GAA Editor @BrianGBarry
Slaughtneil hoping to stun All-Ireland champions Ballyhale Shamrocks
Last Updated: 04/01/20 10:06am
Not many are giving Slaughtneil a chance in Sunday's AIB All-Ireland semi-final meeting with Ballyhale Shamrocks.
The Kilkenny kingpins haven't lost a championship game since 2017, and are odds-on to retain the Tommy Moore Cup.
But the Derry side are no strangers to being underdogs. This is their third time in the semi-finals in the last four years, previously losing to Cuala and Na Piarsaigh. Slowly but surely they've been getting closer to the required standard, and given that they're not battling on dual fronts this campaign, they may be getting close to a peak performance.
"Our last two All-Ireland campaigns, we've been faced with equally formidable tasks - Cuala our first campaign, then we had Na Piarsaigh, and now we have Ballyhale. So we're well used to these kind of challenges," explained captain Chrissy McKaigue.
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"Ballyhale is probably the most difficult...to date.
"We're huge underdogs, but for a Derry club to be here for the third time in four years is massive progress for us.
"Ballyhale are the aristocrats of this competition - a Kilkenny club vs a Derry club."
However, they're not travelling to Newry on Sunday just to make up the numbers.
"When you get to the last four, there's always that incentive to try and make the last two," he said.
"As a hurling club we've grown astronomically over the last seven, eight years. We've surpassed even our wildest expectations.
"We'll look forward to the task. At the very least, we've got to a level where we're very competitive against the top clubs in Ireland. If someone had offered us that seven, eight years ago, we'd have taken their hand off.
"We just take care of our business, and will look where that gets us."
Slaughtneil have thrived in both codes in recent years, winning six Ulster titles between hurling and football. However, an All-Ireland title eludes their men's teams.
"Sooner or later, we need to capitalise on one of these competitions at national level," McKaigue said. "Easier said than done. We arguably left one behind against Crokes the last time (in the 2017 football final).
"The same could be said against Na Piarsaigh. We were winning for large parts of that game, we didn't capitalise on a two-man advantage either.
"Maybe with a lack of experience, we probably shocked ourselves. We got into a winning position and we maybe hadn't the experience or the composure to finish it off. "
And so, the hard work is done. The eight-week break following their UIster final win over Dunloy is almost over. It's time to do their talking on the field.
"We'll go out and give it our best [shot]," he said.
"I think the biggest thing we need to do against Ballyhale is no different to the thing we tried to do against Cuala and Na Piarsaigh - that's to get ourselves to a level of technical ability and skill we haven't got to yet, that we're probably slowly getting towards.
"[We need to] make it as competitive as we can, and in championship hurling, on one-off days, anything is possible."