'What else would you be doing in December? - Slaughtneil's double Sunday booking

'The GAA's the heart of our family' - Slaughtneil siblings have their eyes on the prize

"What else would you be doing in December? Maybe going Christmas shopping but in our family, everything is organised around matches and the GAA."

Jolene Bradley's answer to her own question sums up the essence of the south Derry hamlet of Slaughtneil.

A 350-strong community with GAA at its heart.

Sunday will be another of those days when Slaughtneil folk depart en masse to cheer on their Gaelic Games heroes.

But it will be an unusually early start for the Robert Emmets faithful as they head to Ashbourne for the camogs' noon throw-in against Oulart The Ballagh in their All-Ireland semi-final before making a dash to Armagh to take in the hurlers' Ulster Club semi-final against Dunloy at 4pm.

Jolene and Gerald are among six sets of sisters and brothers set to feature for Slaughtneil this weekend which also includes Eilish and Meehaul McGrath plus Orla and Paul McNeill.

"It will be a long day for everybody but a great day," said Jolene, who has been keeping goals for the Slaughtneil camogs since she was 15.

"I'd say all the nieces and nephews will be in bed early on Saturday night."

Gerald Bradley has helped Slaughtneil clinch three of the last four Ulster Club Hurling titles
Jolene's brother Gerald will be in action for Slaughtneil's hurlers against Dunloy in Armagh

Back garden puck-abouts as children

Her brother Gerald is hoping the hurlers can repeat their 2019 Ulster Final win over Dunloy in the provincial semi-final clash at the Athletic Grounds.

Slaughtneil proved eight-points too good two year ago but most pundits are expecting Sunday to be a lot closer with Dunloy since having added a brace of further Antrim titles.

As always Jolene and Gerald, the two youngest of seven siblings, will compare their metaphorical notes in the build-up to the games.

As children, they spent countless hours honing their skills as they pucked sliotars to each other in the family's back garden.

Inevitably, working lives means less time spent together nowadays but it's still not unusual to see them in each other's company at the local 'ball wall' when winter weather makes muck of pitches.

Whether Jolene teases her brother about her haul of three All-Ireland medals as the hurlers continue to aim for their Holy Grail after winning three of the last four provincial titles, she isn't saying.

Dunloy 'physically bigger' than 2019

But Gerald admits that word filtering through to Armagh on Sunday afternoon that the camogs have remained on course for a fourth All-Ireland title in five attempts would fire up the hurlers for their Dunloy clash.

Who knows? That could prove the difference in what is expected to be a tight contest.

"Definitely going in against Dunloy, we both know each other by now," says Gerald.

"They are an improved team. They have got a lot physically bigger and fitter (since 2019) so they will be up to speed with us.

"The so-called skills of the game go out the window when it comes to a real winter day. And on Sunday evening at 4pm, it's going to be under lights, it's going to be a real winter game."

Amid sticky Ballymena and Glen Maghera pitches for the camogs' Ulster Final battles with Loughgiel over the past two weekends, rucks were the order of the day and another tight and physical battle is expected in county Meath.

"We know how to prepare for an All-Ireland semi-final but it's definitely different in these conditions. We've battled through a couple of storms in the last couple of weeks," adds Jolene, who says that playing camogie has been the perfect diversion during the Covid period from her responsibilities as a community nurse in Derry working with people who have disabilities.

"My team (at work) have been brilliant and supportive. With Covid it has been pretty tough but Slaughtneil is my hobby outside of work and I love it. I go to training and it takes my mind off it."

The pandemic scuppered Jolene's planned wedding last summer but the Bradley family and presumably most of Slaughtneil will gather next June for her big day.

Cormac O'Doherty celebrates scoring a goal in Slaughtneil's All-Ireland Club Hurling semi-final against Na Piarsaigh in 2018
Free-taker Cormac O'Doherty is a fitness doubt for Slaughtneil hurlers

Will talisman O'Doherty start for hurlers?

But for now, all of Slaughtneil is focused on a more immediate big day.

The 'will he or won't he play' issue around talisman and free-taker Cormac O'Doherty's shoulder injury concern for the hurlers has been preoccupying Slaughtneil folk this week and manager Michael McShane said on Wednesday night that he would be given "every opportunity to prove he's fit".

"If I'm been really honest, it's very doubtful because the injury hasn't healed as quickly as we thought it would. If he doesn't start, hopefully we'll be able to get him involved at some stage," says McShane, who also manages the Tyrone hurlers.

"Hopefully we can win the game without having to use him. That would be the best outcome but we've lots of good lads on the subs bench who can come in and take Cormac's place.

"It's been a long wait. We won it (the Ulster Club title) back in 2019 and didn't get a chance to defend it last year.

"We really wanted to get back to winning it again this year and now we've got a chance to start that journey."

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