Slaughtneil's McGuigan delivers killer blow to Rockies
Slaughtneil 1-14 Austin Stacks 2-10 (All-Ireland Club SFC semi-final)
A MAN called Barry McGuigan, who had spent the previous day at his brother's wedding, delivered the sucker punch that finally ended the Rockies' All-Ireland club dream yesterday.
Legendary Tralee club Austin Stacks arrived in Portlaoise hoping to repeat their semi-final victory of 1977 there and two penalties - earned, inevitably, by cloud-catching All-Star Kieran Donaghy and scored by Pa McCarthy - within as many minutes in the first quarter gave them the perfect start.
But McGuigan's goal, just before half-time, was the only thing all day that momentarily silenced the din made by their famous barmy army.
It came from an unlikely source; a 32-year-old wing-back, who brilliantly slalomed through to split their defence and later confessed he hadn't raised a green flag for a few years.
And he had actually been at his brother's wedding all day Saturday - in Donegal!
"I left it around nine o'clock and got down here around half one last night," he revealed.
"My uncle Johnny, the club chairman, drove myself and my brother Se down.
"It was a wee bit of luck," he said of his game-changing score. "I could see Sammy (Chris Bradley) beyond but I hadn't the power in my fist to get it over to him and things just opened up for me."
The Ulster champions had plenty of other heroes but McGuigan's contribution, and especially that goal, was pivotal as it helped them recover from the early double penalty blow and sent them in level (2-5 to 1-8) at half-time.
The switch of Brendan Rogers to take over marking Donaghy from county star Chrissy McKaigue was also vital but this cliffhanger hung in the balance right to the end.
With Stacks trailing as it turned into added-time, Donaghy won a contentious free just 25 metres out, giving Shane Carroll a great chance to take the game into the extra-time, but he swung it wide.
Given his earlier tireless contribution, the Rockies' rightly exonerated their centre-forward.
"Shane has been a fantastic player for us all year and the wind down that side of the pitch was blowing right across into him," manager Stephen Stack stressed.
In truth the Kerry side were too dependent throughout on frees and, in those dying minutes, were also outplayed by their opponents' hunger and skill.
Five of Slaughtneil's six second-half points came from play, including a gorgeous curled one from young Cormac O'Doherty which nudged them clear with four minutes left.
Stacks moved Donaghy to midfield to try to gain a foothold as the game slipped from their grasp but Ronan Bradley, who looked a full foot smaller than him, won the next kick-out and, in the next minute, county star Patsy Bradley also made an outstanding catch in defence.
Referee David Gough was booed off by the Kerry supporters at the end but actually did well to stay on top of a game that threatened to boil over in the first half.
Both of the Kerry wing-forwards and Donaghy were booked by half-time and the Derry side clearly targeted the full-forward who was equally combative in response, yet once Stacks stopped giving away silly frees, especially in defence, they looked the better team in the third quarter.
But Slaughtneil then got on top of midfield again and Chrissy McKaigue scored an inspirational point, with 12 minutes to go, to keep them making the hard yards.
"In the first 15 minutes we didn't kick the ball out to them, we worked the ball up the field and got ourselves into good positions and were direct when we needed to be direct, that's how we got our two goal opportunities," Stack observed.
"But then they got on top of us in the central diamond and we couldn't hold onto our stranglehold in the middle," he acknowledged, and the second half followed an almost identical pattern.
"It's only our second defeat in all competitions in 15 months and to roar back the way they did, after the (16-point) drubbing we got in the 2013 county final, to put yourself within a kick of a ball from an All-Ireland final, there aren't too many teams that'd do that," Stack reflected proudly.
Shane O'Callaghan put the opposition full-back line on the back foot more than once but was unlucky with a few shots, especially one off the upright in the second half.
Slaughtneil's superior long-range shooting and mobility throughout showed why they were the pre-match favourites beforehand.
Conan Cassidy, Paudie McGuigan, Patsy and Gerald Bradley and nifty centre-forward Chris Bradley were among their stars and McGuigan's brother Se also did well off the bench.
Mickey Moran has them tackling tigerishly and playing a nice brand of mobile football.
McGuigan, a youngster on the team that won Slaughtneil's last county title 10 years ago, said the former inter-county manager's personality has been vital in their fairytale run.
"Mickey just had a quiet word with us at half-time, told us to keep calm and keep picking off the scores," he revealed.
"That calming influence that Mickey has, that's been the big difference this year," he said. "And those young boys coming through push you on because they're going to take your place some day."
After yesterday's heroics his All-Ireland final place is definitely safe.
Scorers - Slaughtneil: B McGuigan 1-1, P Bradley 0-4 (4f), G Bradley and C Bradley 0-2 each, C Cassidy, C McKaigue, Patsy Bradley, Padraig Bradley and C O'Doherty 0-1 each. Austin Stacks: P McCarthy 2-1 (2-0 pens), S Carroll 0-4 (3fs), D Mannix 0-2 (1f), G Horan, K Donaghy and S O'Callaghan 0-1 each.
Slaughtneil - A McMullan; B Rodgers (capt), C McKaigue, K McKaigue; C Cassidy, B McGuigan, F McEldowney; P Bradley, P McGuigan; P Kelly, C Bradley, R Bradley; G Bradley, P Bradley, C O'Doherty. Subs: S McGuigan for Gerald Bradley (52), P Cassidy for C Bradley (61).
Austin Stacks - D O'Brien; F MacNamara, B Shanahan (capt), R Shanahan; P McCarthy, C Jordan, D McElligott; W Guthrie, G Horan; M Collins, S Carroll, D Bohan; D Mannix, K Donaghy, S O'Callaghan. Subs: F Mangan for Collins (h-t), W Kirby for Bohan (39).
Ref - D Gough (Meath)