Chrissy McKaigue hoping Slaughtneil can bounce back from All-Ireland disappointment
IN life, there are born winners. Ask anyone who has soldiered alongside Chrissy McKaigue, or been at the sharp end of his tongue if he felt standards were beginning to slip, and you are left in no doubt.
Ask the managers for whom he has played, regardless of code, and the message is loud and clear; this is somebody you want to count among your number - the onfield general.
In the moments after helping Slaughtneil’s hurlers finally break through the glass ceiling in Ulster with a provincial final win over Loughgiel, his gaze was already cast far from the jubilant scenes at the Athletic Grounds.
“People maybe say you can’t really get enjoying these days, but I’m a wee bit weird,” said dual star McKaigue at the time.
“I’ve the rest of the boys sickened with uncle Chrissy complaining at them, crying at them, but they have to realise how lucky we are to be playing big games week in, week out.”
The Slaughtneil odyssey captured the imagination of a nation as their footballers, hurlers and camogs first conquered Derry, then Ulster, then looked towards the All-Ireland.
Yet while the camogs did club and county proud by successfully scaling the mountain, the other two fell just short of the biggest prize.
Eventual champions Cuala accounted for the hurlers in the last four before Dr Croke’s did for the footballers on St Patrick’s Day.
A second All-Ireland club final defeat in the space of three years would be hard for anyone to digest, never mind for somebody as driven as McKaigue.
The day after that defeat he tweeted: ‘Fine margins at this level. We now have to show the same levels of resilience that Croke’s have for years. How lucky we are to have it’
Slaughtneil would love to get back to another All-Ireland final, but McKaigue insists the road the club has travelled mustn’t be lost in the glitz and glamour of Croke Park on Paddy’s Day.
He said: “It’s important to keep in context the achievements of our club not only last year but the last four years.
“In the last four years between hurling and football we have amassed a total of 10 championships between football and hurling. As a club we would not have achieved that if it wasn’t for our mentality and culture, with that mentality and culture comes wanting more.
“I don’t think I’ve ever be very confident of anything in my life never mind making another club All-Ireland final. I believe if we continue to follow the model that we as a club have created in promoting duality and taking fierce pride in what playing for Slaughtneil means then we at least have a chance of more good days.
“In sport there is no guarantee of success which is a good thing because it keeps the focus alive.”
The footballers’ focus will be sharpened again by the experienced Mickey Moran this year.
There had been speculation that Moran would step down at the end of Slaughtneil’s campaign but they were boosted last month by confirmation that he will take the Emmet’s for a fourth year.
Considering the success Slaughtneil have enjoyed during Moran’s tenure, McKaigue welcomed his decision.
“There aren’t that many top managers out there, despite what reports in the GAA world would have you believe,” he said.
“In Mickey we have a top manager and coach, so naturally we are delighted he chose to stay with us. Our hurling and football management teams are brilliant because of how professional they are and as a playing group we appreciate how good they are.
“We also appreciate how hard their job is.”
In the weeks after the end of Slaughtneil’s All-Ireland dream, McKaigue returned to county colours for the final two games of the National League as Derry bid to save their skins in Division Two.
Victory over Fermanagh on the last day looked to be enough to survive, but celebration quickly gave way to scenes of dejection as word filtered through of the late leveller in Cork that saw Down avoid the drop and consigned their two Ulster rivals to Division Three next year.
With just over a month until their provincial quarter-final date with neighbours Tyrone, McKaigue believes now is the time for the Oak Leafers to stand up and show what they’re made of.
“Losing shouldn’t sit well with anyone but I believe you should always compete and take pride in representing your club and county.
“Derry is in a difficult place at the minute but it is now the time more than ever to stay at it and dig in. Things will and can only change if all the players in Derry adopt that mindset.”