Slaughtneil 1-18 Dunloy 0-14

Holders Slaughtneil are back in the hunt for the Four Seasons cup next weekend after a convincing seven point Ulster semi-final victory over Dunloy at a floodlit Athletic Grounds in Armagh.

The provincial competition wasn't held last season due to the pandemic, but in a repeat of the 2019 decider -ironically the competitions last game-went in similar fashion, with champions Slaughtneil overpowering their Antrim opponents with sheer will.

That Salughtneil resolve also hinged on a huge Brendan Rogers switch into the middle of the field for the start of the second half. Having started on the forty, Rogers was a tour de force in the open field firing in 1-03 in a devastating third quarter.

Despite the Derry side leading at half time, that whirlwind start to the second half was the difference between the sides. Rogers electric pace and hard running was sight to behold and now see’s Slaughtneil play in their sixth final in eight seasons, nine if you include the lost Covid year.

Dunloy started the game playing against the wind but found themselves two points to the good thanks to rasping points from Paul Shiels and Keelan Molloy. The stinging nature of the scores signalled a revenge mission.

Cormac O’Doherty had other idea’s and was on hand to shrug off a worrying shoulder injury in the build up to the game to steer his Robert Emmets side into control of the game with five first half frees. Using the wind to perfection at times, O’Doherty shot Slaughtneil into a 0-09 to 0-03 lead.

With Dunloy working so hard against the elements to get up the field and having denied Sé McGuigan a certain goal, goalkeeper Ryan Elliott worked clever short on puck outs to great effect towards the end of the half.

Eoin O’Neill landed a brace either side of a terrific Kevin Molloy effort to make it 0-09 to 0-06 at half time. Cuchullain’s more happier with the three point game at the interval.

Conal Cunning narrowed the gap even further with the first of six second half placed balls but Rogers was about to take command of the game.

Having set up Brian Cassidy with an early score, Rogers demonstrated how devastating his running ability was. Slaughtneil went on an unanswered 1-03 scoring run with Rogers pouncing for 1-02.

Cassidy returned the favour minutes later to lay off to Rogers who followed up the play to find the back of the net. Rogers then nonchalantly clipped over the next score to leave a shell shocked Dunloy simply stunned.

In the final quarter Gregory O’Kane’s side were unable to sustain enough pressure to mount a comeback.

Cunning was accurate from frees but the Slaughtneil’s goal was largely untroubled bar a booming puck out at the death from Dunloy full back Conor McKinley where Oisín O’Doherty had to be at this best to tip it round the post after it skidded off the December turf.

Much to the delight of the Slaughtneil faithful Meehaul McGrath capped off a fine performance with a brace to add to his first half point as the Derry side clipped over the matches final three scores. Substitute Jack Cassidy also getting in on the act.

Michael McShane’s side will now face Down champions Ballycran this Sunday in Corrigan Park, Ballycran are the last side to defeat Slaughtneil way back in 2018.

Slaughtneil: Oisín O'Doherty, Conor McAllister, Paul McNeill, Karl McKaigue; Sean Cassidy, Gerald Bradley, Meehaul McGrath (0-03); Shane McGuigan (0-01), Chrissy McKaigue (0-01); Mark McGuigan, Brendan Rodgers (1-04), Brian Cassidy (0-01); Jerome McGuigan, Cormac O'Doherty (0-07, 0-07f), Sé McGuigan.

Subs used: Jack Cassidy (0-01) or B Cassidy (60).

Dunloy: Ryan Elliott; Eamon Smyth, Conor McKinley, Conor Kinsella; Aaron Crawford, Ryan McGarry, Ronan Molloy; Seán Elliott (0-01), Keelan Molloy (0-01); Paul Shiels (0-02), Kevin Molloy (0-01), Eoin O'Neill (0-02), Nicky McKeague, Conal Cunning (0-06, 0-05f, 0-0165’), Deaglan Smith (0-01).

Subs used: Chrissy McMahon for McKeague (24), Shane Dooey for Smith(50)

Referee: James Connors (Donegal)