Slaughtneil will be glad of a rest: McKaigue
THEY’VE been hiding it well but Slaughtneil’s Karl McKaigue admits that they are mightily relieved to have the gift of a weekend off to look forward to.
John Joe Kearney quipped afterwards that he “wouldn’t be surprised if Mickey [Moran] called training for the morning” but the Emmet’s have been praying that they’d make it as far as this unscathed.
They may have lost Paul Bradley for the foreseeable, with his back injury ruling him out of even a place on the bench on Saturday night, but the rest showed no great signs of fatigue in a gritty second half display that saw off Omagh.
It was their ninth championship game in 11 weeks, including county finals in both codes, a run to the Ulster hurling title and an Ulster preliminary round repeat of last year’s decider against Kilcoo.
Of all their busy dual campaigns, being landed on the tough side of the football draw and being asked to play the Tyrone champions just six days after the Ulster hurling final had made this the most difficult run of all.
“Ah now, I don't even want to look at another football for the week,” smiled the Emmet’s corner-back, who once more got the better in the latest of a series of battles with Ronan O’Neill that go back to their school days.
“That's the good thing now though, we have the hurling out of the way, we are into the semi-final of the football.
“We have a week to get ourselves right and there are a lot of boys - it's been played down very well - but a lot of them have been carrying niggles and stuff.
“We have kept it very well in-house, but we definitely need a wee bit of a break to get ourselves right for either Kilcar or Scotstown.”
The six-day turnaround was a bone of contention for a squad that traditionally does very little complaining about their schedule at this time of year.
Ulster Council’s decision to introduce Saturday evening games to the provincial football series for the first time left a shorter-than-usual rest period for Mickey Moran’s side, and McKaigue says they would much rather have played Omagh on the Sunday.
“Absolutely no doubt about it. I thought this game was fixed for a Saturday for TV. I only heard it on the bus coming up today that this game was not even on.
“I think that's very, very poor from the Ulster Council and disappointing, given the amount of games we have had the last number of weeks.
“Four quarter-finals, eight teams and none of them have been playing as much as us, and they couldn't even give us an extra day. It's very disappointing.
“But look, that's the hand you’re dealt, you just have to work with it and thankfully we got over the line.”
Their title looked under threat when his elder brother Chrissy hauled down Conán Grugan to earn a black card, but prevent a real goal chance for Omagh midway through the second half.
Still, from the resulting free, Ronan O’Neill cut the gap to a point and Paddy Crozier’s side had the wind at their backs. Chrissy McKaigue and Paul Bradley, two of the coolest heads in possession, were gone.
”There’s enough big characters in our team, a lot of good players and a lot of good ball players and that’s what you need when the chips are down.
“We were getting tired going towards the last 10, but we have enough experience by now and saw it out.
“Slaughtneil teams in the past have been in good positions going into the last 10 minutes and the wee decisions went against us and head goes, the whole performance goes and we end up getting beat.
“But thankfully we can draw on something there tonight. It took every bit of digging deep.”