Portlaoise is the venue this Saturday as Cork’s Nemo Rangers go head-to-head with Derry’s Slaughtneil to see who books a place in the St. Patrick’s Day decider against Connacht champions Corofin.
Its a real clash of the heavyweights with seven-time champions Nemo taking on one of the most consistent sides of recent times, who are playing in a third semi-final in four years having lost last year’s final to Kerry’s Dr. Crokes.
The Leesiders have been impressive thus far having already put last year’s champions to the sword en-route to their first semi-final appearance since 2011.
Larry Kavanagh’s side produced an impressive Munster final display that saw them overcome the much-fancied Crokes on a scorline of 0-16 to 0-11 with their manager conceding that they will need to reach that level of performance again on Saturday to prevail.
“It is a valid question; can we replicate our Munster final performance and if we do, is it enough? I think it is,” said Kavanagh to reporters.
“If you produce exactly what you did against Crokes and it is not good enough, then fair play to Slaughtneil,” he added.
Much has been made of Nemo’s seven year absence from the business end of the club championship but with four members of the 2011 team present in Aidan O’Reilly, Barry O’Driscoll, Paul Kerrigan and Colin O’Brien as well as Kerry legend Tomas O’Se and ex-Cavan forward Paddy Gumley among the ranks, there is no shortage of experience.
Indeed Kavanagh believes that this will not be an issue as the 16-time Munster winners go into Saturday’s game.
“I think the general public is reading too much into the fact this is Nemo’s first semi-final since 2011 and Slaughtneil’s third in four years. It is not a big thing for a club like Nemo. If you have some young fella going out, there’ll be someone close to him on the pitch who’s played at this level before. People were saying Crokes had the edge in terms of Munster final experience but we coped with that.”
While Slaughtneil will be familiar with this stage of the competition, they have yet to taste success, coming up short in the 2015 final against Corofin and falling to Crokes in last year’s final.
The Derrymen are also still reeling from a defeat at the same stage of the hurling championship two weeks ago at the hands of a Na Piarsaigh who had been reduced to 13 men but still managed to recover to secure a 7-point win.
Assistant manager John Joe Kearney believes that his side must learn from last year’s final defeat and maintain their discipline if they are to make it back to the St. Patrick’s Day showpiece.
“Last year, against Dr Crokes, we lost a man and nobody knows what way it would have went but I think if we had 15 on the field for the full hour we would have won that game,” said Kearney to BBC Sport.
“We’re going in now to meet Nemo to try and get to the final and it’s not going to be simple but I think we’ll have the confidence to take them on and try to get to the final,” he added.
Slaughtneil defender and dual star Karl McKaigue believes that they must seize the opportunity to get back to the final having left it behind them on more than one occasion in the past.
“Younger lads are coming into our senior team and we are getting to this stage every year and they are thinking, ‘It will eventually come some year,’ but eventually you will get nipped somewhere down the line,” said McKaigue to local media.
“You have to try and make the most of each chance you get, because last year we left it behind us a wee bit,” added the
What to expect?
Saturday’s encounter promises to be intriguing as a free-scoring Nemo take on a team that is recognised as having an almost water-tight defence.
Ex-Kerry captain O’Se, who missed the provincial triumph is set to return for Nemo while Cork star Paul Kerrigan has reportedly recovered from a knee injury to be available for the clash.
For the Ulstermen, Se McGuigan is again expected to miss out because of a hamstring injury while Paul Bradley hasn’t played since the county final because of a back injury.
Overall, a lot will depend on whether the likes of Luke Connolly, who registered 10 points in the Munster final, Paddy Gumley, Alan O’Donovan, and Kevin Fulignati can make a significant enough impact in attack for the Cork side.
The task is a formidable one against a Slaughtneil outfit that has not conceded a goal on their way to winning the last two Ulster championships and just three goals over the course of all 18 championship games in 2016 and 2017.
While “experience” might not be the best word to use to describe Slaughtneil’s perceived advantage going into this one with Nemo boasting plenty of the same, the fact that they have been so close in both codes in recent times may be a telling factor.
The Derry champions managed an impressive shut down of a usually-potent St. Vincent’s attack at the same stage last year and should they manage something similar this time ’round, its likely that they will get another crack at winning the Andy Merrigan Cup next month.
Throw-in: Saturday @ 4.30pm, O’Moore Park, Portlaoise | Verdict: Slaughtneil
Senior columnist for GAA Wrap.