Derry champions Slaughtneil just held off a second half comeback by Cavan Gaels to earn a semi-final showdown with Monaghan side Clontibret in the Ulster senior football championship.
Last Sunday’s quarter-final in front of a big crowd at Owenbeg was very much a game of two halves. Slaightneil dominated proceedings in the first half and looked well on their way to a comfortable win as they led 0-9 to 0-4 at the break.
However the Gaels manager, Tyrone legend Peter Canavan, made a raft of changes for the second half bringing in three men off the bench. That seemed to have the desired effect as the Cavan side turned the tide to dominate for most of the second half reducing the leeway to a point 0-10 to 0-9 with seven minutes left. Then in the first minute of injury time Seanie Johnston had a great chance from a 30m free to level matters and almost certainly send this tie into extra time. However he sent horribly wide, Slaughtneil capitalised fully winning possession from the kick out with Ger Bradley bursting through to fire over the insurance point for a narrow 0-11 to 0-9 win.
With Patsy Bradley and Paudie McGuigan dominating around the midfield area Slaughtneil bossed proceedings throughout the first half. The Cavan champions were picking up very little primary possession and were second best for the breaking ball.
The sides were level 0-1 each after three minutes before Paul Bradley fielded well under pressure at full forward to turn and fire over the bar to put Slaughtneil back in front. In the 9th minute Christopher Bradley wasted a glorious goal chance for Slaughtneil as he blasted over the bar with the goal gaping. Cavan’s Robert Maloney-Derham did have a goal chance shortly after but he delayed his shot and was then fouled which gave Seanie Johnston the chance to point from the resultant free.
Two Paul Bradley frees extended Slaughtneil’s lead to 0-5 to 0-2 by the 18th minute before Declan Meehan fired over a huge point from all of 45 metres for the Cavan champions.
Slaughtneil finally began to turn their territorial domination into scores in the ten minutes before half-time as they knocked over four unanswered points. Patsy Bradley was very much involved with the first two of those four in a row. He found Chris Bradley for the first while his long ball to Paul Bradley gave the full forward the chance to fire over. Patient build from Slaughtneil brought the reward of a Ronan Bradley point from play before Paul Bradley brought his first half tally to five, pointing a free to put Slauightneil into a commanding 0-9 to 0-3 lead. In added time Cavan reduced the gap with a Seanie Johnston free leaving them 0-9 to 0-4 adrift at the break.
Gaels manager Peter Canavan rang the changes for the start of the second half bringing in Martin Dunne, Paul Graham and Niall Smith, for much of that second period it looked like this was going to be a master stroke by the Tyrone man.
The Cavan men went on to dominate the third quarter as two more Seanie Johnston frees left a kick of the ball between the sides by the 38th minute although Slaughtneil substitute Cormac O’Doherty missed a glorious chance to stop the comeback in its tracks when he fired against the post from point-blank range five minutes later.
Slaughtneil looked to have steadied the ship with Christopher Bradley’s third point of the day extending the margin to four with 12 minutes of normal time left.
However, that advantage had been halved with two points from impressive corner-back Niall Murray and substitute Paul Graham.
When Johnston slotted another free in the 53rd minute to cut the deficit to the minimum, Slaughtneil appeared to be desperately looking for the finishing line.
With a minute to go, Slaughtneil’s Gerard Bradley had a glorious chance to put the match to bed as he gathered a poor kick out by Gaels keeper Martin Cassidy but he appeared indecisive and under pressure lost possession.
Extra-time then appeared certain in the first minute of injury-time as Cavan’s patient build-up led to a foul on Murray but incredibly Seanie Johnston, from a reasonably central position around 30 metres out completely fluffed the chance as the ball flew well wide.
Mightily relieved by the reprieve, Slaughtneil worked the ball downfield from the kick-out and Gerard Bradley kicked the insurance point.
Slaughtneil now meet Monaghan champions Clontibret in the semi-final this Sunday in Omagh.