Slaughtneil manager Michael McShane. (Pic: John McIlwaine)
DERRY SHC ROUND 1
Slaughtneil v Ballinascreen
Sunday (3.00) - Emmet Park
Ref: Owen Elliott
Slaughtneil's cocktail of courage and finesse almost derailed the aristocrats of club hurling back in January. Ballyhale's fabric was well-tested on an afternoon of drama at Páirc Esler.
After the game, a relieved Henry Shefflin told reporters his side was put to 'the pin of their collar', while Michael McShane believed there was still an All-Ireland in the Slaughtneil side.
It won't be this season. The GAA omitted the provincial and All-Ireland club competitions from their return to play roadmap. Michael McShane didn't comment on the decision that would prevents his side from defending their title, should they emerge from Derry.
“You are only in the position to question that if you are county champions,” he stated of the GAA's decision.
“Like every other year, we just focus on winning Derry, that's the first hurdle. To see if we are good enough to do that and complete eight-in-a-row. If nothing else happens, we will have retained our county title and it will be a good year.”
The seeding from last year's league placings keeps them apart from a Kevin Lynch's side that have been snapping on their heels in recent seasons.
The first challenge is Ballinascreen, who pushed the Lynch's every step of the way in last year's championship. It took a late Niall Ferris goal to seal the deal, but it wasn't before a Reece McSorley goal and a point from Aaron Kelly had 'Screen well in the hunt.
Cathal McDaid returns as manager, with Danny McGrellis, Hugh Pat Kelly, Michael James Groogan and Dave McGurk in the management team.
Their new intake of minors includes Niall Doyle, Ronan McKenna, James O’Connor, Emmett Donnelly and Jamie Murray, but they will be without the injured Ciaran McBride.
The Emmet's welcome back Paul McNeill after a 14-month lay-off with a shoulder injury. Liam Cassidy's knee injury has recovered and Prionsias Burke has returned from a year studying in Liverpool.
“You would've thought he had never been away,” said McShane of McNeill's return, which will also be welcome news for football boss Paul Bradley.
“He (McNeill) was just so pleased and happy to get back at it. We are in a good position this year, with Paul, Liam and Prionsias all adding to the strength of the panel.
“You were looking at a summer with nothing, but it's great to get back as a group in each others' company.”
In previous seasons, the Slaughtneil football and hurling training schedule was dependent on the next game and what code needed the immediate focus.
This year, both teams are going to continue training 'when possible' during the groups, according McShane, before prioritising ahead of the knock-out stages.
“Paul (Bradley) and myself are talking very regularly to keep on top of it, so that we are not overworking the lads.” highlighted McShane, who has retained the same management team that includes Alex Campbell, Noel Brick, Bernard Cassidy, Barney and Patrick McEldowney.
“It has all been very good so far. The players are happy and the football management is happy,” he added.
The players were upbeat about their return to action after the lay-off, while stressing the importance of players taking responsibility for their own health and checking their temperature regularly in the midst of the training programme.
“As the saying goes, you never miss the water 'til the well runs dry. I hope and pray to God we can get on with it, there will be no issues and we can enjoy a summer of hurling and football like we normally do.”
In the world of a condensed season and a raft of dual players, an early win will dilute the importance of group games further down the track. It's hard to look past an early Slaughtneil victory.
- Early goals make the difference for Kevin Lynch's. More...
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