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'It’s Something You Never Prepare For. It Was Never Discussed In Our Whole Winter Period'

'It’s Something You Never Prepare For. It Was Never Discussed In Our Whole Winter Period'

The half-time score of Slaughtneil and Na Piarsaigh's AIB All-Ireland Club Hurling Championship semi-final on Saturday was an eye-catching one: Slaughtneil, long outsiders to progress, led by a goal.

The Derry side had threatened a vulnerable looking Na Piarsaigh fullback line numerous times in the opening 30 minutes. An upset, a monumental one - Na Piarsaigh were 1/50 for the win - was on the cards.

Five minutes into the second half, Slaughtneil's chances looked to have received a substantial bump when Na Piarsaigh had two players shown red cards in quick succession.

Despite Na Piarsaigh being without Conor Boylan and Tommy Grimes for the remaining 25 minutes, the Limerick and Munster champions won the game by seven points.

"The two straight reds - we didn’t know what way to deal with it. We didn’t know whether to push up or play with the sweeper, we ended up getting caught in no-man’s land and doing neither," said Slaughtneil corner-back Karl McKaigue on Monday. "That hurt us, in the end, they went up a few gears and seen the game out quite comfortably in the finish."

It’s something you never prepare for. I know for a fact it was something that was never discussed in our whole winter period if one man gets sent off, never mind two.

When you do play five or ten minutes against 13 men, you were thinking, ‘Why are we not scoring here?’ Panic sets in. The game plan was out the window, and our performance followed that. It was disappointing, because it was there for the taking.

In fairness, Na Piarsaigh got their tactics spot on, they sort of dropped their defenders back, and their midfielders just sat in front of them.

Slaughtneil had spent the winter organising challenge games against clubs outside of Ulster, making trips to Kilkenny, Wexford and Dublin in an attempt to close the gap between themselves and teams from down south.

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"We’ve put in a lot of work over the winter trying to get ourselves up to speed with the southern lads. It’s very difficult to do, that was one of the things we were trying to do.

"We were schooled by Cuala last year, and our big focus this year was to come in and be competitive. We obviously were. We were up by three points at half-time, with like ten wides in that first half as well, that definitely hurt us, with the breeze at our backs."

In those challenge games, Slaughtneil put extra emphasis on the ten to 15 minutes following half-time. It had been a weak point in the past, and so it proved to be again at the weekend.

Slaughtneil being so competitive is a remarkable achievement. Just a small townland, it has much on its plate. An obsession with Gaelic games has won them the last two Ulster club hurling and football titles.

On February 24th, they play Nemo Rangers in the AIB All-Ireland Club Football Championship semi-final - a game for which they are favourites.

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McKaigue said it all creates a demanding schedule.

"When you have to travel down south to play opposition, and you’re trying to work with the football on top of that as well. It’s very, very tough. It’s tough to try and find other ways to close that gap, because it is very big.

"A lot of them Limerick lads play for their counties and then some of our club lads wouldn’t even play county hurling - so you’re only playing your club and Ulster championships and it’s a difficult problem to try and solve."

An obstacle but no doubt one they will strive to hurdle.

Slaughtneil's Karl McKaigue is pictured ahead of the AIB GAA All-Ireland Senior Football Club Championships Semi-Final taking place at O'Connor Park on Saturday, 24th of February where the Derry Club will face Cork's Nemo Rangers. For exclusive content and behind the scenes action throughout the AIB GAA and Camogie Club Championships follow AIB GAA on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat and www.aib.ie/GAA. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

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PJ Browne
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