By Séamus McAleenan
Slaughtneil Emmett’s (Derry) 0-11
Loughgiel Shamrocks (Antrim) 0-8
CLIODHNA Ní Mhianáin will always remember her 16th birthday. The youngster made her senior championship debut as a substitute 16 minutes from the end of a pulsating NWP senior club final in O’Neill Park Dungannon to help double All-Ireland club champions Slaughtneil collect their third successive Ulster crown.
It was a titanic struggle from start to finish with every player pushing themselves to the limit and the champions needed to use all their experience to fend off the five in a row Antrim champions.
The key difference was the ability of Shannon Graham and Tina Hannon to break through from the midfield area, forcing Loughgiel’s defence to break and the pair set up or took vital scores. Graham was the official Player of the Match, but Hannon with six points, three of them from open play, played a big part as well.
Occasionally Roisin McCormick or Lucia McNaughton managed something similar for the Shamrocks, but the Ní Chaiside sisters and the rest of the defence were able to recover or get the vital interception.
Even when Caitrin Dobbin broke the cover and went for goal in the 57th minute, Jolene Bradley was up to the effort, saved and Eilís Ní Chaiside carried clear to put the pressure back on at the other end.
Slaughtneil’s pace was the key ingredient of the opening half and they built up an interval lead of 0-8 to 0-3. Facing into the stiff breeze for the second half that looked a tenuous enough gap, but they hit the opening score of the half through Graham and then were able to dig in, soak up all the pressure and make the end line in relative comfort.
After ten minutes the score was 0-2 each, with both Louise Dougan and McCormick shooting fine individual points.
Hannon then responded by picking up the puck out from McCormick’s point and racing through for a brilliant individual score. A minute later she jinxed her way through for a second point after neat play from Graham and Josie McMullan.
Although Racquel Murphy pointed a fine long range free in reply, it was Loughgiel’s last score of the half and Hannon popped over two frees with Graham and Sinead Mellon opening a five points’ gap at the break.
Graham opened the second half scoring and Christine Laverty and Hannon exchanged points before there was a glimmer of hope that the Shamrocks might make it. Aisling McFadden and Emma McMullan fired over points between the 45th and 48th minutes with a Murphy free in between and suddenly there were only three points separating the teams.
Significantly Mellon fed Siobhan McKeague for an immediate reply. That score halted the momentum and Slaughtneil soaked up the pressure over the remaining 12 minutes of play to retain their title.
“We were keeping things cool, calm, not letting any panic set in,” said sweeper Dougan. “We have been in tight finishes before, even tighter than today and it has been about keeping a level head under pressure.
“We never expected it to be any other way with Loughgiel. This is a fourth final in a row between the teams, and one went to a replay and there has been very little to separate us in all those five games. They are a really tough challenge.”
Loughgiel manager PJ O’Mullan agreed that the better team on the day won.
“They only scored 11 points and beforehand we would have felt that was manageable. But look, they are double All-Ireland champions and they played with a little more fluency than us.
“We had a good spell about 20 minutes into the second half. Their ‘keeper made a wonderful save near the end. If that had gone in, the teams were level. “It is still a learning experience for us. I am proud that our girls died with their boots on.
“I wish Slaughtneil all the best. I hope they go on to win the All-Ireland again and I think they will.”
SLAUGHTNEIL : J Bradley, G O'Kane, B Ní Chaiside, C McEldowney, E Ní Chaiside, A Ní Chaiside, B McAllister, S Graham (0-2), C Mulholland, S McKeague (0-1), T Hannon (0-6, 0-3 frees), L Dougan (0-1), S Mellon (0-1), J McMullan, T Mellon. Subs : O Rafferty for T Mellon (23), C Ní Mhianáin for C Mulholland (45)
LOUGHGIEL : M Coyle, C Campbell, L Connolly, M Lynn, F McVeigh, M Connolly capt, A Boyle, E McFadden, C Boyle, R McCormick (0-1), L McNaughton, C Laverty (0-1), C Dobbin, R Murphy (0-4 frees), A McFadden (0-1). Subs : E McMullan (0-1) for C Campbell (29), C Higgins 0-1 for C Boyle (37)
REFEREE : Philip McDonnell (Cavan)
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