Hungry players keep me busy, says Slaughtneil manager Michael McShane as team goes for 10-in-a-row FindSexyJobs

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If he wasn’t still there, you’d hardly blame him.

Slaughtneil’s hurlers produced another All-Ireland semi-final classic at the end of January this year. They provided excitement and spill, and Brendan Rogers even invented something of a ‘Cruyff turn’ of hurling, where he lunges for a pick from the ground but quickly changes direction by flicking the sliotar through the legs to fool the opposition.

But in the end Ballygunner had five points to their credit.

That the Waterford club won the final was of no consolation to Harry Ruddle as his late diving shot found the back of the net to beat Ballyhale. They had the same when the All-Ireland series was last played in early 2020 when Ballyhale beat them in Newry to win it.

So when Slaughtneil manager Michael McShane picked himself up and left the Parnell Park dressing room, he had to be assessing things.

Seven years on the job. Six Derry titles. Four Ulsters. Still no All-Ireland final form. what else to do? Find out from others if he was still the man.

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Michael McShane is enjoying a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” as Slaughtneil boss.

“I’ve certainly thought long and hard about it. But every year I think about it long and hard, especially over the last three or four,” says McShane.

One of the things that kept him there was the effort so far. Building and improving backstage teams. The hours spent up and down the road from Ballycastle and the strong bonds he and his family have formed with the south Derry club.

“We always take time to reflect and there is my own family in the Slaughtneil players, the club committee. The people you need to talk to to make sure you continue if it’s the right decision.

“But also, if you step away from it, it’s the right decision,” he explains.

“The most important thing is that the players very much wanted us as a management team to stay. That’s probably the biggest factor of all. If the players are happy with you, you can definitely go ahead. If they are not happy with you, there is no point in trying to move forward.

“I talked to my own family. It’s a big commitment. But it is also very pleasant. It’s probably a once in a lifetime opportunity to manage a team of this kind, so dedicated to their game, to their sport. So devoted.

“Even though I’ve been watching them for the past few years, they’re still as hungry as ever.

“I’ve said it often, the greatest quality they have is the common sense to recognize that their career is a small window of opportunity. They only have the chance to win as much as possible.”

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The tragic loss of Damian Casey put the sport in perspective

There isn’t a club in the country that has a core of medal-hungry players like Slaughtneil. With four footballers from the county after winning their first Ulster titles in Christopher McKaigue, Brendan Rogers, Shane McGuigan and Paul McNeill, they have raised all sorts of bars in terms of what the club can achieve.

Yet it has dawned on many that when they take to the pitch in Owenbeg this Sunday to take on Kevin Lynch, they are on course to make it ten consecutive Derry hurling championships.

Even if they reach the magical double figures, Slaughtneil would still be a little outside the staggering figures amassed by some clubs.

However, a closer look reveals that it is the preserve of counties such as Cavan (Mullahoran have 21 consecutive titles since 1990), Donegal (Burt with 16) and Fermanagh (Lisbellaw and their 14 titles in a row) that have existed in the lower reaches of county hurling .

Don’t expect any vertigo to creep into camp, though.

“I’m telling you now,” warns McShane, “and you might think I’m just saying this, but it’s real. The phrase “Ten in a row” was never mentioned once in our locker room, or in our group, or in our meetings, or anything like that. It was never mentioned.

“And there’s a simple reason for that. We never talked about nine in a row or eight in a row or any of those things. We just look at each championship and take it on its own merits. We know that if we want to win the championship in Derry every year, we will have to work hard. And if we do that, we can go to the next level and that’s where we want to go.”

It’s been a hectic year for McShane, and one that brought huge highs, but nothing compared to the crushing tragedy that followed.

In his second year in charge of Tyrone, they won the Nicky Rackard Cup. But within weeks, the jury was in despair when star player Damian Casey died at a wedding abroad.

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Michael McShane

“It was a real wake-up call for me to realize what’s important in life. Sometimes we can get too bogged down in training and driving and playing and trying to be successful and trying to win. Sometimes winning can be the be-all and end-all,” he explains .

“But after Damian’s death you realize there are more important things in life and that’s the only thing I took away from it.

“That said, I see hurling, coaching and managing as good to get back into. I am still trying to come to terms with the fact that she is no longer with us. I just think of such an amazing guy to be here. A young man with his whole life ahead of him so he has a lot to look forward to and it was taken away from himm.”

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