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GAA Football

Grit and determination guaranteed as Slaughtneil look ahead to Ulster decider against Cavan Gaels

Slaughtneil’s Chrissy McKaigue pictured ahead of the AIB GAA Ulster Senior Football Club Championship Final where his side will face Cavan Gaels on Sunday Picture by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Andy Watters

GRIT and determination got Slaughtneil past Kilcoo and Omagh and a two-week battery-charging break meant they were able to add the quality to see off Kilcar at the Ulster semi-final stage.

Two weeks on and the Emmet’s side meet Cavan Gaels in what will be the Derry club’s third Ulster final in four seasons. As Chrissy McKaigue explained yesterday, experience will be a key component in their make-up for the Athletic Grounds decider.

“It’s a very unique competition and as comfortable as you can ever feel, I suppose we feel that way now,” he said.

“But we’re coming in against Cavan Gaels next and they are used to Ulster too, so there’s no real added advantage there.”

Fighting on two fronts – Slaughtneil are also Ulster club hurling champions – has taken a toll on the side particularly when, despite being defending champions, they were forced to start at in Ulster’s preliminary round against last year’s beaten finalists Kilcoo.

“Fatigue was an issue before the Kilcoo and Omagh (quarter-final) games, you would have seen that in our performances, no doubt about it,” said McKaigue.

“We played poorly in both, we really did. You couldn’t question our grit or determination and all those things – they’re a given. But you’d certainly question our quality in those two games.

“We just scraped through, albeit Kilcoo and Omagh are two fairly handy sides, but we didn’t play well. The Kilcar game, I suppose you seen the advantage of having a two-week break – we were actually able to train.

“It wasn’t a matter of patching boys up, but rather getting two or three decent sessions together. And if we didn’t have that, I think Kilcar would have beaten us because they were a really good outfit.”

Slaughtneil will be without Meehaul McGrath for Sunday’s final. The attacking half-forward broke his jaw in a challenge with Kilcar’s Michael Hegarty in the engrossing last four battle at Healy Park. Corner-forward Cormac O’Doherty limped off in the first half of that game with a hamstring injury, but McKaigue says he hasn’t ruled him completely yet.

“With a soft tissue injury you always kind of give them the best possible chance until the dying embers before the game,” he said.

“He likely is out, but we’re not giving up hope.”

Slaughtneil have proved their status as the best in Derry and it would be a massive shock if they failed to overcome Cavan Gaels on Sunday and go on to continue their pursuit of the All-Ireland title that has eluded them.

Mickey Moran’s side lost All-Ireland finals in 2015 (to Galway’s Corofin) and 2017 (Kerry’s Dr Croke’s), but McKaigue rightly prefers to concentrate on what his club has achieved, rather than what it hasn’t.

“It’s so, so difficult in Ulster,” he said.

“Maybe people outside of Ulster, outside Derry don’t truly appreciate how competitive Derry club football is. For us to come out of Derry four years in-a-row – we’re only the second team in Derry ever to do that. The other team was the great Bellaghy team in the 60s. That’s some achievement in itself.

“We’ve gone on to reach three Ulster finals in four years… It’s very easy to get caught up with: ‘we haven’t won that yet’.

“We have to be extremely aware that up until 2004 we had never won a county championship. Sometimes perspective is the best thing to keep. Yes, we want to achieve the pinnacle but so does a lot of other top clubs. There is no way I’m getting too far ahead of myself.

“If we could get over Cavan Gaels that would be an absolute dream come true. We have no right to be talking about things any greater than that at the minute. We simply haven’t earned that right.”

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