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Rogers a leading part of Slaughtneil's new breed bidding to make history

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Rogers: Impressive record

Rogers: Impressive record

SPORTSFILE

Rogers: Impressive record

In recognition of Slaughtneil's feat of reaching Tuesday's All-Ireland club final against Corofin of Galway, Derry county PRO Dermot McPeake embarked upon an ambitious, ESPN-style online feature on how the first team to reach the county football final - in 1969 - have sired many of the players on today's current team.

McPeake's piece also included a claim of how hurling originated in the club. "Denis Cassidy returned from the All-Ireland in 1968 with a hurl," explains Kevin Kelly. "We copied it, sawed down ash trees and cut them into shape, 26 times. We won the county title the following year."

That kind of 'have-a-go' attitude was fine and dandy in the '60s, but is not so prevalent in today's win-at-all-costs era. Or so you might think.

In Slaughtneil, they don't just merely participate in the GAA, it is part of them. That's why they are the current senior hurling and football champions of Derry. They make it work. When pressed for an explanation in McPeake's article, 1969 player Kevin Kelly - father of current senior Padraig - answers, "Common sense and co-operation."

Common sense, they say, is not all that common. But because they have it at the foot of Carntogher Mountain, it means men like Brendan Rogers can pursue his sporting ambitions in both codes and he doesn't have to put up with petty begrudgery.

He is only 20, though his club trophy hauls read as thus; 1 Ulster senior club football championship, 1 Derry football championship, 1 Derry senior football league, 1 Derry under-21 football championship, 2 Derry senior hurling championships, 4 Derry under-21 hurling championships, 3 Derry minor hurling championships.

Yet when he arrives for an interview, the final-year Geography student in Queen's looks the height of bashfulness.

There used to be a saying that former county PRO Gerry Donnelly coined for comedic effect: "Slaughtneil. 1,500 people. Five surnames. How does that happen?"

If you were to pick the five surnames, Rogers wouldn't be one.

"We would be about the only family where there would be no real tradition," he concedes. "My Granda lived up my road and he was the only Rogers male in his family and the rest all left, sort of left towards Portglenone direction. He was the only one that came to Slaughtneil. A couple of my uncles went to Kilrea and live over there."

In the All-Ireland club semi-final, Chrissy McKaigue was drowning in his marking job against Kerry captain and Austin Stacks star Kieran Donaghy. He conceded two converted penalties and, on another day, might earned a black card.

The Slaughtneil management went to Plan B. At 6'2" and 13 stone, Rogers is no waif.

But he is willowy when put against man-mountain Donaghy (6'5", 16 stone).

Nevertheless, he went onto his duties and laid down the law. A few eagle-eyed photographers captured a little verbal exchange and some tongue-wagging that, try as you might, you can't reconcile with this gentleman in front of you.

"You give the odd shoulder when you go over," he explains. "Then a bit of pushing led to that. I think it looked worse than what it was."

After that, Slaughtneil clawed their way back into the light, inch-by-inch. Rogers dominated Donaghy, but he had been well-schooled beforehand. "At training, they put Shane Kelly (33 years old, 6'3", 15 stone) in full-forward," he reveals.

"He is definitely a handful in the air and then Sé McGuigan (6' 0'', 13 stone) would be strong, he is good at the wrestling aspect," he adds. "I think mixing the two different types of boys in, gave us a more broader scale. At the end of the day, with Donaghy, it is difficult to recreate the circumstances."

Against Corofin, things will be different. While Donaghy is one of the hardest forwards in the game to mark, he is like a Circus Strongman act. If Rogers is to reprise his role at full-back, he will meet Michael Lundy, who is more like the Circus Magician as he proved against St Vincent's and Jarlath Curley in particular. He is a two-footed sprite with incredible balance.

"He had a cracking game against St Vincent's from what I seen," added Rogers. "They don't have a Donaghy-esque player, but I think some of their forwards are six foot plus.

"You can't take Corofin lightly. I watched them a good wean of years back and remember thinking they were a quality outfit coming out of that Connacht side."

When the knock on the Slaughtneil dressing room door comes and they bounce onto that turf, this Derry club will have arrived among the biggest and the greatest.

And that's what makes St Patrick's Day in Croke Park so, so special.

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