Ulster Club SFC Final: Dunloy heal their pain by ending Slaughtneil’s reign

Antrim club prevail in fierce battle with familiar rivals

Dunloy (Antrim) 2-12 Slaughtneil (Derry) 0-16

Slaughtneil’s reign as Ulster champions was ended in a complete war in the Athletic Grounds as Dunloy brought all the hurt of the last three defeats and turned it into their first Four Seasons Cup in 13 years.

An early freak goal arrived for the Antrim champions in the tenth minute when an Arron Crawford delivery looked set to be dealt with by Slaughtneil Oisín O’Doherty, but under pressure from the incoming Nigel Elliott, he deflected it into his own net.

That gave Dunloy the lead that they were to lose for all of one minute as the game ticked into the last ten minutes.


Elliott also flashed a well-placed shot beyond O’Doherty just before half time to leave Dunloy 2-6 to 0-7 up at the break. But Slaughtneil poured forward and scored eight in the first ten minutes of the second half.

Dunloy also had captain and goalkeeper Ryan Elliott to thank for two acrobatic saves in one minute from Jerome McGuigan.

But with the game in the balance, Dunloy held their nerve with scoring contributions from substitutions Nicky McKeague and Declan Smith, while they were also able to introduce their folk hero Paul Shiels to steady things around the middle. Meanwhile, Slaughtneil had a shooting malfunction with four wides in the last ten minutes.

At the back, full-back Ryan McGarry made a succession of blocks and catches while the hit from Kevin Molloy on Shéa Cassidy after just two minutes set the tone for a game in which you hadn’t a chance of buying a free from referee Peter Owens.

Captain Elliott said in his gracious comments to the beaten side, “you have been in our heads all these years.”

“It was probably the day that this team evolved again,” explained Dunloy manager Gregory O’Kane.

“It was a game to be won and it had to be Slaughtneil. That’s where it was today.

“2019, Slaughtneil beat us in an Ulster final. And I think we finished that match with something like eight U-21s. Two of them were U-20, and that’s the majority of your team. That team needs to develop. That 19-year-old now is 23 and so on.

“Physicality, big game experience, it takes all that. Probably today, we were able to match Slaughtneil physically and the hurling then took over.”

Slaughtneil have been wonderful and impressive champions. Their manager Michael McShane stopped to talk after emerging from a sombre dressingroom and he eloquently explained their position.

“I’ve just said to the players in the changing room there, not for one second will I be criticising any of them. They have done so much service to Slaughtneil, to Derry hurling, to Ulster hurling over the last number of years, we have competed at the top level,” he stated.

“And I’ll say now, absolutely guarantee you, that this Slaughtneil team will be back here in another Ulster final in the not too distant future. And it’ll be us coming with the hurt next time.”

Dunloy will now face Galway champions St Thomas’ on December 18th in the All-Ireland semi-final.

DUNLOY: R Elliott; P Duffin, R McGarry, O Quinn; A Crawford (0-1), Kevin Molloy, E Smyth; C Kinsella, E McFerran; R Molloy, A McGrath (0-1), N Elliott (1-1); K Molloy, C Cunning (0-7, three frees), S Elliott.

Subs: D Smith (0-1), for S Elliott (40 mins), N McKeague (0-1), for A McGrath (50), P Shiels for Kinsella (53).

SLAUGHTNEIL: O O’Doherty (1-0; own goal); P McNeill, K McKaigue, C McAllister; G Bradley (0-3), C McKaigue (0-1), M McGrath; Shane McGuigan (0-2), C O’Doherty (0-5, four frees, one 65); P McCullagh, B Cassidy (0-1), R Ó Mianáin; B Rogers (0-2), J McGuigan (0-1), Shéa Cassidy (0-1)

Subs: Sé McGuigan for McCullagh (40 mins).

Referee: Peter Owens (Down)