Robert Emmet's Slaughtneil 1-14 Kevin Lynch Hurling Club 1-13
A sizeable crowd was attracted to St Colm's Ballinascreen for this Leadon Timberframe Derry SHC Semi-Final and they would not have left disappointed, as they watched Richie Mullan narrowly miss a late opportunity to send the game to a replay.
Minutes earlier, Mullan had thrown his side a lifeline as his free from 30 yards somehow found its way past the massed Slaughtneil defenders on the goal line, but in truth it was the Sé McGuigan green flag with seven minutes remaining that proved the decisive score and finished a move deserving of winning any game.
Slaughtneil were without Brendan Rogers and Gerald Bradley coming into today's game, while Niall Smyth was a late replacement for the unavailable Liam Óg Hinphey for Kevin Lynch's.
The Dungiven men pointed in the opening seconds of the game, Odhran McKeever out quickest to the sliotar, gathering it and striking it over the bar first time to give his side an early lead, before Meehaul McGrath played a neat one-two with Sé McGuigan and sent over the equalising point minutes later.
Richie Mullan then opened his account for the afternoon, firing over a neat point before landing his first free from the 65m line wide on the left hand side. Mullan's free-taking counterpart Cormac O'Doherty then slotted his first of the day, sending over a 65 after the Kevin Lynch's defence had deflected a Slaughtneil shot out over the end line.
As the intensity rose and the hits began to fly, Richie Mullan found himself dragged down, allowing him to convert another free to open the gap to two once again, before a foul on Sé McGuigan resulted in O'Doherty doing the same to reduce the gap to the minimum.
Both sides were tenacious in the tackle and each defence took turns repelling attack after attack, the Kevin Lynch's full back line in particular turning a lot of ball. Tiarnán McHugh, handed a tricky assignment on Sean Ó Caiside, came deep to dispossess Conor McAllister as he attempted to clear, before slipping the hand pass to Niall Ferris, who went steaming through the middle of the defence to restore the two-point lead.
A foul on Chrissy McKaigue resulted in Cormac O'Doherty knocking over another free to reduce the gap to one. O'Doherty's work rate was forcing the Dungiven side's defence to be on form, and he covered serious acreage in the Slaughtneil forward line during the opening period.
Referee Patrick McEldowney was allowing things to flow and both sides were embracing the freedom, hard and fair hits flying in all over the pitch, the highlight being a crunching collision between Éanna Cassidy and Niall Smyth on the touchline, where the latter immediately picked himself up and replaced the hurl that had been broken over his own leg by the force of Cassidy's challenge. Line ball the decision.
With seven minutes remaining in the first half, the Ulster champions drew level, patience eventually telling as Sé McGuigan slotted a neat score from the right hand touchline to level matters at 0-05 apiece.
Corner back Paul McNeill then played a key role as Slaughtneil took the lead for the first time in the game. As Richie Mullan attempted a short sideline cut, McNeill anticipated the move and nipped in to intercept, the sliotar eventually finding its way into the hands of Cormac O'Doherty, who sent over his first score from play to seize the initiative for his team.
A high ball into the Slaughtneil defence resulted in a spot of wrestling between Richie Mullan and Paul McNeill. The Emmet's experience told as they ignored the scuffle, working the ball nicely up the right wing, Meehaul McGrath guiding it between the posts to open the gap to two.
In the remaining two minutes of the opening half, Mullan and O'Doherty again traded frees to leave the champions two up at the short whistle and allowed the crowd to take stock of a first half of big hits, hooks and blocks, but little free-flowing hurling.
The second half opened with Odhran McKeever attempting to repeat his first half effort, but this time he was fouled before getting the chance and Richie Mullan slotted the free to punish Slaughtneil.
O'Doherty replied once again for Emmet's following a foul on half back Ruairí McCartney before Richie Mullan again capitalised on a defensive error, snatching the ball before being fouled. Mullan dusted himself down and split the uprights to raise the white flag.
A bizarre moment then followed as Slaughtneil goalkeeper Gearóid O'Kane attempted a short puck out. The sliotar landed midway between the 20m and 45m line and, as no one else approached it, Odhran McKeever made a stuttering run towards it, eventually picking it under no pressure at all and striking between the posts from a standing position to level the score as both forwards and defenders looked on in bemusement.
Tiarnan McHugh then buried deepest into a ruck to win possession and shoot over his shoulder to give Kevin Lynch's the lead once again as the crowd sensed an upset.
Unflustered, Emmet's continued to press forward and the Lynch's defence, under the stewardship of the outstanding Patrick Kelly and Mark Craig, held firm to repel a number of advances as Slaughtneil probed, eventually coughing up a score as Kelly fouled half-time substitute Liam Cassidy and O'Doherty applied the finish to leave the teams level once more.
A huge Richie Mullan free from around seventy yards out in front of a packed stand raised the decibels to nudge his side in front, only for Mark McGuigan to burrow his way through the Lynch's defence and slot a point to ensure the score stayed level.
Just seconds later, Brian Lagan was picking the ball out of his net, his clean sheet ruined. A superb sweeping move, beginning with Meehaul McGrath picking the ball up on the left flank seventy yards from goal, was finished to the net by Sé McGuigan after some neat interplay in the Slaughtneil forward line.
Cormac O'Doherty then repeated Richie Mullan's heroics in front of the stand, splitting the posts from seventy yards and all of a sudden the champions led by four. A foul on goalscorer Sé McGuigan allowed O'Doherty to make the gap five before second-half substitute Ciaran Steele replied for Kevin Lynch's.
O'Doherty yet again found the target from a placed ball after a foul on Ruairí McCartney, pointing from 40 yards, a deflating score for the Dungiven men who found their hard-earned Steele response immediately eradicated.
Richie Mullan pointed a free to once again see the lead sit at four points, before his side were awarded a further opportunity from a placed ball thirty yards from goal.
The gathered crowd were in no doubt that Mullan's mind was firmly on the Slaughtneil goal, and despite the wall of Emmet's defenders strewn along the line, he squeezed his effort inside the left post to set up a thrilling final minute.
The hearts of those present were given a firm workout in that minute as Patrick McEldowney awarded the Dungiven side a free seventy yards out, indicating that this would be the final play of the match.
Mullan stepped up in an attempt to add to the 1-08 he had already garnered, but he watched agonisingly as he watched his effort sail harmlessly to the right of the Slaughtneil posts and with that the referee's whistle sounded for full time.
A thrilling end to an absorbing clash at Ballinascreen and Slaughtneil will once again face Banagher in the final as they overcame Lavey at Celtic Park on Saturday night.
Robert Emmet's Slaughtneil: Gearóid O'Kane, Paul McNeill, Sean Ó Caiside, Karl McKaigue, Ruairí McCartney, Sean McGuigan, Conor McAllister, Éanna Cassidy, Sean Cassidy, Chrissy McKaigue, Meehaul McGrath (0-02), Mark McGuigan (0-01), Cormac O'Doherty (0-01, 0-09f), Sé McGuigan (1-01), Brian Cassidy.
Kevin Lynch Hurling Club: Brian Lagan, Ciaran O'Kane, Patrick Kelly, Conor Kelly, Niall Smyth, Mark Craig, Donal Kelly, Corey O'Reilly, Thomas Brady, John Mullan, Niall Ferris (0-01), Sean Kelly, Odhran McKeever (0-02), Tiarnan McHugh (0-01), Richie Mullan (0-01, 1-07).
Scoring Substitutes: Ciaran Steele (0-01)
Referee: Patrick McEldowney (St Colm's Ballinascreen)