Slaughtneil assistant boss reveals the advice he gave Chrissy McKaigue ahead of Diarmuid Connolly duel
Slaughtneil 0-12 St Vincent's 0-10
This game in a bitterly-cold Páirc Esler was won with all the usual qualities it takes to prevail in such circumstances, but above all, it took sheer courage - encapsulated by how Chrissy McKaigue bent the game to his will.
It had been predicted he would have to mark one of the classiest acts in the game in Diarmuid Connolly, but nobody could have foreseen him outscoring the six-time All-Ireland winner to the tune of 0-4 to 0-1 from his berth at centre-back.
And yet, it could have been different only for a little pep-talk delivered just at the right time.
"He was a wee bit concerned about marking Diarmuid Connolly," admitted Slaughtneil assistant manager John Joe Kearney after retrieving a football from the Vincent's dressing room.
"We had a get-together on Friday night and I knew by the vibes of him that he was worried. I had a word with him, a one-to-one last night and told him for the first time in three years I had been involved with a team and experienced a bit of negativity from you as regards what you had to do."
He continued: "I said, 'Why should you worry about Diarmuid Connolly? Let Diarmuid Connolly worry about you. You get an opening, you go for it. Put him on the back foot.'
"He obviously listened to my advice, because he had a great game today. To be playing an amateur sport, he plays it as a professional. That's how he thinks, that's how he behaves."
No wonder all the experts got it wrong in predicting a Vincent's win.
Not only have they a slew of Dublin representatives on their panel, but they also could spring inter-county imports from the bench such as Armagh's Joe Feeney and Galway's Fiachra Breathnach to go along with those who started, including Sligo's Brendan Egan and Mayo's Enda Varley.
And Varley, the former Garrymore man, was the reason the Dublin and Leinster champions went in at half-time 0-6 to 0-5 up with four points in the opening half. Connolly also kicked a point that came down from the clouds as Slaughtneil's jitters manifested themselves in five first-half wides and one free criminally dropped short by Paul Bradley.
But a storming third quarter, when they hit five of the first six points, gave them a cushion to carry into the final minutes.
Their 11th point on 46 minutes encapsulated McKaigue's day. The Derry side were probing around a massed defence waiting for a chink of light to appear. The ball came to McKaigue and directly facing Connolly, he threw a shimmy left before exploding past him on his right to kick a serious point.
Little wonder that when McKaigue was in the exact same spot a minute later, Connolly advanced and hit hard with a closed fist, earning a booking from referee Paddy Neilan.
Vincent's manager Tommy Conroy unloaded his bench with big names such as Feeney and Breathnach, along with Kevin Golden.
They might have had a goal when an undercooked Tomás Quinn '45' was flicked goalwards by Varley, but Slaughtneil goalkeeper Antóin McMullan flung himself full-length to tip the ball around the post.
Ultimately, Slaughtneil's ability to keep the ball and show composure was tested severely by St Vincent's. Despite his contribution being limited in the second-half after the younger of the McKaigue brothers - Karl - was switched on to him, Varley still wriggled free to hit a superb point to leave two points in it.
In the final minute the ball ended up in Connolly's clutches, but Chrissy McKaigue jockeyed and harassed superbly to shut down the goal chance and they settled for a Shane Carthy point.
The final word, however, belonged to Slaughtneil, Paul Bradley certainly atoning for his earlier free-kick mistake by nailing a crucial one in the second minute of injury time.
Two down, one to go. Slaughtneil's camogs set the ball rolling a fortnight ago when they reached the All-Ireland final. Their footballers took care of St Vincent's.
And at the end of the month their hurlers get the chance to make not only history, but an absolute nightmare for fixture-makers when they face Cuala in the All-Ireland hurling semi-final.
What a script to write.
Scorers - Slaughtneil: C McKaigue 0-4, C Bradley 0-3, Shane McGuigan 0-3 (2f), Paul Bradley 0-2 (2f). St Vincent's: E Varley 0-5 (2f), G Burke 0-2, D Connolly, N Mullins, S Carthy 0-1 each.
SLAUGHTNEIL - A McMullan; F McEldowney, B Rodgers, K McKaigue; P McNeill, C McKaigue, K Feeney; Patsy Bradley, P Cassidy; Shane McGuigan, Paul Bradley, M McGrath; C Bradley, Se McGuigan, C O'Doherty. Subs: R Bradley for Se McGuigan (54), B McGuigan for K McKaigue (BC, 64)
ST VINCENT'S - M Savage; M Concarr, J Curley, C Wilson; B Egan, G Brennan, Cameron Diamond; N Mullins, S Carthy; G Burke, D Connolly, Cormac Diamond; R Trainor, E Varley, T Quinn. Subs: A Martin for Trainor (46), J Feeney for Cormac Diamond (BC, 61), K Golden for Cameron Diamond (67), F Breathnach for Mullins (58), S McCusker for Egan (BC, 62)
REF - P Neilan (Roscommon)