Shane Stapleton and Cahir O’Kane of the Irish News preview the Derry Senior football final meeting of Magherafelt and Slaughtneil.
Defending champions Magherafelt meet Slaughtneil this Sunday in the 2020 Derry SFC final in Bellaghy.
Magherafelt will be looking to defend the crown they won last year for the first time since 1978, when beating Glen by a solitary point in the decider.
Slaughtneil are hoping for a first triumph since 2017, when they completed a four-in-a-row.
These sides meet in the championship for the first time since their infamous clash in the 2018 quarter-finals where a drab 0-10 to 0-5 win for Slaughtneil was overshadowed by a crazy four-minute sequence prior to half time.
Slaughtneil’s Padraig Cassidy retained possession around the half-way line for an extended period, with no resistance from the Magherafelt players.
Cahair O’Kane described that game as “farcical” but expects a better contest this time.
“Genuinely, I cannot see anything between them, it’s squeaky tight,” O’Kane says.
“These are the two best-conditioned teams in Derry and it was plain to see in the semi-finals.”
Magherafelt come into the game as champions after an emotional win over Glen last year, with the magnitude of a first title win in 41 years summed up by Daniel Heavron’s powerful post-match interview.
They have had to dig deep thus far in the championship as they fell to Glen in the group stages, before overcoming tough games against Lavey, Swatragh and The Loup in the knockout stages.
Slaughtneil, on the other hand, have been hugely impressive thus far, beating Ballinderry with 16 points to spare in their semi-final at the weekend.
According to O’Kane, the break from GAA has likely been beneficial to a Slaughtneil team that has appeared in a number of Ulster and Club Championship deciders in both codes over the past few years.
“It’s the first time in six or seven years that they haven’t been involved in an Ulster final in either code.
“It’s been a long stretch so they needed that few months off.
“They have come back an they are flying off the ground. The dry ground and dry weather is really suiting them.”
As such, it promises to be a close encounter with O’Kane swaying slightly in favour of Slaughtneil when pushed.
“It is very hard to call and I know that is not a consensus in Derry and the vast majority of people would favour Slaughtneil.”
“If you put a gun to my head, I might edge towards Slaughtneil.”
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