missing piece in their jigsaw.

He took over as the Donegal manager after my spell in charge. The players in Donegal maybe weren’t on his page at the time, but Mickey was very well respected and I think it was only after he left Donegal that there was a appreciation of what he’d been trying to do with the squad.

He has been well liked wherever he has gone in the game and he certainly has got the best out of Slaughtneil. He knows the game inside-out and it was interesting to hear Paddy Bradley saying that Mickey was the sole reason that Slaughtneil have managed to win Ulster and reach the All-Ireland.

There were some crucial phases to Sunday’s game. Chrissy McKaigue couldn’t handle Kieran Donaghy, but when he was booked Moran moved him offf and put Brendan Rodgers on the Donaghy. McKaigue had a huge influence on the game after he was taken off Donaghy and Rodgers curbed Donaghy’s threat. In Patsy Bradley, Slaughtneil have one of the top midfielders in Ulster at the moment. He has such a presence about him and can leave his prints on any game.

It was a superb advertisement for club football – and Slaughtneil’s sojourn should inspire clubs all across the country.

In Donegal, it’s been a disappointment that we have never seen one of our clubs contesting a final on St Patrick’s day. Glenswilly and Naomh Conaill have been to Ulster finals, but none have managed to go any further.

Ulster is such a difficult province to get out of and when Ballinderry and Crossmaglen went out every team, including St Eunan’s, felt that they had a chance of winning the province.

Slaughtneil have opened the eyes of a lot of club managers and players out there. The big thing they’ve shown is that if you have 20-odd players who give everything for a jersey you can achieve greatness.

I wrote an article in this paper a few weeks back about the club season and how this is the time of year for managers to call ‘the meeting’ of the squad where the call to arms goes out and the law is laid down.

Often, clubs and players look for excuses, but Slaughtneil certainly haven’t done that. I’d say you’d find that disciplinary breaches are at a bare minimum in their dressing room.

There’s no reason they can’t go on now and win it.

They got over the line against Omagh St Enda’s in the Ulster final with a last-minute score and they survived a scare last week, too.

Corofin have been outstanding in this campaign and they also made people take note last Saturday with the way that they defeated St Vincent’s.

One thing that strikes me about the match-up is the Galway-Derry pairing. When you think about the two teams contesting the final, you wonder how their respective county teams can be so consistently inconsistent.  Too often when they pressure comes on Derry or Galway, they buckle.

The same certainly can’t be said about Slaughtneil or Corofin.

Fermanagh challenge

WHILE the majority of the Donegal senior squad is about to fly back from the team holiday in Dubai, those who’ve stayed at home were put through their paces on Sunday when they played Fermanagh in a challenge game.

Rory Gallagher has been working really hard on trying to get players who are able to step up to the mark and the likes of Sunday’s game is a really good help for developing the squad.

There are a couple of big games coming up at the start of March, with Cork and Monaghan coming to Donegal in the opening two weeks. If Donegal can get wins from those home games they Rory can really start ramping up the preparation for May 17th.

Rory’s spot on with what he’s been doing. You can train away and play all the in-house matches you want, but games against another opponent can really help mould these lads.

Fermanagh didn’t have their full side on for the game either, but they’ll have been out like it was a championship match. For a second string side, which by and large it was, a game like that is better than any amount of training.

You want to see players coming in and making a big push for the team. There won’t be too many changes for the first two matches after the resumption of the League on Sunday-week because of it, but what it will do is let Rory see if there are a few others in his ranks who could stand the heat of the pressure cooker.

Great start, ladies!

THE Donegal ladies have had a cracking start to their League campaign, winning their opening two games against Down and Armagh. Davy McLaughlin has done tremendous work with the squad over the winter. Himself and Sean O’Kane have them in great shape and they’ve managed to get a few familiar names back on the roster again, which is great to see. The ladies are putting in every bit as much effort as any other intercounty team now – hopefully they’ll be rewarded for it.

Do you have a comment to make on any of the above or would you like Declan to raise an issue in the column? If so, get in touch by email d.bonner@donegalnews.com

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