Emmet’s return after lengthy layoff

By Michael McMullan

IT will be 77 days since their last competitive game when Brendan Rogers leads Sleacht Néill out for Sunday’s Ulster final showdown with Cushendall in Páirc Esler.

It’s like a new season, but it’s not a shock. Michael McShane knew what his side were getting into if they retained the Fr Collins Cup in Derry.

In their footballing pomp, the Emmet’s would’ve been mixing the codes but it’s been wee ball on a full-time basis.

A week off after their win over Kevin Lynch’s was following by three weeks of tipping away.

Defeat to Glen in the football was followed by a licking of their wounds before the dual players picked up their hurls again.

“We gave the boys a few days off and they went at it hammer and tongs since then,” said McShane.

“The last seven weeks have been fairly hectic and full on. We have got plenty of good work done and we are very happy where we are at.”

The odd challenge game was dropped in, but they have dined mainly on in-house games and finding their hurling focus again.

“It hasn’t caused us any concern,” McShane said of the break. It was a “bit different” not having a semi-final to contend with.

Not spitting their time with football has enabled them to brush up on the technical skills usually worked on in the two-week cycles between both codes.

“It is very difficult for players to come from one management setup where they are talking about a certain way of playing and another setup talking about a different way of playing and to be able to juggle that and spin those two plates,” he said.

For the last seven weeks, the Derry champions have been plugged into planet hurling.

McShane boasts the strongest squad in his nine seasons. It has absorbed the loss of Brian Cassidy on his travels, Chrissy McKaigue’s injury and Shane McGuigan taking time away from hurling.

“We are able to play at a really high intensity (in training) so that has been a great benefit,” McShane said.

The reserves have been playing in the championship for the last three weeks. It’s been another piece of silverware and it keeps the squad chipping away in training.

“I would say Chrissy (McKaigue) is not going to make it,” McShane admits. An aggravation of his ankle injury against Glen has kept him out of training since and Sunday will come too soon.

“Shane (McGuigan) didn’t play any hurling this year,” McShane added. “The plan was he’d come back. He came back for a couple of sessions but he had an injury which meant he has not been able to do any hurling.”

McShane insists they still have the tools and have the nine of the team who lost the 2015 final, after extra-time, to Cushendall in McShane’s first season.

“We were very wet behind the ears and green that year,” he said. Nine years down the line and they’ve buckets of experience.

McShane has also done what he has always done. Minor players Cahal McKaigue and Fionn McEldowney have been drafted into the training squad with the view to next year. It won’t be a culture shock and it keeps the competition strong for a spot in the starting 15.

Sunday marks 30 years since Sleacht Néill’s first Ulster Club game, a semi-final humbling at the hands of Cushendall.

The sides played out an epic semi-final in 2014 before Cushendall won the replay and the ‘Dall came out on top in the final 12 months later.

“It is not something we have talked about,” McShane said of the club never having beaten Cushendall.

The colour of the jersey in the other corner on Sunday is irrelevant. They face a “very difficult” task.

“Playing Cushendall won’t be any less difficult than playing Dunloy over the past few years or Loughgiel in 2016,” he said.

“Cushendall will be coming gunning for an Ulster title, they have not had one in five years.

“They are very driven this year and you can see that in the way they are playing. They have reasons to be driven.”

For McShane, it’s their next opponent and the due diligence path has been walked.

He has watched them in different games this season.

“They are a very strong team, in every line they are strong,” he said. “They are led by Neil McManus who is playing some of the best hurling of his life so we are under no illusions of the task ahead.

“We are no less or no more fired upby the fact that we are playing Cushendall than someone else.”

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