Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship final

Slaughtneil v Dunloy (Armagh, Sunday, 1.30pm, live on TG4 YouTube)

SLAUGHTNEIL have ruled the roost in Ulster club hurling with four of the last five titles (there was no competition in 2020 due to Covid) so the question is whether Dunloy will be able to end the Derry club’s grip on the Four Seasons Cup when they meet in Sunday’s provincial decider in Armagh’s Athletic Grounds (1.30pm, live on TG4 YouTube).

 


Gregory O’Kane’s Cuchullians have enjoyed a similar dominance in their home county, but have been unable to go much further with Emmett’s something of a nemesis, winning their three previous meetings including last year’s semi-final where Brendan Rogers inspired his side to a 1-18 to 0-14 victory.

Learning lessons is one thing, but being able to flip the script is another and Dunloy’s task doesn’t look any easier this time around considering the 19-point hammering they put on Portaferry in the semi-final a fortnight back.

That display proved they are as hungry for success as ever and there are absolutely no signs of slippage - in fact, quite the opposite - as Michael McShane’s men look stronger again with the luxury of holding Jerome McGuigan and Gerard Bradley on the bench for that semi-final.

“There were times that day they looked unplayable,” said Dunloy manager O’Kane at Monday’s press gathering.

“They’ve strength in depth all over the pitch, their use of the ball... they were on a level that would be hard to deal with.

“That strength in depth is where they probably came up short in the past but this year it seems they’ve worked on it. Three young lads they’ve introduced (including Ruairi) Ó Mianáin looks a very good player. To be able to bring on players like Gerard Bradley shows the quality they have.”

The 10-in-a-row Derry champions have reached four All-Ireland semi-finals but are yet to go further, a factor that has perhaps helped keep them motivated as whilst they have dominated county and province, they have loftier ambitions.

There is no doubt the Derry side enters this game as favourites considering they have proven themselves as Ulster’s top dogs constantly, but Dunloy are not exactly rank outsiders either and forward Cormac O’Doherty - who landed seven points from frees in last year’s meeting between the teams - is expecting a typically hard-fought affair.

“Both teams know each other inside out, even going back to Ulster Minor days in Ballinascreen,” he noted.

“It’s been small margins the last few times we’ve played them and thankfully we’ve been on the right side of them. We’ve had that extra few per cent in the past and hopefully, we have that again on Sunday.

“We’ve been competitive on the national stage and would love to be back there, but our full focus is on Sunday.”

The team news for Dunloy is mixed ahead of the weekend with Deaglan Smyth back in contention having shaken off an injury sustained in their Antrim semi-final win over St John’s.

However, this weekend has come just a little too early for Conor McKinley who has been a long-term absentee with a shoulder injury, while Chrissy McMahon is definitely out having been injured in the club’s Ulster Intermediate Football Championship game against Dungloe.

Still, the North Antrim men retain plenty of firepower and have the capability of building a winning tally with the Elliotts, Keelan Molloy and Conal Cunning all potential match-winners.

They have been unable to find the right blend against Slaughtneil in the past with the Derry men managing to close down the avenues for Dunloy to thrive, but that was then and O’Kane insists this Sunday is a clean slate.

“You can never play those games again and the one thing we’re in control of is the game in front of us,” he added.

“Slaughtneil has been dominating Ulster and they are the benchmark. That’s the level we’re striving to get to every year and this year is no different.

“The Antrim Championship, we were delighted to win it as it’s a hard competition to win. Now we are into a new competition and we are looking forward to what is coming up on Sunday. It’s a massive challenge for us and one we’re looking forward to.”
 
Ulster Intermediate Club Hurling Championship final

Liatroim v MIddletown (Corrigan Park, Saturday, 1pm)

A DOWN club has never won the Ulster Intermediate Club Hurling Championship, but Collie Murphy's Liatroim are hoping to change that at Corrigan Park on Saturday (1pm) when they face previous winners, Middletown.

The Armagh side has landed the title on two occasions, the m most recent in 2017, while the Fontenoys' previous is three straight final defeats from 2006-2008.

Liatroim have had a good win to the final with victories over Castleblayney and then again against Antrim champions Clooney Gaels.

Murphy took the reins at the start of the season with his son, Tiernan, also in the ranks as both made the switch from Rossa and the patriarch of the family says he has enjoyed his time with his adopted club on and off the pitch this year.

"It's a real parish club," he noted.

"They had a big breakfast (on Sunday) and there were 250/300 people there. It's a different atmosphere but they are as passionate as any city club, but it's a good environment."

Middletown have had to bare their teeth to reach this weekend's final having come through tough scraps against Derry's Eoghan Rua and Éire Óg from Tyrone.

"They are favourites and have the Gaffneys who I've seen a few times this year playing for Armagh, Cathal Carville and talent throughout," said Murphy who is happy to concede the favourites' tag.

"They've won two Ulster titles and from their last win five years ago, they've still most of the team. It's almost unheard of to win two games in extra-time, one after the other, but they did that and came from behind in both, so they've shown great resilience.

"They are young, fresh and all the things they're not. We'll give it a last but Middletown will be favourites."