GAA Football

Enda McGinley: Slaughtneil - All-Ireland club football champions - perfect fit

Captain of St Vincent's Dublin Diarmuid Connolly can only watch as Slaughtneil's Chrissy McKaigue outworks Cameron Diamond and Michael Concarr during the All Ireland Club SFC semi-final match at Newry. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin.

St. Patrick's Day – All-Ireland club final.

The move to the same calendar year is long overdue but its hard not to admit St Patrick's Day, with its celebration of all that makes us Irish, is a perfect fit.

Our sense of belonging and identity epitomised by our attachment to our clubs is unlikely to be replicated in another western society.

I was lucky to have represented my club and county but there was always a clear difference between the two.

In the end County was where a player could gain a reputation, Club is where a player gains respect.

By this I mean, with the media coverage and crowds associated with the county game, players get huge exposure.

They become known; however it is only a superficial knowledge.

The club game, shorn of this, gives a much truer reflection of what a player is about.

The only drivers are the honour and responsibility of playing and representing where you are from. In terms of our gaelic culture there should be no greater motivation.

When done right, a person can earn a respect that wealth, career success or county glory for that matter cannot gain them.

Club football is the epitome of our games.

At the All-Ireland final of Scór or Fleadh we see the finest skills and performance of traditional music but it is in the local session in a rural pub or house that you would find it in its most authentic and pure form.

Same goes for gaelic games: the county game is the highest level but it is in the club that the truest form of our games and culture exists.

It is in this context that Slaughtneil has gained many admirers from far outside its borders.

I’m not overly fond of the endless ‘amazing achievement for somewhere that doesn’t even have a Post-office’ line.

The fact they didn’t have somewhere to buy their stamps matters little.

To manage to compete across all the codes at the level they are at is amazing.

Most clubs will struggle to get their players to commit fully to one team.

Slaughtneil, in their achievements, makes everyone reflect on their own situation and question how much it really means to them.

One of the things we should never except accept is someone having a greater love and dedication to their club than we have for our own.

Slaughtneil’s dedication to theirs throws down the gauntlet to us all.

Today’s game could be framed as Gooch Cooper's Dr Crokes against Slaughtneil.

That’s possibly harsh on Dr Crokes but the attention and much of their team’s fortunes does centre around the legendary Kerry forward.

The Gooch, Colm Cooper, is one of the greats of our game.

His skills are at the level of the sublime yet, whilst not appearing physically strong, he is also well able to mix it, win his own ball and lead a team.

Whilst Slaughtneil do have top level players, particularly in the likes of Chrissy McKaigue, Christopher Bradley and Patsy Bradley, they are the very definition of being much more than the sum of their parts.

Multiple times I have heard people describing Slaughtneil as an ‘ordinary side’ and wondering at their achievements.

Their performance against St Vincent’s was a reminder of how strong their game is exactly because of its simplicity.

Everyone of their players is composed on the ball and consistently takes the right options.

Steve Jobs of Apple fame had it right when he suggested that ‘simple is harder than complex’.

In football, executing the basic skills with solid decision making on a consistent basis are the hardest things to master.

Whilst talk of systems, tactics and the evolution of the game is everywhere, in reality, the core pillars of basic skills, work rate and courage remain and when measured in this regard, Slaughtneil rarely come up short.

The big question is how this transfers onto the hallowed turf of Croke Park.

Slaughtneil love nothing more than getting down into the trenches and going to war with the opposition.

Croke Park is more `Top Gun' than a battlefield though.

While its large open spaces are in reality just the same as many pitches across the country, the pitch undoubtedly does play differently.

Whether it is as a result of the pristine, semi-synthetic turf or the stadium environment itself, teams with added speed and top-end skills often appear to benefit.

Dr Crokes may appear to hold the aces in this regard and it is that final examination that Slaughtneil now must take.

Slaughtneil travel today with respect of their people and much wider afield already earned.

That will not change on today’s result.

Coming from a county where Lavey, Bellaghy and Ballinderry all have All-Ireland club titles and having experienced defeat at this stage in 2015, the players themselves however will be on a mission to complete the job.

At a time when there is so much discussion regarding club games, Slaughtneil, in what they represent, how they carry themselves and how they play, would be fitting winners.

I think history is with them.

Name on the trophy? At 6.30pm today, I think so.

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