4 months after unprovoked assault in Belfast, Slaughtneil dual star back on the winning trail

Conor McAllister and the Slaughtneil hurlers face a daunting task against Munster champions Na Piarsaigh this afternoon.

ON A COLD Tuesday night last October, shock waves reverberated around the tight-knit GAA community in Slaughtneil with the news that one of the club’s brightest young talents had been the victim of an unprovoked assault in Belfast.

A dejected Conor McAllister Source: Presseye/Matt Mackey/INPHO

Dual star Conor McAllister suffered serious facial injuries, including several broken teeth, in the city where he’s in the first year of his studies at St Mary’s teaching college.

“This is a despicable happening,” John Joe Kearney, assistant manager to the Slaughtneil footballers, told the Belfast Telegraph shortly afterwards.

“We have a young sportsman, just coming into his prime, the victim of a full-blooded assault. What happened to Conor puts everything into perspective.

“This was naturally a big shock to his family and friends and all his playing colleagues here in Slaughtneil. Conor loves his sport, he plays whatever code he is involved in fairly and he certainly did not deserve this.”

Two days earlier, McAllister scored a point from wing-back as the Slaughtneil hurlers retained their Ulster crown with an 11-point win over Antrim’s Ballygalget in the final.

He was later released from hospital, but the injuries forced him to miss Slaughtneil’s subsequent run to the Ulster football title.

“I missed a few football games,” McAllister tells The42. ”I’d come on in a few football championship games and I missed the rest of the season. I came on for a couple of minutes against Kilcoo in the preliminary round of the (Ulster) football.

Slaughtneil's players celebrate winning Source: Presseye//INPHO

“It happened after that there and I missed the quarter-final, semi-final and final of the Ulster football so it was disappointing obviously but I’m working hard to try and get back up the pecking order a bit.

“I better not say too much. It does (put things in perspective) I suppose, aye.”

Understandably, McAllister is keen to keep his focus on the future with a couple of huge games on the horizon.

They face Munster kingpins Na Piarsaigh in Parnell Park this afternoon in the All-Ireland club hurling semi-final, two weeks before Cork giants Nemo Rangers provide the opposition in the last four of the football equivalent.

Limerick city club Na Piarsaigh dwarf the south Derry side, who derive their entire playing population from 300 houses or so.

“It’s very tight in the club,” says McAllister.” Everyone knows everybody. All my friends, I’d be able to go to their house, sit in and talk to their parents even if they weren’t there. We’re all very close.

“We appreciate that. Even up around Derry, you speak to a lot of boys and they aren’t even that friendly with boys from their own club. It shows on the pitch as well. It comes through.”

Pronsias Burke,  Conor McAllister and James McCloskey celebrates at the final whistle Source: Presseye/John McIlwaine/INPHO

It should be no surprise then to hear that McAllister lives with four of his club mates in college.

“Me and a few boys have a house up there. Sean Cassidy, Liam Cassidy, Keelan Feeney and Ruairi McCartney. They’d all play (with Slaughtneil). Keelan Feeney only plays the football but the rest would be dual players as well.

“It’s good craic. We haven’t got a chance to go out much with all the training. It’s all good.”

One of the drawbacks to having three senior teams competing in the latter stages of the All-Ireland series is the effect it’s had on the club pitch. Recent weather conditions have forced Slaughtneil to hit the road and avail of training facilities around the county, and even further afield.

“Because the camogs are training as well, the pitch couldn’t really stick all the training so we’ve been travelling to other clubs around the county and even over to Antrim.

“We have to be grateful to those clubs for giving us their pitches. You get a text during the day (with the venue for training).”

A talented sportsman, McAllister made his debut for the Derry senior hurlers in 2017, while he was wing-back on the St Patrick’s Maghera football side that reached the All-Ireland Post Primary Schools Hogan Cup final in 2016.

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Dara Moynihan and Conor McAllister Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

The teenager has become a key figure in the Slaughtneil football and hurling squads. He’s a mainstay in on the half-back line for the hurlers, while he regularly features off the bench for Mickey Moran’s football squad.

While Ulster titles were annexed in both codes last winter, Slaughtneil lost to Dr Crokes in the football decider and eventual winners Cuala in the small ball semi-finals.

McAllister is confident they’ve learned a lot from both those defeats.

“We knew we were outclassed against Cuala last year. It was disappointing. We went there and we’d good belief. We shout we were going to give it a good shot and then it knocked the stuffing out of us a bit.

“Last year we were maybe a bit naive going into the Cuala game, maybe our preparation wasn’t as good as it could have been but this year we’ve hopefully set a few things right and hopefully we can give it a good shot.

“I don’t think we realised the step up in competition it was coming out of Ulster. It was the first year any Derry team had ever won Ulster, it was a big thing to beat the Antrim champions and we were maybe on a bit of a high and didn’t quite realise the step up in standard.

“We’re definitely a better team at this stage compared to what we were going into the Cuala game last year.

“Losing to Dr Crokes was disappointing. I thought we were in with a good shout but these things happen. We have another shot at it this year. The football we’ve been knocking around for a few years so we’re hoping to give it a good shot again this year.

“You always remember it. You remember the games you lose a lot more vividly than the games you win. The games you win you can’t really remember much of what went on, but you remember the games you lost a lot.

“It’s motivation as well though. It’s motivation to get back there and get the job done and go again.”

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